Published September 10, 2018
UB is moving to accelerate and strengthen engagement between new and returning international students and domestic students, campus life, and academic and non-academic programs.
The university is focusing on bringing international students more rapidly into classrooms and student life; developing leadership roles for domestic and international students; and bridging cultural differences more effectively and breaking down stereotypes, to help students from both groups better understand each other.
The actions are among more than 50 recommendations contained in the 159-page report of a two-year-long study by a task force of faculty and administrators, delivered to Provost Charles F. Zukoski, which looked at more fully integrating international students into campus and classroom life.
“This is a new approach. We are more mindful of our efforts to facilitate the inclusion and engagement of our international students to ensure their retention and long-term success at UB,” says John J. Wood, interim vice provost for international education.
“We are acting on recommendations contained in the task force report,” says Wood. “As we move forward to enhance UB’s standing as a truly global university, improving the environment and services for international students must be a clear priority.”
UB’s approach is focused around key initiatives, says Katie Tudini, who joined UB in April as assistant vice provost and director for International Student Services (ISS) after serving as assistant director of the Office of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) at Georgia Institute of Technology.
Tudini describes one priority as a grants-driven initiative, with available funding going to departments — academic and non-academic — for collaborative, co-sponsored, inclusive programming.
“Even if they are in the same classroom together, it is not inclusive if the two student populations don’t understand each other,” says Tudini, who has more than 10 years of experience in international education and was recently appointed chair of the International Student and Scholar Regulatory Practice Committee of NAFSA: Association of International Educators.
“We are trying to assist faculty members, lab directors, Student Life staff, resident advisors and others in understanding how to best prepare both groups: how to understand each other, break down stereotypes and think about implicit bias,” she says.
Developing student leaders is also a key priority. “That could mean international students, or U.S. students who have a deeper context of international differences,” Tudini says. “They will serve as inclusion and engagement ambassadors around campus.
“LGBTQ students, students of color, undocumented students — we are trying to instill an understanding about what it means to be inclusive of all,” she says.
Barbara J. Ricotta, UB senior associate vice president for student life, cites an inclusive environment as important to international students’ ability to make early connections with the campus community and explore new opportunities.
“Student Life understands the value of providing opportunities for new and returning international students to find different activities and people they can get to know,” she says. ”It is important for them to become a part of the UB community.
“International students don’t have the familiarities of home and can struggle in managing the change in environment. But, we know you are going to be more academically successful — and more likely to stay and graduate — if you can get more engaged within those first six to eight weeks,” says Ricotta.
Tudini says during the 2018 International Student Orientation, an interactive word cloud activity revealed an informal assessment of what undergraduate international students want to get out of their time at UB.
“What these students are most looking forward to about their time at UB,” Tudini says, “was overwhelmingly found to be the word, ‘friends.’ Which tells us that the most important thing to students outside of their academics is the connections they will make with fellow students at UB.”
“For international students, meeting others throughout the larger university community, getting outside the cultural ‘bubble’ of your home country, is the hardest thing to do,” says Peter Pranata, a graduate student in industrial and systems engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
“When I arrived as a freshman from Indonesia in 2014, there were three other students here from my country,” says Pranata. “Getting involved, making connections is key, but this didn’t come right away for me. After receiving an invitation as a sophomore to join the Indonesian Student Association, things progressed from there, meeting many more people, getting involved in community service.
“A lot happened after I was elected president of the association. Developing leadership among international students is important, and there are many opportunities to meet others from different backgrounds and nationalities.”
Strengthening transition programs can help international students work through multiple challenges once they have arrived at their university.
“We are going to focus on helping international students come to all of those other programs — the ones that exist outside of their classes — that we also want them to be a part of,” says Tudini. “To impress upon them right from the beginning how important it is for them to become a part of this community. When students don’t have a network, they often don’t know what resources are available to them, and they don’t have people to talk to.”
Chris Dobmeier, a member of the UB Class of 2018 who spoke to international students during this fall’s International Orientation Week, says domestic students also benefit from engaging with international students, often learning more about them through the experience.
“When I got to UB, the first group I joined was an intramural soccer team,” says Dobmeier, who is from Niagara Falls. “There were players from Dubai, India, Germany, Ireland and Iraq. Until then, I had no experience with anyone from another country.
“Playing soccer, you get to know others on a team level and as individuals,” he says. “I learned what a huge risk it was for many of them to leave their homes and their countries and come to the U.S. to attend UB.
“Most domestic students have no idea about that, and I would not really have understood that without getting to know them through the team. So it was about more than soccer for me.”
Tudini says experiences such as Dobmeier’s work to expand the worldview of domestic students.
“Not just for when they are with international students, but, also because we are trying to make sure they understand those general concepts of inclusion and why it’s important when they are with students or other individuals who are different from them,” she says.