University of Iowa

Maintaining an inclusive campus

November 21st, 2016
Students gather on the Pentacrest

Students gather on the Pentacrest for an ice cream social at the beginning of a fall semester. Social programming has always been part of the welcoming experience for University of Iowa international students, but this year the UI has implemented several new programs to help students acclimate and adjust to life in Iowa City and on the UI campus. File photo by Tim Schoon. 

By Mikael Mulugeta,  IowaNow

The University of Iowa continues to be a destination for international students, with 4,300 enrolled or engaged in post-graduation training this fall.

They hail from 114 foreign countries and territories, with more than 60 percent (2,642) hailing from China, according to fall 2016 enrollment statistics from International Student and Scholar Services. The country with the next-highest number of students enrolled at the UI is South Korea, with 336.

Fifty-eight percent (2,522) are undergraduate students, whereas 32 percent (1,389) are graduate and professional students, according to the report. Another 389 students are taking part in post-graduate training.

“Iowa City is a safe community that appeals to the parents of students, and the educational opportunities at the UI continue to draw large numbers of students,” says Downing Thomas, dean of International Programs. “And its reputation and name recognition are strengthened by alumni who return to their home countries and speak well of their experience here.”

Top UI international student enrollment, by country, in 2016:

China: 2,642

South Korea: 336

India: 324

Saudi Arabia: 56

Iran: 51

Source: Fall 2016 International Student and Scholar Services Enrollment Statistics

According to a report by the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (NAFSA) included as part of the 2016 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, international students at the UI contributed $146.6 million to the local economy and supported 1,805 jobs. International students enrolled at colleges and universities statewide contributed $365.8 million to Iowa’s economy and supported 3,710 jobs.

Because of its robust international student enrollment—compare the current 4,300 international students to the 1,792 enrolled in 2000—the university has implemented several new programs to help students acclimate and adjust to life in Iowa City and on the UI campus. The programs also help create opportunities for understanding among domestic and international students, Thomas says.

New this year are:

The Conversation Center, begun in the spring of 2016, is a peer-based English conversation program conceived by a group of students in a leadership course who noticed tension and distance between international and domestic students. It aims to build understanding by pairing students for conversations that can improve an international student’s English and allow students to ask questions about each other’s cultures.

Because some international students find adapting to their new environment challenging, a new student organization, called Heart Workshop, aims to raise awareness of mental health issues while helping international students adjust to a new culture. The group informs international students of available counseling services and has advocated for increasing counseling staffing. UI Counseling Service also offers an international student conversation group, created to give international students a place to discuss concerns about their transition to life at the UI and in the United States.

This fall, the UI expanded its international student orientation to include campus tours, which in the past ended before international students arrived at campus. A virtual tour program also is in development.

MAUI, the website used by UI instructors to submit attendance reports, final grades, and grade changes, has a new name-pronunciation feature that allows students to submit their preferred name along with a recorded pronunciation. This feature aims to help instructors correctly pronounce names of international and domestic students in an effort to help students feel more comfortable.

“The great thing is that some of these steps forward have been made by faculty and staff, and some have come from the students,” says Thomas. “It is a collective effort to keep the UI a premier destination for international students.”

And, after international students receive their degrees from the UI, they’re returning to their home countries and organizing IOWA clubs with other alumni for networking and socialization. IOWA clubs number 17 to date, with two new clubs established in Beijing and Shanghai in 2016.

“There are no better ambassadors for the UI than its former students, whether they come from the U.S. or another part of the world,” Thomas says. “We’re excited that our international alumni are organizing to form connections around their Hawkeye experience.”

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