Ever wonder how HBS vets the locations where students travel for MBA courses? In this interview, Josh Nupp (Associate Director of GEO Program Operations) and members of Harvard University’s Global Support Services (GSS) team discuss the many facets of health, safety, risk management, and contingency planning involved in sending thousands of HBS students abroad each year. 

HOW DOES GEO COLLABORATE WITH GSS?

Josh Nupp: GEO maintains a close relationship with GSS, communicating and meeting regularly throughout the year, sharing access to intelligence and risk tracking databases, partnering on Global Response Team (GRT) and Program Manager (PM) training sessions, and ensuring that all program participants have registered their travel in the Harvard Travel Registry. Through this partnership, we’re able to supplement GEO’s substantial risk management efforts with GSS’s expertise and network of contacts around the world. During the immersion, we’re in touch frequently with their security team to review issues affecting (or with the potential to affect) our travelers and to ensure that all student, faculty and staff participants have the in-country support that they need.

WHO IS GSS?

Josh Nupp: GSS provides tools and guidance that enable faculty, students, and staff to study, work, and research overseas. Our office is fortunate enough to work closely with their team each year to execute both RC FIELD Global Immersions and EC Immersive Field Courses. Throughout the year we collaborate with a few key individuals in their office: Tim Brokmeier, Elizabeth Esparza, and Alex Viox. They all have incredibly rich and diverse strategy, security, and travel backgrounds.

To read even more about the safety and security team in GSS, check out their Team Spotlight.

HOW CAN GSS HELP STUDENTS? 

Elizabeth Esparza: We're here to be a resource, and it's important that travelers have health, safety, and risk mitigation information from the beginning. Whenever possible, I debrief returning travelers and incorporate their lessons learned into future trainings.  Every time I talk to a student I learn something new. That's an opportunity that I never take for granted. Our experiences living, working, and studying abroad are not entirely reflective of what the experience is like today. So hearing students voice their concerns is an extremely important part of our job.
We want students to know that they always have someone to call. Our team is here, and Harvard Travel Assist is available 24/7, 365 days a year. That's the primary message that we're trying to get out there. There are resources here before you leave and while you're away.

CAN YOU TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT GSS’S NETWORK OF RESOURCES?

Elizabeth Esparza: Growing a vast network of reliable security sources is a key component of the safety and security team’s proactive work. We’re in contact with former colleagues at the U.S. State Department and the private sector, as well as peer institutions and experts among Harvard’s faculty and international centers, on a weekly basis.

Networking is so important. Within our team, we've lived in or traveled to more than 60 countries, but we haven't been everywhere! Last year, Harvard travelers went to 168 countries, so while we’re all well-traveled, things change quickly, and it's important to be able to pick up the phone and call someone. Just the other morning I was talking to a former State Department colleague about neighborhoods in New Delhi. We go straight to the source and say, 'What do you think about this area? What are you seeing?'"

WHAT IS GSS’S BIGGEST GOAL IN WORKING WITH HBS STUDENTS?

Tim Brokmeier: The team's focus is on empowering travelers to mitigate risks and letting them know which resources are at their disposal should they find themselves in a jam. The goal is to decrease incidents abroad. To that end, the team is working toward a better balance between our proactive and reactive work by collaborating more with schools and departments across the University on pre-departure training, guidance, and education. It's about getting the right information to the right people at the right time.

Elizabeth Esparza: Our goal is for students to know that our door is open, and that we hope more people walk through it. And we may sound like a broken record, but remember to register your travel with the Harvard Travel Registry before you leave and contact Harvard Travel Assist in an emergency!

SPEAKING OF REGISTERING TRAVEL, WHY SHOULD STUDENTS USE THE HARVARD TRAVEL REGISTRY? 

Alex Viox: Some incidents are a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, so our team is ready at a moment's notice. In the past year alone, we've responded to the Ebola virus in West Africa, MERS CoV in South Korea, Zika virus in multiple regions, a political coup and evacuation in Burkina Faso, earthquakes in Nepal, Myanmar, and Ecuador, and terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris, Mali, Istanbul, Jakarta, and Burkina Faso, to name a few. At least one Harvard affiliate—and in several cases, multiple affiliates—were registered and known to be in each of those regions or to be resuming activities in those regions. It's our team's job, along with the University's International Emergency Management Team (IEMT), to manage each incident response.

ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE?

Elizabeth Esparza: That’s all for now! However, you’ll be hearing more from me throughout the year as I blog for GEO, with an emphasis on addressing location-specific concerns related to FGI and IFC travel.