By Lois Gray, University News Services
An estimated 500 to 550 new undergraduate international students will arrive on the University of Iowa campus this fall, making this year’s incoming class the largest ever for international undergraduate students in UI history.
See related story: UI prepared for record number of first-year students
This number is up from 364 international undergraduate students last year, said Downing Thomas, associate provost and dean of UI International Programs, representing a greater than 50 percent increase from last year.
In addition, an estimated 300 new graduate international students will arrive on campus, translating to a total of almost 800 new international students on campus this fall and bringing UI’s overall international student enrollment close to 2,800 or nearly 9 percent of the overall UI student body.
“This is not an isolated occurrence stemming from a push to recruit more international students,” Thomas said. “This is really part of an integrated campus strategy aimed at bringing the world to Iowa and taking Iowa to the world.”
These new undergraduate students include freshmen, transfer students, new exchange students and students enrolled in the English as a Second Language Program.
“This is about internationalizing the campus and providing students with the skills they need to succeed in the world and developing networks around the world that are going to benefit the university and the state in the future,” Thomas said.
Although other higher education institutions nationally are also seeing an increase in international students, the UI’s projections are ahead of the trend as compared to other Committee on Institutional Cooperation Schools, a consortium of Big Ten universities, plus the University of Chicago, according to Scott King, director of the UI International Student & Scholar Services.
Much of UI’s growth is attributed to the university’s international recruitment plan, which is administered by the UI Office of the Provost, UI International Programs and the UI Admissions Office. The plan is in its third year, Thomas said.
The UI had also set the goal of increasing its international student body to 9 percent of the overall student body by 2010, a goal first articulated in the 2005-2010 UI Strategic Plan. If the projections pan out, the UI will be close to reaching this goal this year.
In addition to continuing recruitment from countries where the UI has traditionally attracted the largest number of students (such as China, India and South Korea), the UI is also expanding to the Middle East, Latin America, Turkey and other parts of Asia.
“We’re trying to emphasize the diversity of the pool, though China is driving the growth in many ways,” Thomas said. “But we’re also seeing very strong increases from other countries, too, based on our recruitment efforts.”
In particular, the UI is seeing more students from Iraq, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Vietnam and United Arab Emirates.
Not only are the numbers of international students at the UI going up, but the caliber of the students is as high as ever.
“We’re seeing more Fulbright students than in the past,” King said. He said 17 Fulbright international students are anticipated to arrive this semester, up from the normal eight to 10 who come each fall. The UI will also see six to eight students from the new Iraqi Education Initiative arrive on campus this fall.
Cultural diplomacy, all students benefit
Thomas said that all students benefit from greater internationalization on campus: international students have an opportunity to earn degrees in top-ranked programs like those at the UI, while domestic students have an opportunity to interact with students from around the world.
“International students are a tremendous resource to this institution,” said Helen Jameson, manager of intercultural training and programming in the International Student & Scholar Services in International Programs. “They not only offer different perspectives inside the classroom, but outside the classroom as well.”
As UI domestic students go into careers that require an international focus or cross-cultural knowledge, opportunities to interact with students from around the world are particularly valuable now, Jameson said.
One program facilitating this kind of interaction is the Bridging Domestic and Global Diversity Program, which helps underrepresented students learn about one another and become more effective leaders.
“I have gotten so many e-mails from the domestic students that say, ‘That’s what I talked about in my interview and that’s why I got the job,’” Jameson said.
Vanessa East, a 2010 UI graduate from Waterloo, Iowa, credits her exposure to international students at the UI and her involvement with the Bridging Program with helping her land her first post-college job with AmeriCorps.
“The program provided a safe space to discuss difficult subjects such as stereotyping, race and gender, and led me to take a closer look at, and even validate, who I am as a light-skinned, half-Panamanian woman who can barely roll her ‘r’s,” said East, who will help new immigrants adjust to life in the United States in her new job in the Twin Cities area.
East added, “Being able to talk earnestly about these things, and hearing the stories of international students about their difficulties and opinions, was definitely an eye-opening and a mind-opening experience. “
East said that in the two job interviews she’s had since graduating, interviewers asked specifically about the Bridge program and her experience working with diverse groups.
“I’ve found that it is very acceptable for newly minted college graduates to draw from their experiences in classes and extracurricular programs for certain résumé items and interview questions,” she said. “And so having some of these experiences as part of a diverse group of students early in one’s professional career can be very appealing to potential employer. This can be particularly beneficial for native Iowans who plan to move to big cities for work since Iowa is not necessarily known elsewhere for its racial or ethnic diversity.”
International students also serve as volunteer cultural ambassadors in K-12 classrooms through a UI International Programs initiative, the International Classroom Journey. Students do everything from talking about the culture and politics of their home countries to sharing arts and music. Over the past four years, 400 students have visited 170 schools in eastern Iowa.
Having a diverse student body helps build citizen diplomacy, Jameson said.
“We’re not seeing a payoff just career-wise. Programs such as these also provide students with new ways to look at and experience the world,” Jameson said. “When we get into difficulties on a national level, sometimes it’s those personal relationships that keep us from fighting each other.”