International Growth Blessings Require Infrastructure Enhancement

February 08, 2012 By: Adria L. Baker, EdD

wRAP-Up Volume 9, Issue 1 - March 2012

At Rice University, we are experiencing a distinct campus culture change, particularly at the undergraduate level. Historically, we only admitted about 3.5 percent international students at the undergraduate level, and only until recently did any of our undergraduates come from China. Now we admit 11–13 percent undergraduate international students to our freshman class, with the largest numbers from China. In sum, this is an approximately 250 percent increase in 5 years.

The undergraduate international student growth was intentional and will continue to be so for another year. In anticipation of the expected growth, we worked as a campus through a process to build a stronger infrastructure for the growing international students.

Top 10 List of Things Done (and Still Doing) to Build a Strong Infrastructure

  1. We created a special orientation program for the undergraduate international students only.

  2. We also created ongoing special services, such as a student liaison program and a first semester mentoring program where peer students in our residential college system can keep up with the international students in their colleges to make sure they are adjusting well. We now have a winter program to help bridge the winter break, as well as a special Summer International College that includes programming, training on cultural adjustment issues, and academic integrity for those who cannot return home during the vacation periods.

  3. To accommodate the special needs of nonnative English speakers, we have added a special communications course. We now have a specific focus for second language students with our newly created Writing Center. We continue to look into other possible academic support for those new to the United States.

  4. Since research is a key component of our university and is encouraged at the undergraduate level, we have assessed our existing academic offerings to identify those courses and programs that promote research for international students and are appropriate for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorization.

  5. We are focused on teaching the U.S. value of volunteerism and “giving back” in service hours to one’s community with extracurricular engagement beyond the academic setting.

  6. We have created other special integration programs, as well as conducted cultural awareness trainings with the U.S. student leadership, college system leadership, and academic departments. This will continue to be a major focus of attention for our office as we continue to evolve.

  7. For China, we are working closely with the student leadership to promote U.S.-China relations and global connections. We seek to do this with other student groups.

  8. We have developed a for-credit elective class for undergraduate international students addressing integration, academic success, and U.S. culture in an in-depth manner.

  9. We strengthened our insurance policy to help protect international students.

  10. We are collaborating with new partners across campus to increase integration, such as our athletic department, dean of undergraduates, graduate and postdoctoral office, and the provost’s office. In addition, we always seek ways to enhance relationships with student affairs offices.

The list will continue. We are managing a vibrant campus culture change from a few undergraduate international students to a significant number. In a small university such as ours, the increase is strongly felt. This year, our overall international student population was almost 20 percent of our total student population. Becoming an international university requires “stepping up” in all parts of the campus, and we are excited to be a part of this culture growth.

This article was adapted from an E-mail exchange in the Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA) list-serv on April 12, 2011.


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