What is a program assistant?
A Program Assistant is any individual who assists Faculty Directors with the administrative, financial, or academic tasks of running a program. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Paid staff members
- Unpaid staff members
- Teaching assistants
- Graduate assistants
- Student leaders
A Program Assistant is employed in the pre-departure stage of the Program and travels with the group to the host country. Program Assistants typically contribute 50 hours of service before departure. In the host country, Program Assistants often work more than 40 hours per week.
The duties of a Program Assistant will vary by Program. Never assign a task to a Program Assistant unless you are confident that they have been trained to complete the task. Sample Program Assistant duties include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Assist Faculty Directors in coordinating pre-departure or on-site orientation
- Create and monitor a social media pages for the group
- Develop a general information presentation about the history, economics, and traditions of the host country
- Represent the Program at the Learning Abroad Fair/Global U Expo
- Monitor applications (PAs cannot have access to student information in Terra Dotta until they complete the FERPA training).
- Help with recruiting
- Coordinate classroom visits to promote the Program
- Develop a virtual info session to post to the website
- Collect forms for the Faculty Director
- Coordinate roommates for the Program
- Advise interested students
- Group wakeup calls
- Pick up tickets for events and excursions
- Meet with the group before traveling to a new site to issue reminders and prepare them for the activity
- Assist students having trouble with homesickness and culture shock
- Confirm reservations
- Identify how to get to classrooms, housing, and activities
- Contact guest speakers with details about the group, directions, and confirm dates/times of class
- Go to classrooms early to make sure that tech equipment is set up
- Write “update emails” that students can send to family and friends or post to social media
- Assist the students in finding/using cell phones
- Provide support in student housing
Health and Safety Responsibilities
Program Assistants leading and accompanying University of Utah students in international locations are recognized as University representatives in this role, and as such are responsible for working to create safe and healthy environments for students abroad. Program Assistants are also responsible for ensuring that all University of Utah students have adequate understanding of - and access to - local health and safety support and resources in their foreign location(s). Program Assistants work to communicate student issues and incidents abroad to the Learning Abroad Department and Global Risk Manager via phone and email, and are a critical link to connecting students in international locations to support services available on the Salt Lake City University campus.
Program Assistants are required to attend a pre-departure travel health and safety workshop - provided by the Global Risk Manager – in order to understand University resources and requirements respective to the following topics:
- Student international insurance coverage, benefits, and assistance
- Student incident and issue reporting/communication
- Student Code of Conduct / Behavioral Issues while abroad
- Misconduct Resolution process abroad
- Signs of mental distress in students
- University Title IX requirements for responding to student sexual assault incidents and allegations
- University support and accommodation mechanisms in place for students with disabilities (ADA)
- University Clery Act crime reporting requirements
- Student personal information sharing (FERPA)
- Emergency preparation and protocols for international student programs
Academic Responsibilities (if serving as a Teaching Assistant)
- Grade papers
- Give lectures
- Create, distribute, and collect assignments
- Develop learning activities
- Facilitate discussions
- Organize or facilitate activities in Canvas
- Provide tutoring or support study groups
- Coordinate a welcome home event for the group
- Collect outstanding assignments from students
- Submit a travel reconciliation and receipts to Learning Abroad (if applicable)
Faculty Directors should carefully consider whether or not a Program Assistant will be responsible for program funds. For many Program Assistants, this is their first experience with business transactions. Despite the training provided, many Program Assistants fail to submit the required receipts. In these cases, the Program Assistant is required to reimburse the University for those expenses even if they are part of the Program budget. If you choose to make your Program Assistant responsible for University funds, be sure to mentor them through the process of documenting expenses onsite.
Programs with a minimum of 12 committed students are eligible to have a Program Assistant. The Faculty Director’s home department can select Program Assistants. All Program Assistants must meet the following criteria:
- Must be eligible for University employment.
- Be in good academic and disciplinary standing with the University (if applicable).
- Complete training requirements by the established deadlines.
- Does not create a conflict of interest
- Register with the University’s Global Risk Manager
- Complete the required information by the established deadlines.
Program Assistants play an authoritative role in the program. They have access to FERPA- and HIPAA-protected information and are vulnerable to the same liabilities as Faculty Directors. By law, they are Campus Security Authorities and have health and safety responsibilities to the Program. This impacts the power dynamic between the Program Assistant and other students on the Program. As a result, the following requirements mitigate common conflicts of interest that impact Program Assistants:
- Program Assistants cannot be enrolled in the Program as a student. A Program Assistant who is enrolled in the Program as a student would have access to FERPA- and HIPAA-protected information about their peers. It also raises ethical questions about academic privileges in the Program and Title IX.
- Program Assistants cannot violate University policies on nepotism.
- If Program Assistants are employed by an organization or business that may profit from the Program, contact Learning Abroad immediately. The Program Assistant will need to go through the Conflict of Interest process in Academic Affairs.
Program Assistants face the same liability risks as Faculty Directors. In order to be covered by the University’s liability and indemnity insurance, a Program Assistant must be recognized as a Program authority. For the purposes of Learning Abroad Programs, Program Assistants are officially recognized when they register with the U’s Global Risk Manager.
Many of the costs associated with a Program Assistant are paid directly by the students enrolled in the Program. There are several models for compensating Program Assistants and covering their travel expenses. For travel expenses, Faculty Directors should work with Learning Abroad to include these costs in the Program Budget before we publish the final Billable Program Cost. Contact our office with any questions about travel expenses.
Compensation for Program Assistants is handled by the Faculty Director’s home department. Guidelines to help departments navigate compensation and benefits can be found in the Compensation and Benefits for Program Assistants section of the Faculty Directors Guide.
It is assumed that Program Assistants will be compensated for their services and that travel expenses will be covered by the Program. To ensure that all parties understand the financial arrangements of the Program, all Program Assistants will be required to complete the following documents.
- Travel Expenses Agreement- Learning Abroad will provide a Travel Expenses Agreement for each Program Assistant. This outlines which travel expenses will be covered by the Program. Any expenses not outlined in the agreement are the responsibility of the Program Assistant.
- Compensation and Benefits Agreement- The Faculty Director’s home department is responsible for providing a Compensation and Benefits Agreement. This document should outline the Program Assistant’s compensation and benefits for service rendered to the Program. If the Program Assistant is not being paid, they should still sign the Agreement. For a template agreement, contact our office.
The Faculty Director’s home department hires and pays the Program Assistant. While travel expenses for a Program Assistant are typically incorporated into the program budget, no additional fees will be added to a program budget for the purposes of compensation. Since Program Assistants alleviate the administrative burden on Faculty Directors, funds for a Program Assistant’s compensation are considered part of the Departmental Compensation transferred to a Department at the end of the program. Thus, hiring a Program Assistant may reduce the amount of compensation available for the Faculty Director. In general terms, we recommend the following payment structure for Program Assistants:
|No. of Students||Recommended Stipend|
|26 students or more||$1000|
Be aware that there is no Departmental Compensation unless the program runs. If the program is cancelled for any reason, there will be no resources with which to compensate Program Assistants for their service. It is important to be transparent about this so that Program Assistants understand their commitment in advance.
Compensation needs to be negotiated between the Faculty Director, Program Assistant, and the Department. Any funds provided to a Program Assistant above per diem and travel expenses are considered taxable compensation by the IRS. Departments paying Program Assistants should submit an ePAF and tax documentation through HR.
Program Assistants need to be selected before the final Billable Program cost is published. Faculty Directors can select Program Assistants provided that they meet the eligibility requirements. Selecting a Program Assistant is an important task! Learning Abroad may be able to provide suggestions for Program Assistants; however, colleagues in your Department are likely to have more firsthand experience with good candidates. In general, a Program Assistant has the following qualities:
- Is mature, responsible, and a strong leader
- Has experience in the host culture
- Follows directions well and reliably
- Has basic language skills in the host country language
- Demonstrates good professional etiquette and good judgment
- Understands that this is NOT a vacation
- Is prepared to assist students with a variety of issues and potential emergencies
- Understands that if the Faculty Director is incapacitated, he or she may have to serve as primary leader of the program
- Is committed to any necessary or required training
- Recognizes that compensation is determined by the Department and only available if the program runs
If possible, use a formal, competitive process to select a Program Assistant. Have candidates complete an application and participate in an interview. A sample application and interview questions are available. You can also choose to have Program Assistants submit references or letters of recommendation. This does not have to be a lengthy or difficult process, but giving the impression that this is a serious commitment will likely weed out any candidates who are not really interested in the work.
At a minimum, get to know the candidate before offering them the position. Make sure that this is someone with whom you feel comfortable and would be willing to spend a great deal of time. If you have any doubts about your Program Assistant, contact Learning Abroad for suggestions.
For liability and training purposes, Program Assistants must to be registered with the U’s Global Risk Manager. Contact Sean Bridegam at email@example.com to begin the process.
If your Program Assistant is also a teaching assistant, the academic department sponsoring the course should have an agreement on file authorizing this individual to serve in this role. Please send a copy of the agreement to Jessica Keat at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will keep this on file in our office for future reference.
Training is a two-part effort. Learning Abroad provides mandatory training for Program Assistants. This includes financial expectations, student advising training, emergency preparedness and response, FERPA, etc. This training program is offered twice each semester.
Faculty Directors are responsible for training Program Assistants on program-specific duties and tasks. All Faculty Directors should expect to dedicate time to training the Program Assistant. Just like a new employee, a Program Assistant is only as good as the mentoring and training that you provide to them!
Program Assistants who do not complete their training commitments will be prohibited from attending the Program and will be obligated to return any travel advances that they receive. They are also responsible for reimbursing the University for any expenses incurred on their behalf.