People around the world find themselves in the midst of one great, shared experience. Social distancing and large-scale quarantine measures became the norm in the months of March and April for many in the U.S. Colleges and schools stand empty, workplace conversations take place on laptops around kitchen tables or, in many industries, not at all. We spoke with a few of our members whose lives, work and studies have been directly impacted since governments across the U.S. took measures to slow COVID-19’s spread. The answers have been lightly edited for clarity.

Jared Scism – Asst. Director of the University of Central Oklahoma International House and Programming and Executive Director of the OKGIT

Jared Scism

What is your title and what does your company/program do in “normal” times?

“I am the Assistant Director, UCO International House and Programming a part of the UCO Office of Global Affairs. My job specifically provides intercultural campus housing and programs for international students to learn about American culture and to teach the local community about their culture.The UCO Office of Global Affairs is also responsible for the recruitment, admission and immigration of new international students and making sure the students remain in legal status while studying in the United States.”

How did the COVID-19 issue impact your day-to-day work?

“All intercultural activities on campus were canceled for the remainder of the semester. After Spring Break, all employees were expected to work from home until  June 1.Prior to June 1, I returned back to campus to open a food pantry on campus that local community members could bring food to help international students who were unable to buy any.”

If you’ve been forced to shut down or work from home, how has that impacted your job?

“We have returned to campus, but we were expected to work from home at the beginning. This meant all events on campus were canceled. However, we were creative and held our international pageant on Facebook Live and all contestants performed the different parts of the pageant from their own homes, apartments and dorms.

“Furthermore, we held daily events on our UCO International House Facebook Live and called them Power Hour. Each daily event had a theme: Monday Meals where we learned to make a food from a different culture, Tuesday Trivia where students competed through answering trivia questions about particular regions around the world, Wellness Wednesday where we would do a workout, practice meditation, etc, Tea Thursdays where all students where welcome to bring their own tea and talk about struggles they were facing during the pandemic, and Fun Fridays where we learned various cultural dances from all over the world.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work in the coming few months?

“At the moment, nearly all United States embassies around the world have not be reopened, which makes it difficult for incoming international students to get their visas in order to come and study here. Furthermore, everything is very fluid for the upcoming semester (i.e. classes, activities)  because we are not sure whether or not we can anticipate a second wave of COVID-19 coming soon. This may lead to more classes going online and more activities having less attendees or forcing us to hold more virtual events online. Furthermore, several of our international students come from countries where their families are unable to open their businesses, unable to send money to their children because banks are closed or even arrested for leaving their homes, and international students are unable to return home because their countries have been completely locked down, even to their own citizens making it difficult for students to pay for tuition.”

Have there been any positives you can point to in terms of new ways of doing business or working that have come during this time?

“I believe this time has allowed our international students to see how much the community cares for them. We have raised over $20,000 to help students with financial assistance (see the Go Fund Me here), keep a stocked pantry for them to come and get food that is open daily, and find host families in the community that want to connect with them and help them out in any way that they can.”

 

Alfonso-Nieve

Alfonso Nieves

People around the world find themselves in the midst of one great, shared experience. Social distancing and large-scale quarantine measures became the norm in the months of March and April for many in the U.S. Colleges and schools stand empty, workplace conversations take place on laptops around kitchen tables or, in many industries, not at all. We spoke with a few of our members whose lives, work and studies have been directly impacted since governments across the U.S. took measures to slow COVID-19’s spread. The answers have been lightly edited for clarity.

Alfonso NievesFox Blocks

What is your title and what does your company/program do in “normal” times?

“I am the regional advisor for Fox Blocks, which manufactures insulated concrete forms. My work consists of recruiting distributors, training on our product’s use, architectural presentations, running project visits and presenting at trade shows.”

How did the COVID-19 issue impact your day-to-day work?

“One hundred percent of my job required travel at all times in my region of five states. We were and continue to be grounded from travel until June 30, 2020.”

If you’ve been forced to shut down or work from home, how has that impacted your job?

“Yes. I have been working from home and that was something to change and adapt to while still serving our customers and learning new skills to do our job from afar.”

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work in the coming few months?

“How quickly we can get back on the road.”

Have there been any positives you can point to in terms of new ways of doing business or working that have come during this time?

“Yes. Sometimes we can do more with less. New skills and new ways of supporting our customers from the distance saves a lot of money in travel for the company.”

In terms of your international activities, how have those been impacted by the past three months?

“Shipping to Mexico has been stopped and a large US Army Reserve Center project in Puerto Rico has been halted.”

People around the world find themselves in the midst of one great, shared experience. Social distancing and large-scale quarantine measures became the norm in the months of March and April for many in the U.S. Colleges and schools stand empty, workplace conversations take place on laptops around kitchen tables or, in many industries, not at all. We spoke with a few of our members whose lives, work and studies have been directly impacted since governments across the U.S. took measures to slow COVID-19’s spread.

George Lee III – Red Devil Inc.

George L. Lee, III serves as Vice President of Red Devil, Inc., a manufacturing company with its headquarters in Tulsa. Red Devil manufactures a broad and diversified line of hand tools and chemical products for professional and home maintenance and improvement – more than 400 different products in all. In addition to producing caulks, sealants and tools under its own brand name, the company also manufacture private label products for some of the nation’s largest hardware and home center chains. Its 135,000 square foot production facility is located in the Mid-America Industrial Park in Pryor, OK. The company has been a family owned business since 1872.

British Consul General in Houston Karen Bell and Red Devil Inc.’s George Lee at an OKGIT event in 2015.

What is your title and what does your company/program do in “normal” times?

“I am Vice President,  I handle the legal/benefits/intellectual property work in varying degrees for Red Devil Inc which is a chemical manufacturer and tool distributor to over 40 countries globally and all 50 states.”

How did the COVID-19 issue impact your day-to-day work?

“In an abundance of safety we closed our Tulsa office while keeping our factory up and running. We implemented social distancing, mask usage and other appropriate sanitary routines to keep employees safe while at work.

“Our office employees who are able to work from home are doing so until beginning of June when we will reassess opening out Tulsa office.”

If you’ve been forced to shut down or work from home, how has that impacted your job?

“I have been working from home and what annoys me the most is the lack of my ability to gather all the information I need to answer questions and make decisions in a timely matter. Also the technology to link to my work desktop is slow and laggy as bandwidth is troublesome which ups the annoyance factor.”

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work in the coming few months?

“Ours is reopening the office in a manner that provides a healthy and safe environment for our employees, and filling orders from our factory as we begin starting up new production on lines we have been putting in during this period and continuing from last year.”

Have there been any positives you can point to in terms of new ways of doing business or working that have come during this time?

“I think the forcing of employees to work from home has shown our IT people what needs to be adjusted to make this more efficient.”

In terms of your international activities, how have those been impacted by the past three months?

“Some of our customers have had problems more due to the currency cross rates causing our product to be more pricey, but payments, shipping and orders seem to not have been affected too much.”

The below is a general summary of the events and discussion at the March 2020 OKGIT meeting. Please note that some events and dates mentioned below may have changed due to circumstances regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19). This summary does not represent the official minutes, which will be distributed at a later date.

The March 2020 meeting marked the next chapter of the OKGIT with new chair, Scott Thompson leading the way.  After the approval of the January 2020 meeting’s minutes, Scott Thompson gave an update regarding the finances of the organization due to the recent resignation of the recently appointed treasurer, Mary Blankenship Pointer. During the financial report, Scott informed the OKGIT membership of finances for January and February 2020 and informed the team that the OKGIT bank account was successfully moved from Chase Bank to Midfirst Bank.

Following the financial report from Scott Thompson, Executive Director, Jared Scism reminded the membership to pay their annual dues and told new members who requested new nametags know that there was a delay on the order due to an error by Dearingers, the company we order nametags from. These nametags will be available at the meeting in May.

Amidst discussion of the treasurer report, the marketing committee encouraged the group to check their bios and headshots on the website and send any updates to John VanPool or Jared Scism. The Marketing Committee also reported they are posting on Facebook three to four times a week and encouraged the membership to engage with these social media platforms more frequently. Executive Director, Jared Scism also encouraged everyone to add the OKGIT email address (theokgit@gmail.com) to their address book to avoid OKGIT emails going directly to spam. Lastly, the marketing committee requested everyone who has upcoming events to send details to John VanPool and Jared Scism for distribution and website posting.

In membership news, Andrew Ranson was affirmed by vote as a new member. Mary Blankenship Pointer, Chad Jordan and Susan McCalmont resigned their positions with the group.

The Cultural and Education Committee reported on the International Student Recognition Day at the Oklahoma State Capitol event that took place on March 4. Representative McBride and his legislative assistant, Julie Jackson were phenomenal in organizing the event. The day consisted of a tour of the capitol, watching bills being passed by legislators, and lunch with Representatives that also included a short question and answer time with Governor Stitt. 10 universities were represented with approximately 36 countries and about 120 international students. The event deemed to very successful with lots of positive feedback from participants. Past chair, Douglas Price was also able to promote the new OKGIT world language program to students attending the event.  This language program would take place every fall during International Education Week and would bring together secondary K-12 and higher education students to practice foreign languages and provide immersion experiences. These students would also be provided opportunities to practice their language skills with visiting delegations to show foreign dignitaries that Oklahomans appreciate global languages and that we are invested in them as a state.

During the Program Committee report, Scott Thompson announced Shalon Simmons would fill his former role as the program chair for the GIT. Scott also requested anyone who has ideas for speakers for the upcoming year should inform Shalon at sgsimmons@runbox.com. Scott also informed the membership that Scott Stone from Euler Hermes USA, a French credit insurance and receivables company will be our program speaker at the May meeting.

Rico Buchli updated the membership that the Oklahoma Consular Corps has only had one event take place, which was with Sister Cities. Rico also a provided a virologist perspective about the coronavirus and encouraged everyone to stay calm and healthy. Enrique Villar Gambetta, Honorary Consul of Peru also informed the membership that a group from OSU will be in Peru next month working with a group called Plataforma. Enrique is currently working with Dr. Craig Waters to research Andean communities in Peru.

Sarah Short from the Oklahoma Department of Commerce informed the membership that anyone in need of an invitee list for upcoming events may contact her. Sarah can be contacted at Sarah.Short@okcommerce.gov.

Dr. Cathleen Skinner had several updates from the Oklahoma Department of Education. In her report, Dr. Skinner stated a Trauma Summit was held at the Cox Convention Center. Dr. Bruce Perry was the speaker and addressed how to help students in traumatic situations. She also informed the membership that Superintendent Hoffmeister has a weekly forum that takes place on Thursdays.

Dr. Skinner went on to discuss how the State Department of Education and Tulsa Public Schools hosted seven French teachers for two weeks from Picardie and OETA covering them in a story. Dr. Skinner further praised the Dual Language Academy in Tulsa for having the highest reading and math test scores in the state and discussed the importance of bilingualism.

Dr. Skinner closed her remarks by telling the OKGIT membership the Seal of Biliteracy is open for comment on the State Department of Education’s website. There will be a hearing on March 20th at the Hodge building for comments and will be presented to the state school board on March 25th.

Chief Protocol Officer Chris Morriss reported that she had been working on the Oklahoma Consular Summit.

The U.S. Department of Trade reported that they are currently working with partners to do ExporTech program and executives for three months to develop an export strategy. The third session will take place on April 23rd, where they will present their strategy. This is the 40th anniversary of helping businesses do international business. The Department of Trade is continuing to plan for the Offshore Technology Conference, Select USA, and the Farnsborough Air Show.

Following the committee reports, the group had a discussion regarding the upcoming Oklahoma Consular Summit and agreed to postpone the summit to sometime in the fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the decision to postpone the Oklahoma Consular Summit, John Curzon invited the membership to attend the Offshore Technology Conference and received confirmation from the GIT to sponsor a reception at the event. However, the Offshore Technology Conference has since been postponed.

In closing, the Executive Committee requested and received the approval to appoint Shalon Simmons the new Vice Chair of the OKGIT. Past Chair, Douglas Price also declared to the membership that the GIT is still in desperate need of a treasurer. Anyone interested in becoming the treasurer may contact Executive Director, Jared Scism at theokgit@gmail.com. In the meantime, Chris Morriss has agreed to assist Executive Director, Jared Scism with the treasurer role until a new treasurer is found.

Upcoming meetings are as follows:

  • May 19thfrom 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM at Dept of Commerce
  • July 21st from 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM at Dept of Commerce
  • September 15thfrom 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM at Dept of Commerce

For our program, Andrew Ranson and the Oklahoma State University Graduate Trade Fellows presented an analysis of Oklahoma International Trade and the supply chain and network structure.

 

Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt made the announcement and OKC added it’s eighth Sister City with the addition of Piura, Peru.

Thanks to the advocacy and hard work of Honorary Consul of Peru in Oklahoma Enrique Villar-Gambetta and the Sister Cities International Oklahoma team, Oklahoma City residents will have another new relationship to celebrate.

“The Sister Cities program is very active in OKC & I find the program and especially its events are a great way to connect with our immigrant community as well as the leaders & residents in our Sister Cities around the world,” said Mayor David Holt in a press release upon signing the agreement with the Alcalde (Mayor) Juan Jose Diaz Dios in late January 2020.

The city of approximately 484,000 lies on the river that shares its namesake, and was the first Spanish city founded in Peru by Conquistador Francisco Pizarro.

The Sister City agreement signed by both leaders says the relationship is intended to expand mutually beneficial cooperation between citizens of both cities while promoting good will, economic relations and foster charitable, scientific and commercial activities.

Honorary Consul Villar-Gambetta is an Oklahoma City-based attorney originally from Peru. He has practiced law for 31 years in Peru and through partner law offices handles diverse proceedings in other countries like Chile, Colombia and Panama. In December 2011 by Supreme Resolution No.450-2011, dated December 15, 2011, signed by the President of the Republic of Peru, Mr. Ollanta Humala Tasso and his Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Rafael Roncagliolo Orbegoso appointed Enrique Villar-Gambetta Honorary Consul of Peru in the City of Oklahoma City, United States of America, with circumscription in the State of Oklahoma.

He has been a member of the OKGIT since 2013.

Header Photo – Honorary Consul Villar-Gambetta with his son Alonso alongside Sister Cities International Oklahoma City representatives Jane Abraham, Mary Blankenship Pointer and Dr. Mucky Right at OKC City Hall for the proclamation signing. 

Below is a general summary of the events and discussion at the January 2020 OKGIT meeting. It does not represent the official minutes, which will be distributed at a later date.

After the approval of the November 2019 meeting’s minutes, John VanPool announced his resignation as the incoming Chair due to some unforeseen job duties. As a result, Douglas Price announced that incoming Chair-elect Scott Thompson would become the next chair of the Oklahoma Governor’s International Team starting in March. The OKGIT

Following the financial report from Treasurer Mary Blankenship Pointer, she informed the membership of the account balance and that she was in the process of moving the bank account from Chase Bank to Midfirst Bank. The Gavel Handover Ceremony will take place Feb. 12 from 1-1:30 p.m. at the Oklahoma State Capitol Complex.

Amidst discussion of the treasurer report, the marketing committee encouraged the group to answer the questions that were sent out by John VanPool about whey they joined the GIT.

The Cultural and Education Committee report concerned the status of next year’s International Student Recognition Day at the Oklahoma State Capitol, set to take place on March 4, 2020. OKGIT Student Ambassador Olivia Nguyen from the University of Central Oklahoma also gave an update on her status and will continue to support the group in her capacity. Douglas Price and Cathleen Skinner also presented a new program to the OKGIT would take place every fall during International Education Week that would bring together secondary K-12 and higher education students to practice foreign languages and provide immersion experiences. These students would also be provided opportunities to practice their language skills with visiting delegations to show foreign dignitaries that Oklahomans appreciate global languages and that we are invested in them as a state.

In other education news, Muhammet Sezer shared news about another business called Leaders of Tomorrow Friendship Dinner that will bring together diverse communities from the next generation through dinners to increase understandings of one another.

During the Program Committee report, Scott Thompson and Andrew Ransen noted graduate students from Oklahoma State University would present their work at the OKGIT meeting on March 10. These students are currently conducting research on the impact of international exchanges in the State of Oklahoma. The purpose of the presentation is to provide valuable insight that will benefit members of the OKGIT. Anyone who has other program ideas for speakers for the upcoming year should inform Scott Thompson.

Dr. Cathleen Skinner had several updates from the Oklahoma Department of Education. In her report, Dr. Skinner stated the Oklahoma State Board of Education approved a 2021 budget request of 3.29 billion for common education. This includes a $220 million increase from last year. The request seeks to restore critical instructional funding, including funds to reduce class sizes and hire additional teachers and counselors. On the other hand, world languages in schools continue to struggle. German programs in the state of Oklahoma have disintegrated with only two programs in the state remaining. Furthermore, Oklahoma is down 50% in teacher education programs. Moreover, Tulsa is needing a significant increase in native Spanish speakers in their middle schools and high schools and currently working to recruit teachers from Spain to come and teach.  Dr. Skinner also mentioned a new program taking place across the country that includes students partnering with Girls Who Code to bring computer science opportunities to elementary, middle and high school girls in local communities. These afterschool programs are free for girls to join a sisterhood of supportive peers and role models and use computer science to change the world.

Honorary Consul for Switzerland, Rico Buchli from the Oklahoma Consular Corps reported on their latest activities, including being honored by their biggest sponsor, Oklahoma Sister Cities at a reception in December. Honorary Consul for Peru Enrique Villar Gambetta also informed the group that a sister city agreement was signed between Oklahoma City and Piura, Peru.

In other news, the STEP Program grant has been approved, with several companies looking to participate in international trade shows through STEP grant funding. Jesse Garcia talked about how the STEP grant could also help local businesses wanting to enter the global market or expand international trade capabilities and how it would help promote their companies at a variety of trade shows and reimburse companies for up to 75% of the participation costs. Jamie from Department of Agriculture further discussed how the STEP grant could help local businesses in attending upcoming food shows in Chicago and New York. More information about these shows can be found on our website at www.okgit.com/events.

Commerce also reported that the state would be sending a delegation to the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston in May 2020.

Chief Protocol Officer Chris Moriss reported that the State of Oklahoma will celebrate sister-state relationship anniversaries for the 35th with Kyoto, Japan and Gansu, China as well as the 40th anniversary with Taiwan. She requested the GIT consider different ways to celebrate these anniversaries. Chris also reported that Governor Stitt has been invited to visit their countries as part of these anniversaries.

The U.S. Department of Trade reported that the Hannover Messe trade fair would be taking place from April 20-24th in Hannover, Germany. Anyone interested in attending should contact Marcus Verner.

2020 Consular Summit

Following the committee reports, the group began finalizing preparations for the 2020 Oklahoma Consular Summit that will take place from April 1-3 in conjunction with the World Trade Conference. On April 1, the GIT will host a welcome reception. On the morning and early afternoon of April 2nd, the OKGIT will support the World Trade Conference. Once the WTC concludes, delegations will have a chance to attend industry briefings and plant tours, followed by host dinners that evening. The end of the week would conclude on April 3 with the Consular Summit and lunch with Governor Stitt, allowing plenty of time in the afternoon for visiting delegates and officials to meet with Oklahoma counterparts if desired.

Following input from the Department of Commerce and Secretary of State, initial invitees for the event include Japan, Guatemala, the U.K., Germany, France, South Korea, Mexico, Canada, Italy, Italy, India, Peru, Sweden, Netherlands, Hungary, and Brazil.

Planning and preparations are being led by past-chair James C. Collard, and questions or input are greatly appreciated. Please reach out to Dr. Collard or theokgit@gmail.com to support planning this event.

Upcoming meetings are as follows:

  • March 10thfrom 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM at Dept of Commerce
  • May 19thfrom 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM at Dept of Commerce
  • July 21st from 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM at Dept of Commerce

For our program, U.S. Department of State Diplomat in Residence Amanda Johnson presented information about career and program opportunities associated with the U.S. Department of State.

Learn more about their mission and work at state.gov.

Governor Kevin Stitt and Secretary of State Michael Rogers welcomed Italian Consul General Frederico Ciattaglia on the latter’s visit to the Sooner State in late October.

“He’s in town visiting us and talking about our trade partnerships and the great partnership we have with his country,” Secretary Rogers said. “We are excited to have him and for the partnership we will have in the future with him, his country and Oklahoma.”

According to the Oklahoma Department of Commerce’s 2018 Oklahoma Global Report, there are 13 Italian companies in the state employing more than 664 people. The connection with Italy is part of a larger part of European countries’ in the state, which totals approximately $2.3 billion in combined investment and has resulted in nearly 4,500 jobs.

The consul general’s office is based in Houston, Texas and provides services to 10,000 Italian nationals in the states of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. Follow them online at facebook.com/ConsolatoGeneraleItaliaHouston  or visit their website here.