MIT Reports to the President 1997-98
The mission of the International Student's Office is to help students fulfill their academic goals by providing services and support programs that facilitate their adjustment to a new academic and cultural environment, mediate their interactions with US government agencies, provide support to their dependents, and promote interaction and understanding with the MIT community at large.
Although, technically the ISO does not admit students, the Office plays a pivotal role in enabling the international students admitted to MIT, to secure their visas and arrive at MIT on time, before Registration Day. During this past year the number of international students seeking a degree at MIT has remained the same, but the number of Special, Exchange and Visiting Students has increased. Maria Brennan has played an essential role in enabling the Office to meet the needs of these students. The ISO has also provided INS forms and other clerical support to me twenty seven international students who were chosen to participate in the Research Science Institute project supported by the Provost's Office. This program brings to MIT promising high school students from the US and from abroad for a six week Summer program in science and research. The ISO has also continued to be involved in providing support to degree and non-degree programs for mid-level executives and professionals. Excluding students who came to MIT only for a short period during the Summer, a total of 2,174 international students from 107 countries registered for the academic year 1997-98.
All international students, regardless of their age or degree program, undergo a period of cultural adjustment. They need information on their new surroundings and community. To meet this need, the ISO has provided orientation sessions for individual students and small groups to help overcome these barriers. These sessions, held daily from the middle of August to the middle of September, were complemented by social events open to the international community where the new students could meet other new students and current students. These events included Coffee Hours, presentations by the Medical Department, the Libraries, the Campus Police, and culminated with the Student Panel, the Faculty Panel, and the International Open House, which is co-sponsored by the International Scholars Office.
HOSTS TO INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS PROGRAM
The HISP has remained vital in providing new students with very supportive new emotional and social ties. Kate Baty, the Coordinator of the Program, now a professional staff member within ISO, has provided invaluable insights on the needs of the students. She has also generously contributed time and effort to the development and implementation of new programs and events. Besides the tradition Welcome Picnic for new students and their host families, held at the end of September, Kate and other ISO staff organizes a pot-luck dinner for freshmen, when she felt that the students had begun missing their families, their friends and home cooked meals. Another pot-luck dinner for students and their hosts were held in February.
International students, like their American counterparts, are very much concerned about their future and the options they will have career-wise. Immigration regulations and procedures on the employment of foreigners are quite complex. In order to clarify the rules, and to allow students to make informed decisions, the ISO has sponsored a number of workshops covering the various regulations as they relate to possible careers after graduation. All three advisors and guest immigration attorneys have given presentations on topics ranging from "How to get a Summer job" to "How to start a company in the US."
Another confusing subject for international students is that of taxes. International students are taxed differently than US students, and all of them, regardless of whether or not they have a US income, are required to file certain federal forms. To help students deal with this issue, the Office invited Fred Crowley, the MIT Assistant Controller to give two presentations - one for graduate and one for undergraduate students - on this topic. The Office also made available to students all the tax forms they required.
As in the past, the ISO staff has advised thousands of students on immigration procedures and regulations for traveling, employment, change of visa status, etc. However, immigration regulations affect so many different aspects of the students lives, that the Advisors must intervene on behalf of the students in circumstances that one would not associate with the functions of an International Students Office. During the past year, Danielle Guichard-Ashbrook has twice accompanied students to Court hearings. In both cases, the students requested her presence, as a friend and mentor. They were scared and frightened over rules they could not understand. Staff members have visited students who were hospitalized, comforted students grieving the loss of a loved one, and pleaded with immigration and consular officers on their behalf. During the past year, the Advisors have spent countless hours with distraught Chinese students who wished to have their spouses, children, or parents join them in the US, but saw Consular Officers deny their visas because of a peculiar interpretation of the new Immigration Act. As the Office is greatly affected by international events, the financial crisis of South-East Asia has also had an impact on the Advisors' work load, since new regulations were introduced to meet the needs of affected students.
As the Immigration Service proposes a transformation from paper to electronic communication, the ISO has been preparing itself for the change. Last October, Brima Wurie became a full-time member of the staff of the Dean for Graduate Education Office. Chris LaCava was hired in his place with the new title of Technical Support Specialist. The ISO Web site has been redesigned and expanded, an ISO intranet system has been developed and implemented, SAP applications have been installed (all ISO staff members have received SAP training) and electronic communication with students has been increased. The position of Sr. Office Assistant, currently covered by a temporary worker, will be filed as of August first. However, another temporary worker still acts as the Office receptionist. Given the high number of students who visit the Office daily, this position should be allocated to the Office on a permanent basis. We hope that this will be accomplished when the office moves to its new location.
PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITIES AND AWARDS
The ISO staff members have been very active within NAFSA: National Association of International Educators, at the local, regional, and national level. Danielle has been chosen to be one of the trainers for national workshops that will be required for certification as an International Student Advisor. She has also given presentations at the Regional and National Conferences. Kate has also made presentations at both conferences. She has also continued to be the sustaining force behind "COMSEC Open Forum," an informal organization that brings together people from New England who do programming for international students. Milena Levak had also been involved with NAFSA at the regional and national level. Milena and Danielle were recognized with an award at the Regional Conference for their commitment in running the Third Thursday meetings. These meetings held at MIT since 1978 provide a forum where International Student Advisors new to the field, or form small colleges, can discuss issues related to student advising with more experienced colleagues and can also learn about the most recent regulations published by INS. Kate's extraordinary work on behalf of international students was acknowledged by the Institute with the James N. Murphy Award.
Milena was honored with an invitation from ACTR-ACCELS to travel to Kazakhastan to provide orientation sessions for fifty Kazakh students who received the Presidential "Bolashak" scholarship to study in the US.
The Office will be moving to a new location in the near future. We hope that this move, accompanied by the transformation of temporary office positions into permanent staff, will allow the Office to work more efficiently and to continue to provide improved services for the students.
More information about this Office can be found on the World Wide Web at the following URL:
Milena M. Levek
MIT Reports to the President 1997-98