Sylvana Airan has decades-long career of support for international students

by Geitner Simmons | IANR Communications

Sylvana Airan
Sylvana Airan arrived on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus for the first time in December 1978.
June 14, 2023

Lincoln, Neb. —Sylvana Airan arrived on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus for the first time in December 1978. She was an international student, and her first sight of campus was a far cry from what she had known in her native Pakistan.

Lincoln was in the grip of a Midwest blizzard, and the campus was blanketed in something she’d never seen before.


That frigid December day was the beginning of her decades-long journey in understanding what it’s like for international students to arrive in Lincoln and replant their life here, far from the comforts and supports of family and one’s home culture.

This month, Airan is retiring after a 44-year career at UNL in which she’s been a central figure in helping international students. She is the primary lead of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources’ Undergraduate Scholarship Program (CUSP) for Rwandan students as well as program coordinator of the CASNR Global Hub. In her previous work with UNL’s Housing department, she coordinated with a range of foreign countries including China, Saudi Arabia and Brazil in helping students make the transition to UNL campus life.

A retirement celebration for Airan will be held on Tuesday, June 27 from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Arbor Suite in the Nebraska East Union. Those wishing to send congratulatory wishes or planning to attend the celebration are asked to contact Katie Forrest at by Tuesday, June 20.

Airan “has been tirelessly devoted to students over her four-decades-long career with UNL, whether she was serving the campus community through University Housing or through her coordination of the CUSP program,” says Brianne Wolf, coordinator for Global Learning/Engagement at UNL’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“It’s been a true privilege to work alongside her these last years and see her heart for students,” Wolf says. “She’s positively impacted probably hundreds if not thousands of students, but never fails to make one feel heard and individually cared for.”

U.S. students at UNL generally can see family during Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, and at graduation they have parties and welcome family. International students often don’t have those opportunities, Airan notes, so she and her UNL and community partners work to provide the students with needed support.    

“The hospitality by people in the Midwest is amazing,” she says, pointing to efforts by UNL departments, including the university’s International Student and Scholar Office, and the Lincoln community.

International students, the same as U.S. students, experience emotional ups and downs during their college years, and it’s important to provide them with encouragement and reassurance, Airan says. “I’ve told them that when they’re successful, I’m successful,” she says. “When they’re blessed, I’m blessed.”

Airan’s life outside UNL is an active, multi-dimensional one. She’s long been a standout in top-level table tennis competition in Nebraska’s Cornhusker State Games, and this summer she will travel to Pittsburgh to compete in the National Senior Games. Each year she heads a skillfully staged Passion play. (She was a theater major in her early UNL years.)

A Bible verse provides her with particular inspiration: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

UNL and the Lincoln community have an enduring mission to continue the tradition of welcoming international students and helping them achieve positive experiences, Airan says. 

“I’m very fortunate,” she says, “to have been part of UNL.”

CONTACT: Sylvana Airan, Global Learning Hub and Rwandan Scholar Program coordinator,, 402-472-1497.

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