Dean for Graduate Students
The national landscape of graduate education, never a pristine vista, has for the past several years been progressively littered with especially rocky outcroppings:
- The increasing intensity of the competition among elite universities for the best students. Formerly accepted understandings that moderated competition among schools have been replaced by unfettered willingness to offer high stipends, attractive housing, relocation funding, and amenities one typically associates with corporate or sports organizations. This reality stimulates MIT to examine previous assumptions about our competitive position and to fashion measured responses.
- Heightened concern about international students, in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks, now etched in the national psyche as "9/11." INS rules have been tightened, understandably, but with the effect of making it more difficult to bring international students across national borders. (See report of the International Students' Office, below.)
- The increasing presence of unions as public and private universities struggle to cope with rising demands of graduate students for attention to their needs and concerns.
How are these new realities surfacing at MIT, and what kinds of positive responses are suggested?
The union movement clearly represents a decidedly dramatic shift from the conventionally passive role of graduate students and reflects an emerging view of them as active, assertive partners in the enterprise of advanced education. While the immediate focus has been on teaching assistants and the extent to which those appointment and their attendant responsibilities imply employee status, we also saw efforts to include students serving as resident assistants in residence halls and others in similar positions. In the past year, private institutions that formerly enjoyed blissful insulation from the mostly public-university-focused unionization movement began to see union campaigns develop and achieve startling successes. In circles of graduate deans there has been alarm at these developments, which challenge the traditional relationship between faculty and graduate students, especially at the elite private schools. However, it's not unreasonable to say that the motivation for unionization has followed from universities' pervasive willingness to exploit their graduate students for low-cost teaching and as occasional substitutes for roles better suited to professional staff. The contention that teaching assistants are not employees but students is rapidly losing ground in every quarter of higher education, and in many cases universities have only themselves to blame.
Graduate teaching assistants at MIT represent only a small fraction of our graduate body, about 8 percent of nearly 6,000 registered students. The majority of others are supported as research assistants by faculty research contracts, have internally or externally provided fellowships or traineeships, or pay their own way. Most of those who teach do so as an integral part of their graduate education or because they want the experience. In those areas where research support is not strong and where teaching has traditionally been the sole source of support, aggressive efforts to raise fellowship funding are progressing. Graduate teaching should be encouraged and enabled at MIT as a vital element of the educational experience, but reliable support should be expanded for those whose fields are not well funded by research contracts.
If another impetus for collective bargaining lies in nonexistent or deeply flawed relationships among graduate students, administration and faculty, then there is reason for a positive outlook at MIT. To be sure, there have been and will always be tensions arising from incompatible goals of students and administration, from financial exigencies that limit available funds, and from other factors. However, there has been growing cooperation between the administration and graduate student leadership on an increasingly broad set of issues and problems:
- Graduate students participate meaningfully on numerous Institute committees, enjoying a role in decision making that has become extensive.
- Students responded in large numbers (46 percent) to a recent survey asking about their principal needs and concerns, demonstrating their willingness to inform discussions. Our responsiveness to these voices should demonstrate the administration's willingness to listen.
- When graduate students have been included in decision making and given access to relevant information, they have risen to each occasion to provide astute analyses, clever potential solutions, and responsible help in generating acceptance of proposed solutions.
- Of particular significance to the GSO in the past year has been the responsiveness of graduate students to the development and expansion of "graduate community" at the Institute.
The spirit of mutual cooperation has grown. This trend is a welcome one, and the GSO is committed to its continuation.
The reports that follow will give concrete examples of how the trends and issues introduced above have been reflected in GSO activities of the past year.
Graduate Women's Group
In its fifth year, the Graduate Women's Group (GWG) continued to provide a supportive network for graduate women students at the Institute. Group membership reached more than 150, with approximately 50 women students actively involved in GWG initiatives throughout the year. The bimonthly informal lunch discussions served primarily as a forum for building relationships and "community" across department boundaries. Many of the women who participated in GWG gatherings or other activities had common concerns and issues, experienced comparable challenges, and met similar "invisible barriers" to success. For them, the GWG became a "safe" place to talk about both painful and pleasant aspects of graduate life, and helped them to cope with and work through the tough moments.
Over the past five years, the co-sponsors of the GWG, Associate Dean Blanche Staton, Associate Dean for Graduate Students, and Lynn Roberson from the Office of Counseling and Support Services, have consistently encouraged the students to empower themselves by sharing the responsibility for their success and general well-being. This year, the GWG students responded to this charge by developing significant new initiatives, and some women students became active "working" members of the Graduate Student Council.
Perhaps the most striking initiative and visible example of the GWG's impact was the creation of a women's group for graduate students in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (GW6), founded by three members of the GWG. In late winter, a few Chinese GWG members announced their interest in hosting an event to bring together Chinese women graduate students. A dinner sponsored by the GWG attracted more than 40 women. Building on the previous year's lunch discussions on the topic of the challenges and rewards for women in academic careers, one graduate woman led a brainstorming and discussion team to generate ideas about how better to support and prepare graduate women for academic careers, and clarify the obstacles to choosing such a career. This activity remains a work in progress.
Graduate Women's Book Club
The Graduate Women's Book Club continued to thrive as a way for students from different cultural backgrounds and academic disciplines to come together socially around a common interest. The women met frequently, with 12–15 women actively participating throughout the year, including summer. The GSO covered the cost of the books.
The GSO augmented the Institute's career development agenda by sponsoring programs and events specifically for women graduate students. For example, on April 11, 2002, the director of leadership at the Sloan School, Robert Greenley, arranged to broadcast a leadership conference live from New York, Washington, DC, and London. Hosted by Womenfuture, Inc., the event featured women leaders of multinational companies and government agencies who discussed timely topics of business. The GSO offered a private showing to the GWG, and the GWG co-sponsors facilitated feedback discussions following each segment of the conference. Also during spring term, Hannah Bernstein, who specializes in career services for graduate students, met with the GWG to hear about their interests, issues, and concerns, as well as inform them of the resources available through the Office of Career Services and Preprofessional Advising.
The GSO's partnership with Mentornet, an e-mentoring network for women in engineering and science, continues to be valuable to graduate women students. Associate Dean Blanche Staton manages the relationship among students, MIT administration, and Mentornet. In fall 2001, the program paired 25 graduate students with mentors in industry, providing a framework for them to pursue a year-long mentoring relationship. The students benefited from an increased understanding of how work life differs from student life as well as the planning process for the transition from school to work. They also benefited from contact with a mentor who has pursued a career path of interest to the student, and access to networks and other resources, which often lead to opportunities for internships and jobs. Also, more than 25 undergraduate women have used Mentornet's services, to which they are entitled because of the GSO's partnership status. The GSO expects participation levels to increase among all women students as Mentornet continues to expand its services.
Recently, the GSO arranged for the executive director of Mentornet to meet with representatives from the Office of Career Services and Preprofessional Advising, and the Alumni Association, to discuss the breadth of services available to MIT. Many of the program's mentors are alumni of MIT; in fact, Mentornet might help the Institution connect with and track the activity of "lost" alumni.
Key Student Constituencies
On September 12, 2001, the GSO sponsored the fifth annual reception to welcome new graduate women to MIT. It was the day after tragedy struck our nation, leaving pain, anger, confusion, and devastation in its wake. Perhaps the need to reach out and touch someone, or the search for a smiling and welcoming face, or simply the chance to talk to someone who understood, drew more than 80 people. Newly enrolled graduate women were joined by continuing students, women faculty, and administrators. New students seized the moment to get acquainted, ask questions, and learn about resources. Said one new student, "I am encouraged by the support on campus. I also found it so exciting to see so many women of all races pursuing their PhDs!!! It was invigorating."
The GSO's goal of enhancing the quality of life for graduate women students has focused new attention on graduate women who are parents. The office offered advice and provided financial support for activities aimed at creating opportunities for "graduate moms" to share experiences and interests, learn about resources for families, and present their issues and concerns to the larger MIT community. The Graduate Student Council assigned a representative to serve as a liaison to the "graduate moms group," more student parents moved into leadership positions to represent the voice of the student parent community, and new initiatives have been put in place to respond to their needs.
Looking forward, in addition to sustaining the current level of support for graduate women students, the GSO will explore possible strategies for responding to graduate students' requests for stronger communication skills and more opportunities to meet women in leadership positions in both the academy and industry. The GSO intends to collaborate with the International Students Office and international student interest groups on campus to better understand and more proactively support graduate women from other countries.
The GSO reaches out to and supports the graduate student community of color in significant ways throughout the year, through individual counseling, financial support for group events, and planning ongoing initiatives, for example, the Power Lunch. This monthly lunch hour forum has been a way for minority graduate students to gather socially, share issues and concerns, exchange "best practices" for navigating the PhD, and learn something that has value to them either educationally, professionally, or personally. This past year, for example, Dr. John Davis from the Research Division of IBM shared his views about what it takes to be successful in graduate school and in the workplace. Hannah Bernstein and Deborah Liverman from the Office of Career Services and Preprofessional Advising delivered a presentation and facilitated a discussion on networking—for information, influence, and resources—as a career development strategy. Dr. Suze Prudent, a psychologist on staff at MIT, offered techniques for stress management and described common causes and effects of stress. Students responded particularly well to MIT staff, and many contacted the MIT presenters individually for follow-up conversations.
Graduate students of color have expressed an interest in connections with graduate alumni of color as well as more exposure to leadership development activities. Over the next year, the GSO will collaborate with the Alumni Association, individual graduate alumni, minority faculty, and student organizations, to identify and implement appropriate activities.
The major goal for the 2001–2002 recruitment season was to strengthen relationships with the growing number of university contacts. Over the past few years, the GSO has had an increasing involvement in two major initiatives: the NSF-funded University of Massachusetts at Amherst Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP); and the Ford Motor Company/MIT Recruitment Initiative. These programs have increased the number of faculty contacts at some institutions and added institutions to the recruitment roster.
Through campus visits, conferences, phone and email follow-up, the GSO has maintained and strengthened its campus networks at various targeted institutions. Faculty contacts are receptive to outreach efforts and welcome additional opportunities to collaborate. The various recruitment efforts have created a need for consistent annual visits to ensure that MIT's interests are recognized on these campuses each year.
The MIT Summer Research Program was also gearing up for another full year of activities, beginning with the recruitment of applicants. After experiencing a dip in the number of applications in AY2000, the GSO increased the mailings of internship applications to include new contacts in AY2001. This additional outreach was intended to complement the traditional mailings to various individual contacts and directors of the following national programs: Minority Access to Research Careers; Minority Biomedical Research Support; and the Ronald McNair Program. (A mailing to approximately 30 directors of the Alliance for Minority Participation program was postponed until next year.)
Even with the slight increase in outreach, the number of applications this year remained the same, although there was some diversification in the mix of schools represented.
Through funds made available by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), private foundation grants, and NSF resources (available through AGEP, mentioned above), 14 slots were available in the Summer Research Program. This number was lower than the usual 30 due to completion of several long-term grants and an imbalance in the requests for engineering placements as opposed to science placements. Nearly 70 percent of student applications were for engineering opportunities, with less interest in interdisciplinary areas of study where available science funds could be applied. Nevertheless, offers were made to fill all 14 slots (11 students accepted), and the program entered its seventeenth summer with 11 students placed in research positions.
In June, HHMI notified the GSO that funding had been renewed for the next four years; this guarantees support for 15 student slots with the potential for five additional slots later. Although this is good news, the GSO is determined to rethink its outreach strategy and to try to identify more diverse funding in support of the program.
Looking ahead, the GSO anticipates rethinking its recruitment strategy. Increasing pressure from NSF and NIH has refocused attention on what departments are doing to increase the number of students at the graduate level who are underrepresented minorities. In addition, an infusion of new, enthusiastic faculty over the past few years has helped to rejuvenate the interest around this effort. With this in mind, a proposal has been laid out under the umbrella of a collaborative leadership project initiated within the GSO to include eight academic departments.
Faculty from these departments will work closely with the GSO to assist with recruitment roadwork; support the summer research program logistics; and document the one-year collaborative experience. Hopefully, with increased faculty involvement in off-campus recruitment efforts, MIT will improve its ability to identify and attract the appropriate applicants and increase the number of underrepresented minority students who matriculate into MIT graduate programs.
In addition, faculty will act as liaisons for the Summer Research Program, helping to identify potential mentors and assisting with placements. This faculty support may help the increasingly difficult mentor recruitment process, which suffers from competition with UROP and the inclination on the part of faculty to work with students with whom they can develop more long lasting relationships.
Just as essential to the success of the effort will be the documentation of this experience with participating departments—each with unique interests and resources. Documenting the business processes that develop in this recruitment effort will provide a glimpse at the work entailed in establishing a truly proactive institutional graduate recruitment effort on the graduate level.
During the past year the Graduate Student Council worked energetically to represent graduate students and advocate for improvement of the graduate experience at MIT. Through successful programming and active advocacy, the GSC continued to be a major contributor to student life. The GSC worked together with students, faculty, staff, and alumni to produce a number of successful events and will continue to do so in the future. While cooperation between the GSC and the administration was generally close, towards the end of the academic year several communications breakdowns occurred. Going forward, the GSC will work proactively to improve the communications and participation by students on major decisions that affect them.
The following is a summary of the main topics and events that the GSC focused on during the past year.
GSC Orientation Activities
The past year was an extraordinary one in that over 1,000 new students participated, and over 100 volunteers helped; the "Graduate Student Volunteer Day" program was initiated; a banquet for alumni company representatives brought back over 100 alumni; orientation welcome packets were expanded and significantly improved; and MIT's GSC received two prestigious awards from the National Association of Graduate and Professional Students.
Career Fair 2002
Co-sponsored by the senior class, the Society of Women Engineers, and Office of Career Services and Pre-professional Advising, the annual career fair was once again successful. Despite the chilling effects on travel following the events of September 11, 185 companies participated. Profits from the fair were used to fund the GSC Travel Grant program along with other GSC-sponsored activities.
Professional Development Series
This series of workshops was designed to address a variety of questions about options and opportunities for students' careers. Participation was strong this past year, as the series attracted hundreds of students and continued to be a popular program.
Grad School 101
Co-sponsored by the Graduate Students Office and organized with Dean for Graduate Students Isaac Colbert and Professor Steven Lerman, the Grad School 101 series is designed to improve the first-year experience by directly introducing students to important issues such as advising, funding, and dealing with problems. Offered for the second time this past year, the seminars convened in the various graduate residence halls. The site change encouraged a substantial increase in student participation. In the future, the GSC plans to work with Dean Colbert and Professor Lerman to develop and post on the web an expanded set of notes associated with the seminars.
Other GSC Program Highlights
- A new leadership initiative, "Leading," was initiated, attracting over 100 participants. This initial success guarantees that the program will continue in the future.
- The International Mentoring Program, offered in conjunction with the International Students Office, continued to be a successful effort, having doubled the participation of the prior year.
- Run4Kids brought together hundreds of students, faculty, staff, alumni and local residents in a unique fundraising effort for area youth. The activity helped to improve relations among MIT graduate students and the Cambridge community.
- Alumni events and interaction increased substantially, especially during Career Fair Week and through a continuing series of social events sponsored by the GSC.
- TechLink continued to hold increasingly popular events co-sponsored by the GSC and the Sloan Senate. Both large and specially targeted vents offered many opportunities for interdepartmental networking and general socializing opportunities among campus-resident and off-campus graduate students.
- Participation in the annual GSC Ski Trip doubled to nearly 400 students. The event typically attracts a many first-year students, but the past year saw increased general interest in the activity. Other trips during the year were also sold out, indicating the desire by graduate students to participate in social activities off campus.
- Graduate Nights events provided live entertainment on campus every other week during the year. The events are so successful that they are becoming a permanent addition to GSC programming.
During the past year the GSC advocated assertively regarding issues that directly affected graduate students. Among the highlights of that advocacy were the following:
- Working together with the GSO, Dean for Student Life, and the Housing Office the GSC reviewed the proposed rent schedules for graduate residence halls. GSC recommendations for system-wide rents were adopted. Through the coming year the GSC will continue to work with these offices through a new standing group that will work on a variety of housing and related issues.
- The GSC had active representation on the Campus Dining Board, which recommended a new dining system. The recommendation has been well received by the entire student community.
- Active representation of the GSC in the Mental Health Task Force helped develop the final report for that group.
- Continued work on stipends and benefits to ensure the most positive experience by graduate students
- The Graduate Student News not only published five printed issues, but also created an online version that can be continuously updated. The GSN is the only publication on campus solely devoted to graduate student issues and advocacy.
Throughout the past year the GSC, together with the GSO, successfully brought to the attention of the administration and faculty several graduate issues that required attention. As a result, graduate students were increasingly invited to participate in discussions and serve at full members of committees that had formerly not been accessible. At the same time, though, the student body was not involved initially in several major decisions. These included the decision to house undergraduates in graduate dorms, rent structures, the student life fee, and outside bank accounts. The lack of involvement at the initial stages of decision making remains an issue.
For the coming year, the GSC has identified four major focus areas, as follows:
- Communications. The GSC must work better with the administration to learn about emerging issues, and to solicit views and opinions of graduate students at the earliest stages of consideration. Success in this area will improve the ability of the GSC to serve as an advocate for the needs of MIT's graduate population.
- Effective advocacy. As the graduate students' primary advocate, the GSC must work to communicate to the graduate student body its understanding of issues and gather opinions of the graduate community to reflect to the administration for collaborative decision making.
- Internal collaborations. A major goal of the GSC is to work more closely with groups internal to MIT. This includes the administrations, departments, offices, and student groups. The GSC must increase its presence within MIT by modeling how to work collaboratively.
- Accountability. GSC officers and executive committee members must work to ensure that all parties working with the GSC are responsible for their duties. Representatives must strive to reflect their constituents; members serving on Institute committees must give regular feedback to the GSC and must carry the ideas of students to those committees. Finally, the GSC and the MIT administration, faculty, and staff must continue working actively and positively together.
The mission of the International Students Office is to help the international student population at MIT fulfill academic goals by providing services and support programs that facilitate adjustment to a new academic and cultural environment. The Office assists students in maintaining their legal status in the United States, provides support for their dependents, and promotes their interaction with and integration into the MIT community at large. In addition, the ISO advocates for a broader awareness in the MIT community of issues salient to the international student.
The events of September 11, 2001, have impacted nearly every aspect of the work the ISO does on behalf of international students at MIT. The Institute and the ISO, in those first few weeks after 9/11, demonstrated in word and deed a strong commitment to international academic exchange. Chancellor Phillip Clay's eloquent public statement on September 12, reconfirming the Institute's commitment to diversity and its concern for the international community, was both comforting and appropriate for students in the immediate aftermath of those horrific events. Those early efforts went a long way toward making our international population feel valued and supported and therefore able to carry on with the academic research that brought them to MIT in the first place.
The subsequent flurry of executive and legislative activity required thoughtful and expeditious reaction and written response to Vice President for Federal Relations John Crowley, as well as to Senator Kennedy's office in Washington. Numerous meetings with senior Institute personnel were convened in efforts to re-examine, restate and/ or revise Institute policy on issues such as release of information, Institute protocol with federal agencies such as the FBI, procedure for foreign nationals dealing with "select agents," access to and disclosure of scientific information, and foreign travel for Institute-sponsored trips and research.
Under normal circumstances, the ISO spends fall term reflecting about and evaluating the previous international admissions and orientation cycle, from review of web page communication to office policy and procedure to advisor/student appointments. All of this important work was "backburnered" as the ISO attempted to untangle, comprehend, and cope with the myriad statutory as well as attitudinal challenges confronting our students.
By spring term, the ISO needed to focus on the day-to-day anxieties of international students and respond appropriately to the far-reaching implications of the Office of Homeland Security, the USA Patriot Act, and the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Act.
The ISO plays a pivotal role in admissions, enabling international students admitted to MIT to secure their visas, arrive in a timely fashion, and orient themselves culturally and legally to life in the United States and at MIT.
September 11th has not slowed international graduate applications to the Institute. Most graduate departments saw a steep rise in the number of foreign national applicants—for example, the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science fielded a record number of 2,821 applications to their graduate program, nearly half of whom were international applicants. A high percentage of those internationals were admitted. Similar trends have been reported in many graduate departments across the Institute, especially in engineering and management programs.
International students admitted for 2002 (approximately 700 in graduate programs, 100 undergraduates) faced a new array of security measures, delaying their visa issuance and subsequent arrival at MIT. For example, all males applying for student visas, regardless of nationality, were subject to a supplemental visa form DS-0157, which requires detailed descriptions of military training, travel and employment histories, and academic/research interests. Additionally, admitted students (or returning students) from the following countries were asked to submit to additional security measures, lengthening the visa approval (or denial) process by a minimum of 20 days: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
Graduate admits from the People's Republic of China (PRC) faced extraordinarily rigorous scrutiny at the US embassy and consulates. A majority of newly admitted PRC students had visas denied on first and second attempts. The ISO spent an inordinate amount of time walking through the visa interview process with admitted PRC nationals by phone or via email. MIT faculty consulted the ISO regularly as they drafted appeal letters to consular officials for students whose visas were denied.
Peer institutions across the country experienced the same trend in PRC student visa denials during the spring and summer of 2002, which may have little to do with new security measures. The University of California at Berkeley discovered a spate of fraudulent documentation from student applicants from the PRC, including transcripts, recommendation letters, and immigration documents. Such reports as well as "immigrant intent" issues seemed to be the motivation behind visa denials. Last year, with heavy ISO intervention, most PRC admits were able to get visa denial decisions overturned. To date, it is still unclear if the ISO will achieve that level of success with PRC admits for AY2003.
All six Iranian admits were denied student visas. Ostensibly, like the Chinese, the reason given by State Department officials was "immigrant intent," but Iran's designation as a "state sponsor of terrorism" may be the underlying factor.
Admission numbers increased steadily, with the MEng programs and the visiting student category especially appealing to foreign nationals. In January 2002, the Institute imposed a $1,000 fee on host departments for each visiting student they wished to invite. Despite the fee, departments continue to invite visiting students in record numbers. On any given day, there are over 120 active visiting students on campus. The ISO manages the visiting student fee account on behalf of the Institute, but does not have access to these monies.
Visiting students continue to tax the ISO from legal and advising perspectives. They often arrive with little or no notice, or in inappropriate immigration status. The ISO has a clear procedure in place but because agreements are often made between the inviting faculty member and the individual student, critical legal steps can be overlooked, creating serious immigration fallout. On the advising side, visiting students often have problems competing with regularly enrolled MIT students for physical space in labs and departments, and difficulties finding accommodations in the Cambridge area since they are not entitled to on-campus housing. Hopefully, the Institute will consider giving a portion of the visiting student fee to the ISO to support much-needed specialized programming for this growing group of visiting students.
The Cambridge-MIT Alliance (CMI) also expanded its group of students on campus this year. Aside from the 51 academic-year exchange student admits (up by 22 from last year), the program brought in 27 international visiting students for an eight-week summer course. The ISO prepared special immigration documents to accommodate the unique aspects of this program, in addition to designing a customized immigration orientation program. Though these internationals are full-time students at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, they are not all UK citizens. A significant percentage come from countries that are now subject to enhanced scrutiny. Despite the short-term, fully funded nature of the CMI program, these participants fall under the same federal mandates as regular international students in MIT degree programs.
As every new program and alliance has its own admission idiosyncrasies, the ISO has become proficient in applying legal admissions requirements to new realities. Given the current budget and staffing limitations on the ISO, it will be challenging to meet these demands over the next few years if the nation's war on terrorism escalates, creating further statutory requirements for all non-immigrant students entering the United States.
Advising remains at the core of the ISO's responsibility to MIT's international students. Thousands of students have received advice on immigration procedures and regulations for travelling, employment, and change of visa status. Through individual appointments, as well as increasingly more sophisticated use of websites and email, the three advisors stayed busy providing legal and personal advice to prospective students, admitted students, current students, and graduated students (who continue to seek counsel long after commencement). While ostensibly seeking ISO expertise because INS regulations require it, students also come to the ISO with underlying concerns about cultural adjustment and worries about political tensions at home. The ISO is a place to seek technical information, clarification, advice, comfort, and even protection. It is imperative that the ISO find the resources and staff time to develop programming around critical issues such as mental health, domestic violence, and academic honesty, areas of great concern for international students.
When the Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) for student tracking comes online early in 2003, the ISO will need to augment and refine advising skills as the consequences of falling out of status will be much more draconian in the future.
As in the past, advisors have continued to visit students who have been hospitalized, comfort students grieving the loss of a loved one back home, and intervene, on behalf of troubled students, with immigration officers, consular officials, and other government agencies. The workload will increase in both scope and importance as a result of 9/11 legislation.
All international students, regardless of age, degree program, or familiarity with life in the United States, undergo a period of cultural adjustment. They, and their dependents, require information about their new surroundings, culture, and community. Through the website and email, incoming students are now able to address many of their practical concerns before their arrival. Once they are on campus, the ISO provides individual and small group orientation sessions to all incoming internationals, daily from mid-August to mid-September. The ISO is legally required to provide immigration information to all new students and to verify that they are in appropriate legal status, and has expanded this mandated orientation to include overall orientation to Boston and MIT culture. Other social events open to the entire international community included coffee hours, presentations by the Medical Department, the MIT Libraries, and Campus Police. Orientation culminates this year with an International Student Panel and a Faculty Panel, whose members will provide personal and practical advice for survival at MIT.
Host to International Students Program
HISP provides new students with supportive emotional and social ties to the MIT community. Coordinator Kate Baty has been tireless in her efforts to develop and implement new programs and events. In addition to the traditional welcome barbecue for new students and their host families, Kate and the ISO staff organized potluck dinners for students and host families, which encouraged and solidified cross-cultural relationships within the MIT community. Kate continued to be actively involved with the International Freshman Mentor Program, which matches incoming international freshmen with upperclassmen before they arrive, and encourages their relationship through airport pickups and a bevy of social activities and mentor-organized programming during the first few months after arrival. Now in its fourth year, the mentor program has been staffed and organized entirely by volunteer students, along with volunteer co-founder Paulette Schwartz. The ISO will seek ways, financial and other, to support and expand this invaluable program.
ISO sponsored workshops of special interest to MIT international students during IAP. The ISO director presented two workshops covering the laws that regulate the employment of F-1 and J-1 student visa holders as they relate to jobs at MIT, summer internships off campus, and employment possibilities after graduation. A prominent Boston area immigration attorney discussed visa options when student visa eligibility ends. MIT's assistant controller Fred Crowley presented a critical workshop about federal and state tax filing requirements for international students. In response to 9/11, the director also held workshops on proposed regulations and new travel requirements.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the next few years will be challenging ones for the ISO. MIT's substantial international student population will be subject more than ever to stringent scrutiny as they embark upon their academic careers at MIT. As predicted in last year's report, SEVIS received an influx of funding immediately after 9/11 and is currently scheduled for nationwide implementation on January 30, 2003. Yet, to date, the ISO does not have precise specifications for the INS database for producing immigration documents for our students. International offices across the country fear that the immigration service is under such enormous pressure to roll out a student tracking system as quickly as possible that they will do so without any systematic, large-scale pre-testing.
The ISO will ensure that its own new integrated internal database is running smoothly, and will be as prepared as possible for SEVIS implementation despite the lack of published INS specifications for the tracking system.
The ISO will stay abreast of new legislative activities and executive orders, informing the community and tracking their actual impact on current and incoming students. The ISO will train new advising staff to be proficient in the new federal requirements imposed on MIT and the foreign nationals who pursue academic programs here. Equally important will be the counseling expertise of the ISO staff. With strong leadership, teamwork, and sustained commitment by the Institute (both financial and otherwise), we look forward, even in these most difficult times, to providing the best possible service to ensure the well-being of MIT's international students.