The Cannons first started opening their hearts, their hands and their home to International Students in 1978. By 1991, the Cannons realized that there were a growing number of international students in the United States. Many of these students are from countries that usually do not have close relationships with Americans, and the Cannons recognized an opportunity to be a catalyst as well as a bridge to better relationships. Later that year, the 501(c) (3), nonprofit organization, HIS International, which stands for “Helping International Students”, was established.
In 1992, with the help of the Milkons and several supportive friends, the “HIS House” at 1711 Pendleton Street was purchased, renovated, and decorated to become formally known as “The Hospitality House”. The HIS house evolved into a place where future generations of international students, international researchers, and visiting scholars would meet and find meaningful opportunities to interact with other internationals and Americans. At the HIS Hospitality House, internationals were invited to lunches twice a week and many other gatherings throughout the year. HIS has perpetuated a non-threatening “community” in which internationals have built relationships with Americans through meals, retreats, English language assistance, local and regional trips, cultural training, and personal helps of all kinds. Most international student ministries had adopted the hospitality model, which worked for many years to meet the needs of the students. Staff members expanded the service of the organization. In 1998, HIS was established on the Virginia Tech campus by Jay and Michele Lester, and in 2005, HIS was established at UNCC in the Charlotte, NC, area by Randy and Wendy Anderson.
In 2007 many global changes began influencing Pete’s thinking, and he would discuss this topic with his wife and other leaders. As a result, all seemed to realize that the needs and desires of international students and scholars were also changing. Most students now were no longer coming from poor, third world countries that had very little to offer a student with graduating with a higher degree. In the past a large number of students came to study here in hopes of staying, but now this is no longer the case. As a matter of fact many students today want to return to their country of origin; some have even found that their salaries could be higher in their countries than it would be in the United States. The hospitality model could use some additions to offer the internationals other tools to help them when they returned to their rapidly changing countries.
To solidify what they had observed Pete and Pat met with leaders involved with international students on both sides of the ocean. Think tanks were organized as well as one on one discussion. Furthermore, in an attempt to discover what internationals themselves thought, surveys were conducted, which showed that a new and more comprehensive approach should be considered.
It was obvious that international students and scholars would always have needs, such as learning English, friendship, cultural acclamation, community, and personal issues that could be met by hospitality. For this reason many international student groups function using the hospitality model. During the last few years, these hospitality ministries have often been working together, which has made them even more effective; however, this hospitality ministry would not equip internationals for other perceived needs that would prepare them for this century and help them in their careers. The surveys showed that students were interested in learning leadership, ethics, entrepreneurship, networking, coping and influencing. They also expressed a desire to study resume writing, interviewing, and learning things that would make them more resilient in setbacks or failures.
Students often express an interest in doing more for their countries, such as helping the poor or improving education. It was sad to see how many of these brilliant international students felt that they could never be a leader. Others did not realize that it is possible to choose a career path that is different from one’s academic degree. Also, many students have a desire to meet successful leaders and perhaps find a mentor.
Pete and others put together a leadership team to begin to exploring ways students and scholars could be more prepared while visiting or studying in the United States. This team felt leadership training and mentoring which would finally lead to active participation in a Global Leadership Network, which emerged as a good beginning to meet these additional needs. Previously leadership training in the United States was relegated to business schools, but today the topic is taught across a variety of fields. Most agree that this change has been positive in our country. There are many successful and principled leaders in the United States who would be perfect to have on campus to motivate the students. Some leaders that are retiring or who have a little time might also be able to do leadership classes in a small group setting.
Consequently, HIS changed its mission statement to reflect this change in thinking, “HIS International is a partnership organization that mobilizes marketplace and academic leaders to inspire, connect, and equip international students and scholars to become principled leaders, resulting in positive change in their lives and the world.” Pete realized that the focus of the work at HIS would change from solely being about hospitality and helps to being more about intentionally building principled global leaders. HIS would always be there to help international students, but now the help would be updated to meet the needs of this century. The new mission eventually led to closing the Hospitality House and moving the future gatherings “on campus” and closer to the students. HIS would help encourage international students to launch the Global Leadership Network, which would lead the way as a formal international student organization on each campus.
Unfortunately, Pete’s unexpected death in 2010 caused some setbacks to fully implementing the new mission. HIS was fortunate that family, friends, and the leadership team stepped in to help bridge the gap immediately after Pete’s death. In 2012, Pat Cannon accepted the position as President of HIS International and is actively implementing the current mission and vision that were set out in 2007. See Mission and Vision section for details