Rice Unconventional Wisdom

Get to Know the OISS Staff

(in alphabetical order)

Irena Aleksic, Program Manager & Senior International Advisor
Irena moved from Belgrade, Serbia to Houston in 1992 and, while enrolled in ESL, immediately developed a passion for learning languages. So far, she has studied Spanish, Italian, Russian, English and Serbo-Croatian and is always looking to learn more (suggestions welcome!). While she absolutely adores Texas, she enjoys traveling abroad and discovering new places every year. Additionally, she is very interested in culture – languages, music and cuisine being her greatest cultural passions,

  • Favorite song/music genre: 90's Alternative, New Orleans jazz, Mediterranean
  • Favorite part of job: The opportunity to learn new things, serve an outstanding student society and work with amazing people
  • Favorite color: Turquoise 
  • Favorite movie: Amelie 
  • Lifelong dream: To travel all over the world, learn many languages and try many foods!

Adria Baker, Ed.D., Associate Vice Provost for International Education; Executive Director, OISS
Originally from Amarillo, Texas, Adria Baker got a doctorate in education focusing on sociolinguistic competence of international students, and completed part of her graduate work at the University of Costa Rica on a Rotary Fellow. Her passion is working with international visitors and her greatest joys are time spent with her husband, Ross, and son, Alec.

  • Favorite song/music genre: Easy jazz and gospel
  • Favorite part of job: Every minute of everyday - especially spending time with international students and scholars and the wonderful OISS staff
  • Favorite color: Blue 
  • Favorite movie: Remember the Titans 
  • Lifelong dream: To play the trumpet like my dad            

Sandra Bloem-Curtis, Director, International Compliance & Administration
Growing up in both Brazil and the U.S., Sandra developed a passion for culture and languages. She double majored in International Studies and French, giving her the opportunity to study her two favorite things. After college Sandra moved to California to work in Silicon Valley to gain more technical experience, and later decided to return to Texas to pursue a job in international education. She has been at Rice since 2002, and could not imagine working anywhere else.

  • Favorite song/music genre: Brazilian music (samba, pagode, axe)
  • Favorite part of job: The wonderful people - students, scholars, and co-workers
  • Favorite color: Green
  • Favorite movie: Too many to choose from - any movie that makes me laugh
  • Lifelong dream: To write a book and travel the world

Jenny Brydon, Senior Manager, International Advising & Programs 
Growing up all over the U.S. and abroad gave Jenny a love for all things international. She received her B.S. from University of Idaho and her M.S. from California Lutheran University in Counseling and Guidance with an Emphasis in College Student Personnel. She has worked in many different areas within the university setting but enjoys working with international students and scholars the most. 

  • Favorite song/music genre: Fan of all types of music. Counting Crows is my favorite band.
  • Favorite part of job: All of it!!!!
  • Favorite color: Pink
  • Favorite movie: Anything sappy or sports related
  • Lifelong dream: To see a game at every baseball stadium in the U.S. and Canada             
Maria Corcuera, International Advisor
Maria moved from Mexico to Houston in 1999 with her husband and their two daughters, for what she thought would be a 2 year period. Twenty years later, she is still here as a proud American. Maria loves ballet since she was a little girl, and danced for 35 years, later on obtaining her Teacher Certificate from the Royal Academy of Dance. She is fluent in English, Spanish and French and has a Law degree from UNAM, where she graduated with honors. Working with refugees at Catholic Charities, she experienced the joy of interacting with people from different countries and learning about their cultures. After 10 years at Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rice, working with international students became her favorite part of the day, and today Maria is thrilled to work with Rice's international community at OISS.
  • Favorite song/music genre: Brandenburg Concertos, classical music
  • Favorite part of job: Learning new things and working with people from different parts of the world
  • Favorite color: Blue
  • Favorite movie: Intouchables (French movie with Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy)
  • Lifelong dream: Walk el Camino de Santiago de Compostela Pilgrimage in Spain   
Marjorie Cerejo, International Department Coordinator
Marjorie was born and raised in Brazil. In 1998 she moved to Houston where she attended the University of Houston and got a Bachelor of Arts in Communications. After getting her diploma she worked for nine years at a local public relations firm. In 2011 Marjorie moved back to Brazil where she worked at the Embassy of Canada, the Embassy of Ireland and CONIF (National Council of the Federal Network of Vocational, Scientific and Technological Education). In 2018 she moved back to Houston to start working at OISS. She enjoys traveling, meeting people and making new friends.
  • Favorite song/music genre: All types - from opera to samba!
  • Favorite part of job: To be able to assist and meet people from all over the world
  • Favorite color: Green and blue
  • Favorite movie: Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
  • Lifelong dream: To be able to live close to the ones she loves   

Elmira Ganiyeva, International Delegate & Compliance Specialist
Elmira was born and raised in Kazakhstan. She thinks it is great to be an international student since she went to Undergraduate and Graduate Schools in Kazakhstan, Belgium and Spain. Before joining OISS she worked for the U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Kazakhstan for 8 years. Traveling is her passion. She loves to meet and talk to local people wherever she travels. She thinks she's been lucky to have traveled to around 25 countries and to have learned about different cultures and traditions from the locals there. So, she thinks OISS is the best place for her to be since there is hardly any other place that is directly involved with people from so many countries!

  • Favorite song/music genre: Ranges from classical (Andrea Bocelli) to salsa music (Marc Anthony)
  • Favorite part of job: People who I work with and who I work for
  • Favorite color: Tiffany blue (that little box!) :)
  • Favorite movie: Life is Beautiful, Godfather, Beautiful Mind
  • Lifelong dream: Travel to every spot of the world and to win a jackpot some day, so I can open a specialized school for children with brain injury  

Irene Mendez, International Administrative Coordinator
Irene was born in Costa Rica and moved to Houston when she was 8 years old. She speaks both English and Spanish fluently. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Theatre Arts and Religion from Mount Holyoke College. Prior to starting at Rice, she worked at a law firm where she met all sorts of people from different cultures and backgrounds and gained a lot of skills that are applicable to her work at OISS. She is excited for this new opportunity to be joining the OISS team. In her free time, Irene enjoys spending time with her dogs, Miles and Lupe, as well as participating in trivia nights with her friends.

  • Favorite song/music genre: Is Beyoncé a genre?
  • Favorite part of job: Interacting with people from different cultures
  • Favorite color: Yellow and purple
  • Favorite movie: Pitch Perfect (only the first one)
  • Lifelong dream: Travel all over the world      

Andy Meretoja, International Program Administrator
Originally from Finland, Andy moved to Houston in the Spring of 2009 with her husband. She majored in English Philology (a fancy way of saying language and culture) and wrote her Master's thesis about Neil Gaiman's graphic novel series, The Sandman. As a Rice international, Andy has received a lot of help and support from OISS, and is excited about the opportunity to help other internationals herself.

  • Favorite song/music genre: My all-time number one favorite is Red Hot Chili Peppers!
  • Favorite part of job: The fact that every morning I really love coming to work!
  • Favorite color: Black and purple
  • Favorite movie: Snakes on a Plane
  • Lifelong dream: To travel to as many places as possible (and to see the Houston Texans win a Super Bowl!)           
Elizabeth Thomas, International  Advisor
Elizabeth is a Houston native and loves sharing her hometown with visitors! She became interested in international education through friendships with foreign exchange students in high school and study abroad experiences in Spain and Argentina. Elizabeth received her M.A. in Spanish Linguistics from Middlebury College and enjoys practicing her Spanish whenever possible. Prior to starting at Rice, Elizabeth managed scientific research conferences in California and Italy and coordinated a legal orientation program at a Houston nonprofit. She is thrilled to be serving the local international community at Rice..  
  • Favorite song/music genre: Latin pop! Julieta Venegas and Shakira are some faves
  • Favorite part of job: The people and the beautiful Rice campus
  • Favorite color: Purple
  • Favorite movie: The Sound of Music
  • Lifelong dream: Eat at the best restaurants in every country             

Agnes Vajtai, Manager, Visa & Compliance Administration
Born and raised in Hungary, Agnes came to the U.S. in 2000 and lived in upstate NY for 8 years before moving to Houston. She received her Master's in Communication with a concentration in Organizational Communication from SUNY Albany, and has worked with international students and scholars at RPI. Because of them, she came to learn, appreciate, and fall in love with this exciting field.

  • Favorite song/music genre: Almost all genres including classical, pop/rock and Hungarian Folk music
  • Favorite part of job: Interacting with internationals, and getting to know different cultures from all over the world
  • Favorite color: All the colors of the rainbow
  • Favorite movie: Good ones that feature interesting characters such as:  Sommersby, The Crucible, V for Vendetta, Forrest Gump, Dead Poets Society, The Godfather…
  • Lifelong dream: To live close to my loved ones, and to learn how to play the piano