'Dream team' helps international students find support, success at ASU

By

Courtney McCune

Moving to a new country to pursue your education can be an exciting, yet intimidating prospect. For the more than 10,000 students from 135 countries currently attending Arizona State University, there is a team focused on making their transition to the U.S. and the university a seamless and successful experience.

The International Student and Alumni Action Team (ISAAT) — or as some call them, the “ASU International Dream Team” — is composed of a dedicated network of ASU staff, faculty and alumni. Together, these individuals and departments collaborate to holistically support international students from the time they arrive on campus through graduation and beyond.

“Before coming to ASU, I was worried about whether people would accept me for who I am and understand the fact that I am from a different cultural background,” said Margaret Yirenkyi, a senior journalism and mass communication student from Ghana. “I had no idea how inclusive ASU was. Through programs organized by ISAAT, I gradually felt accepted and connected to the ASU community."

Yirenkyi says that the International Student Scholars Center (ISSC), an ISAAT partner, provided guidance on how to maintain her immigration status and assistance with needed travel and employment documentation.

“This ensures that I do not miss any opportunity to develop myself professionally, giving me the experience that I need as a Sun Devil," she said.

ISAAT members communicate on a weekly basis to create programming that focuses on education, careers — and fun. In addition to a comprehensive new-student orientation program, an International Student Fun Fair and shopping excursions, there is an outing to a Phoenix Suns game and panel discussion with Suns staff members planned. These activities provide international students opportunities to build a community and learn about American culture and cuisine. 

These groups also support International Night, ASU’s largest cultural festival. The annual event takes place in November and brings together 39 campus clubs and organizations to share their culture through education, food, performances and more.

Students learn about other cultures at the International Welcome Carnival at ASU
New international students find food, dance and interactive activities at the International Welcome Carnival at ASU. Photo by Bryan Pietsch

Additional activities include career-oriented guidance in the form of professional development conferences. The goal in all of ISAAT members’ work is for ASU’s international students and alumni to feel welcome, supported and ready to succeed — contributing to an overall atmosphere that has made ASU the top public institution chosen by international students for three years in a row, according to the Institute of International Education.

Janell Mora, associate director of International Student Professional Development for ASU’s Career and Professional Development Services, says ISAAT helps reduce “interdepartmental ping-pong” for students trying to navigate a new school and a new country.

“Because we are familiar with each other’s units and what is happening in each unit, we can share that introductory knowledge with the students and alumni we serve,” Mora said. “And then have a go-to contact person to direct international students and alumni to, regardless of the question being asked.”

Mora says this collaboration is imperative in providing high-quality service to students at a university the size and scale of ASU. And cutting through potential obstacles is part of the university’s commitment to its students’ success.

“Our driving mission, to provide timely and responsive services while making sure every student feels as though they matter, requires that we work together to work around and through boundaries and silos,” said Carol Sumner, senior associate dean of students with Educational Outreach and Student Services at ASU’s Tempe campus.

Students and alumni are encouraged to engage with ISAAT’s resources through the departments’ on-campus and online channels, as well as with groups such as the Coalition of International Students.

Andrea Brambila, a junior global studies major from Mexico who began her ASU experience this spring, found useful resources at International Orientation, another ISAAT supported-program presented last month at ASU’s Tempe campus.

“It’s been really great to meet people from different parts of the world and see how many students are enrolling in this college and how diverse it is,” Brambila said. “I’m going to use this experience to do better in college because of all the resources I know I have access to as an ASU student, and also to network with other people.”

ISAAT’s support for international students continues beyond commencement. Graduates can participate in the International Student Convocation, coordinated through a partnership with the Alumni Association and the Office of International Engagement.

After graduation, alumni have the opportunity to join the International Connections program, which organizes events like Sun Devil Send-Offs, professional networking events and more with the help of frontline alumni leadership in various geographic regions. Alumni in Maricopa County are also invited to participate in career panels and networking mixers.

“ASU international students have taken that first step by choosing to leave their home country and study in the U.S.,” said Daniel Hoyle, associate director of the International Students Scholar Center. “To continue this journey, we hope to walk many students down the path of awareness and creativity as a global citizen during their time at ASU to prepare them for the world that awaits them after they graduate.”

To learn more about student engagement at ASU, visit the Educational Outreach and Student Services' annual report. Top photo: Students participate in a photo book at International Education Week, hosted by International Student Engagement on Nov. 13-18. Photo by Bryan Pietsch

Stats on international students at ASU