RIT international campuses open doors to ‘remote start’ students

Students manage pandemic travel bans by taking classes at RIT’s China, Dubai, Kosovo, and Croatia campuses

Cecilia Mao, a first-year civil engineering technology student from China, began her first semester at RIT’s global campus in Weihai, China.

Cecilia Mao and Tanvi Thakur planned to start their first days as RIT Tigers in Rochester. As the COVID pandemic unfolded across the globe, the students from China and India shifted plans. They took advantage of onsite alternatives at RIT’s global campuses and a variety of online offerings.

Mao started her first year in civil engineering technology at RIT China in Weihai. Thakur, who just began the communication master’s program, is taking all of her classes online. Like many of RIT’s international students accepted at the Rochester campus, they were unable to get to the U.S. because of travel and visa restrictions, but RIT found ways to provide students with enrollment alternatives and connections to classmates at all the university’s campuses.

“We thought, how do we use this unique global presence to support our international Tigers?” said Lyndsey McGrath, director of RIT Global Programs and International Partnerships. Students worked with RIT Admissions, academic advisers in all the campuses, and RIT Global staff to create an international remote start option.

It was a one-time option for the fall semester in response to the pandemic to provide options for international students accepted to the main campus from all over the world that were going to have a hard time traveling to the U.S. There are 21 new, incoming students studying remotely at global campuses and 201 new, incoming international students studying remotely fully online. Advisers identified a mix of in-person, global campus, and online courses that could work for a variety of students to keep them on track in their programs.

Mao is one of 20 of those students taking classes at Weihai. This is her first experience with college roommates and although she was prepared for travel to Rochester and had seen RIT prior to being accepted, she is happy to be closer to home but still be part of RIT.

“I really wanted to start my college in the main campus,” said Mao, who lived with a host family during her high school years and heard about RIT through them. She will remain in China throughout this academic year.

“The thing is, for international students you have to get your visa. If we are going back in January, we’d have to get this done right now. I talked to a lot of students, and they said we would like to stay for another semester,” she said. Mao is taking two onsite classes and two online classes, all taught in English. When she had an Internet connection problem at the start of the semester, she fell behind in one class, but was able to enroll in the same class taking place at the Kosovo campus because each of the global campuses had later start dates than Rochester.

The online format provides connections over long distances, but there are some challenges including different times zones for class meetings. Thakur meets online with classmates on Tuesdays when it is 5 p.m. in Rochester. Several times zones away, it is 3:30 a.m. for her.

“The time difference doesn’t bother me too much as receiving this major is my priority, and I am determined to adapt to changes posed by COVID-19,” she said. “I think the biggest challenge would be communicating with peers and classmates as I am primarily on Zoom. While the stage fright has diminished in class participation, I do feel slightly detached from the class environment. However, one-on-ones with professors and frequent emailing has been helpful.”

Like many students, Thakur had hoped the pandemic would subside and make travel easier. She is also in the process of getting her visa and will continue online classes through the remainder of the semester.

“I am still unsure about when I will be on campus,” she said, “but, my eagerness and dedication toward my career is keeping me hopeful.” 

Mao is hopeful too and both enjoy the advantages of being international Tigers.

“I really like when people ask me about my major,” Mao said. “I’m really proud I’m from RIT. It’s really cool, because RIT is a really cool college. I love it.”

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