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International connections

The world comes to RIT

Perhaps it's a small world after all. But RIT's world is getting bigger. A growing population of students from other countries enriches the RIT community with expanded opportunities for cultural interaction, exchange of ideas and global awareness.

Members of RIT's Asian Deaf Club, which includes international students and Asian-Americans, performed in "Motion Poetry" at Convocation in May, and later appeared at a fundraiser for Rochester's Seneca Park Zoo.

"Exposure to other cultures gives our students an advantage," says Stanley McKenzie, provost and vice president for academic affairs. "Our graduates are going to be living and working in an international economy."

RIT's student body today includes students from 90 countries. During the last school year, 1,125 international students were enrolled in the university's academic courses, out of a total enrollment of about 14,000 students. That's up 77 percent from 1994, when RIT's Strategic Plan established a goal of increasing the number of international students. RIT ranks 13th in the nation in the number of international students among universities offering master's degrees, according to figures from the Institute of International Education.

"These are significant numbers," says James Miller, vice president for enrollment management and career services, "and they're growing." This year, RIT received more than 2,000 applications from international students seeking admission to RIT's undergraduate and graduate programs.

Students come from every continent except Antarctica, with the top five countries in terms of numbers of students being India, China, Taiwan, Canada, and South Korea. The programs they choose are diverse, but information technology and computer science, engineering, and business administration are among the most popular. Like students from the United States, the international students are attracted to RIT because of the career-oriented thrust of the programs, says Miller. "Our programs are on target with the needs of the global economy."

That certainly was true for Rakesh Gajwani, a third-year information technology student from Taiwan who knew he wanted to pursue a career in some area of computer technology. Rocky, as he is called, attended an international high school and is fluent in English, Hindi, and Mandarin. He participated in the Peer Advisory Leader program through the International Student Services office in the Center for Student Transition and Support, and has made many friends among the international and American students at RIT. For some students ¨ international and American ¨ interacting with someone from another culture may be a new experience. "But both parties end up learning," Gajwani believes.

Being half a world away from home and "a more structured life" hasn't always been easy. "It took a year to adjust," he admits. "But now I really like the place."

Nicol·s Rubio's parents, Nicol·s Rubio Vargas and Mari· G. Del Carmen Borrero de Rubio, traveled from Venezuela to see their son receive his M.B.A. degree in May.
Nicolas Rubio also faced major challenges during his first year at RIT. He had won the chance to study in the U.S. through the Venezuelan government's highly competitive Galileo Scholar program. But to qualify for admission, he had less than five months to improve his English language skills. Through his own persistence and the help of RIT's English Language Center, Rubio earned admission to the College of Business in 1995.

Over the succeeding years, he won numerous RIT awards and became a popular student leader. Rubio was founder and first president of Global Union, the university's largest multicultural student organization, and served as a senator of RIT Student Government, as a voting member of the RIT Institute Council, and as vice president, president, chairman and chief executive officer of the RIT Graduate Management Association. He also founded the Venezuelan Student Association and IberoAmerica Today.

Rubio received a B.S. in international business in 1999, and an M.B.A. in May 2001.

"For me and my friends, RIT has been a very welcoming place," says Rubio. "But we didn't stay in our little group. You cannot wait for everyone to come to you. You are not the center of the universe."

Students from other countries face the same anxieties and adjustments of anyone starting college. But they must deal with a few additional issues. First, they must qualify for a student visa from the U.S. government, and comply with U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service regulations. RIT's International Student Services office is where international students go for help.

"People come with all kinds of questions," says Jeffrey Cox, associate director. The office organizes a quarterly orientation program, on-going support for adjustment to life in the U.S. and at RIT, and help with work and travel questions.

When Venkat Purushotham arrived at RIT in 1978, there was no such office to aid the handful of international students. "We felt like pioneers," says Purushotham. "It was not always easy to be different."

That small group of international students became very active on campus, organizing sometimes controversial forums such as a discussion of Iran's Ayatollah Khomeni. "We felt we had to have opportunities to explore world events," Purushotham says. They won recognition and, with the help of the RIT administration, the students were instrumental in the creation of the International Student Services office.

Venkat Purushotham
Purushotham received a B.S. in imaging science in 1981, and a master's the following year. He went to work for Eastman Kodak Co. in 1981 as a research scientist, and now is president of NexPress, a joint venture company formed by Kodak and Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG.

His success is mirrored by many of RIT's growing numbers of international alumni who have gone on to leadership positions in U.S. companies and around the world. Another outstanding international alumnus is Jorge A. G. Rivas '67, president and CEO of Fleming Packaging de Mexico, who has continued his connection with RIT as a member of the Board of Trustees since 1981.

How do students from other countries find out about RIT in the first place? The Division of Enrollment Management and Career Services (EMCS) has put substantial effort into getting RIT on the world map. Through connections with international organizations and foreign governments, RIT's reputation has spread. The Internet plays an important role, too, in leading students from other countries to RIT.

With respect to EMCS outreach through travel, a prime example is Associate Director of Graduate Enrollment Services Sonja Murray's recruitment trips this year to Asia and the Middle East, a Fulbright Exchange program in Germany, and visits to international embassies and agencies that sponsor students.

"It is wonderful to find, as I travel abroad and meet with international students and advisors, that RIT is so well known," says Murray. "Students and advisors know about RIT and are very interested in the academic programs we offer."

"We have, I think, a fairly comprehensive strategy that is not limited to one part of the world," says Vice President Miller, who has developed collegial relationships with officials in many countries. "We've done a lot of proposals and worked with many organizations. The demand will continue to grow as we become better known and as we continue to mature as a university."

The unique programs at RIT's National Technical Institute for the Deaf also attract international students. Currently, about 10 percent of NTID students come from 23 countries.

RIT's Enrollment Management and Career Services Division has played a key role in attracting international students. From left are Diane Ellison, director of graduate enrollment services, Sonja Murray, associate director of graduate enrollment services, James Miller, vice president, Enrollment Management and Career Services, and Michelle Morel, an M.B.A. student from the Dominican Republic who has worked in the office on co-op as a graduate assistant.
Hamad Ghazle, director of the medical sonography program, came to RIT from Lebanon as a student. With him are Mike Adsit '01 and Christine Borzilleri, a third-year biology major.
"Beyond question, international students enrich the experiences provided to deaf and hard of hearing students attending RIT," says Robert Davila, vice president for NTID. "International students are very active within the NTID/RIT community and through their participation and social contacts create a high degree of awareness about different cultures, languages and global perspectives."

The presence of international students influences campus life not only at NTID but throughout the university. Organizations such as OASIS (Organization for the Alliance of Students from the Indian Subcontinent), Chinese Student and Scholar Association, Caribbean Student Association, Taiwanese Student Association, Venezuelan Student Association, Global Union and others arrange social activities for their own members and other students. The more than 40 international and American students living in International House have the opportunity for cultural interaction on a day-to-day basis. The Quarter Mile and dining halls resonate with a multitude of languages.

"I believe RIT is becoming a nest of international culture," says Hamad Ghazle, who came to RIT from Lebanon as a student and is now director of the medical sonography program in the College of Science. "We've developed a very rich cultural environment. As people from different countries live and work together, share their ideas and culture, they learn tolerance and respect. These things are part of an international community."

There's another very tangible benefit. Approximately half a million international students are in the United States, and the vast majority of them finance their education from personal and family sources, according to the Institute of International Education. International education contributes $12.3 billion to the U.S. economy. Universities, including RIT, benefit directly.

A limited number of scholarships funded by private foundations and individuals are available to international students attending RIT. Scholarships are awarded to academically qualified students with great financial need for whom $500 to $3,000 will make a significant impact. Last year, 33 students from 14 countries received these awards.

As is true for all alumni, RIT continues to impact the lives of the international students long after they leave the campus.

Notes NTID's Davila, "When they graduate, they return to their countries enriched by their RIT experiences and they create broad awareness about our American culture, our political and social systems and the educational opportunities that are not available anywhere else. The pay-off, of course, is also measured by the employment opportunities that open up after graduation. Everyone comes out ahead - international and American students alike."

Alumnus Purushotham believes that his out-of-classroom experiences benefited him as much as his academic studies. "Learning to deal with people from all cultures, from diverse backgrounds, is a key to success."

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