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Colleagues Remember James Leck

ISSO associate director dies at 48

| From BU Today | By Leslie Friday

James Leck, the ISSO's associate director for student services, died on July 4 at the age of 48. Photo courtesy of Susan Griffin

James Leck, the associate director for student services in the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO), died in his sleep on Monday, July 4, while vacationing in Maine. He was 48.

Recalling his vibrant personality and devotion to BU’s international students, colleagues say Leck’s death is an enormous loss to BU.

“There is a certain class of people who so embody a profession that the job they hold is no longer just a job, but a calling, an art form, a life’s work,” says Andrea Popa, ISSO assistant director for scholar services. “In the field of international education and international student advising, James Leck was just such a person. He was a giant, a rock star, a North Star, and a mentor.”

Leck, who came to BU eight years ago, was a popular fixture on campus, an invaluable resource for BU’s international community, and a nationally recognized public speaker on cross-cultural communication and international education.

“He was a larger-than-life kind of figure, and he’s going to be sorely missed,” says ISSO director Jeanne Kelley.

As associate director for student services, one of Leck’s primary responsibilities was to train and mentor the office’s international student advisors, who work with more than 5,500 students from 139 different countries. His training sessions were extensive and fondly referred to around the office as “BU boot camp.”

Peter O’Meara, one of seven ISSO international student advisors, trained for two and a half months under Leck. “He was untiring in his efforts to make sure we understood what we were learning and were able to explain it cogently to clients,” O’Meara recalls.

Leck’s door was always open to advisors needing assistance on a tough case. “He was able to take masses of complicated and contradictory regulatory and immigration information and immediately hone in on the intent of the laws and the regulations and the effect that those would have on our students,” says O’Meara. “And he was also able to plow through all of that and effectively interpret it for the rest of us.”

And he did it with a sense of humor. Lynn Walters, another international student advisor, remembers Leck’s performance as Stamp Man, a spoof on U.S. customs officials, during an international student orientation. He was an expert at “making something that’s serious, and occasionally boring, really interesting,” Walters says.

Leck was also the University’s unofficial coach on all things related to international students and a strong advocate of study abroad programs. Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore (SED’87) recalls Leck coaching him on culturally sensitive situations involving international students, saying Leck didn’t hesitate to set him straight if he flubbed a touchy situation.

“He was not afraid to give a kick in the seat in the pants and a hug also,” Elmore says with a laugh.

Laurie Pohl, vice president for enrollment and student affairs, says Leck was committed to students and staff working abroad. “He was also very creative in his approach to transitioning students to campus and—where I interacted with him most—helped those of us who work with international students learn to serve them better,” she says.

Outside of BU, Leck was an adjunct professor in Lesley University’s Intercultural Relations program and a member of the national leadership of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, which recognized him in 2007 with the Region XI Distinguished Service Award.

According to Kelley, it was not unusual for people at NAFSA conferences to search out Leck’s sessions. “Everyone would say, ‘Which one is James doing? We’re going to go to that one,’” she says. “He had quite a following.”

Leck earned a bachelor’s degree from Plymouth State University and a master’s degree in international administration from the School for International Training Graduate Institute. He began his career as an international educator working for AFS Intercultural Programs in New York. He later spent four years teaching and working with youth on leadership and race relations in South Africa and helped pioneer domestic exchanges between cultural groups during the era of apartheid.

Friends recall that Leck was a man who loved to sing, spend time in Maine, share treats at the office, and give a good hug in moments of loss. He leaves behind many who loved him, including his wife, Susan Griffin, a College of Arts & Sciences senior lecturer in Spanish and the language course coordinator for Spanish.

“The gift of his death is to remind us to live,” says ISSO international student advisor Sam Lynch.

A memorial service will be held at Marsh Chapel on Tuesday, July 12, at 3 p.m. All are welcome to attend. The Leck family asks that donations in his memory be made to Heifer International.

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