Welcoming Wolverines help connect international students to opportunities

October 11, 2021

Campus’ international student population is rebounding after a pandemic decline, thanks to students who share their positive experiences and to dedicated faculty and staff.

Photo of International graduate student Richa Chachra on campus in Fall 2021
Photo of International graduate student Richa Chachra on campus in Fall 2021
College of Engineering and Computer Science graduate student Richa Chachra on campus in Fall 2021.

Richa Chachra traveled more than 10,000 miles to UM-Dearborn, choosing the campus over others across the U.S. based on professor research expertise and strong connections with industry. 

But what Chachra, a graduate student from India, didn’t know is that there’s a strong support system in place to make sure she gets the most out of her time as a Michigan Wolverine.

“I want to contribute my learnings to solve problems and innovate new ideas, whether be with transport, medicine, entertainment, space or the environment. The more experience I get, the better prepared I will be,” said Chachra, who is pursuing a Master of Science in Data Science. “I thought I might have to pay extra and find someone to help me update my resume for U.S. employers — for example, I learned that in the U.S. it’s important to keep it to one page and include keywords — or to help me with interview questions. But these things were already available here and part of what we were learning. UM-Dearborn does a mind-blowing job.”

Chachra was impressed that Career Services holds resume workshops, mock interviews and virtual career fairs, including one event that is specifically designed for companies interested in connecting with international students.  She said Talent Gateway challenges give a fun way to get connected and develop leadership skills, like critical thinking and self reflection. And advisers closely mentor students to steer them to opportunities that may be right for them. (Many of these services fall under campus’ Experience+ collaboration — you can check that out here.)

And, rounding it all out, she said the Office of International Affairs (OIA) has friendly staff members who students can go to with any questions.

“When you are stuck and can’t figure something out, they’ll help find all possible solutions to what you ask and they are so quick and nice,” Chachra said. “It’s not just one person there — it’s the whole team. Everyone is so helpful.”

OIA Director Francisco Lopez said it’s important to make sure students are comfortable on campus and supported with needed resources. There are monthly workshops, social mixers, speakers, and active student organizations like the Graduate International Student Organization and the Indian Graduate Students Association. Both campus groups help all international students with logistical needs like transportation, and social needs like fun activities and friendship.

Traveling to another country to learn is truly life changing and transformative. We want to make sure they take full advantage of what we have to offer on campus and beyond,” Lopez said. “We have an environment where we know their names and they know ours so we can be their go-to people. Having a welcoming community is a game changer because students talk with us, giving us a better idea of the experiences they want while living and studying here.”

Knowing how important professional connections are to students, Lopez said the campus community is always looking to find ways to work with industry.

He said the vast majority  of campus’ International students land U.S. work opportunities like internships and co-ops through special work authorizations that are processed by the OIA. Following commencement, students can stay for an additional year to gain work experience — and up to three years if they are in a science, math, engineering or technical (STEM) field. Recent campus-connected opportunities have led to working with Ford Motor Company, Amazon, DTE Energy, Google, Tesla and more.

Lopez said, on the flip side, the campus also works with industry to help answer questions they have about employing International students for internships for co-ops. “Sometimes companies may think there is too much additional paperwork involved, but there isn’t because students are sponsored by our F-1 Visa. It’s important, whenever possible, to dispel any misconceptions.”

Global Education Director Scott Riggs said that having a strong International student population is beneficial for all students, especially in a global economy. Students representing more than 50 different countries — like India, China, Kenya, Oman, Germany and Brazil — are currently learning at UM-Dearborn.

Chachra said Riggs was a tremendous help prior to her internship interviews when he prepared her with the types of questions she'd be asked. Riggs is also frequently at Mardigian Library’s Conversation Circles and recently taught a group of International students how to play the popular Michigan card game Euchre. On Oct. 20, he’ll lead Conversation Circles around the topic of Quidditch Matches, a game made popular by the Harry Potter series.

“Our campus has a long history of appreciating cultural diversity,” he said. “We want to continue fostering a sense of community and belonging for all students on campus, and our International students are an integral part of our community.”

Campus’ International student population is growing — Lopez attributes this to campus’ talented and caring faculty and staff, along with the success of the students, who then share their positive experiences with others. There was a 2020 dip in population due to COVID-related travel restrictions, but the campus is now nearly back at pre-pandemic enrollment levels. 

Chachra is one of the students who shares how pleased she is with her U.S. college choice. She conducts data-mining research with Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Yi Lu Murphey. She completed a data science summer internship with DTE Energy, which focused on renewable energy. And she just accepted a co-op opportunity with DTE Energy for the academic year.

“What I saw online before coming here is true. There are a variety of industries and companies to work with. The professors are conducting valuable research and are very responsive to questions. Everyone is so accessible,” she said. No matter the field I work in, I want to examine the information we have to find ways to make the world a better place. What I am learning here will help me do that.”

Article by Sarah Tuxbury. If you have questions about becoming an International student or about the UM-Dearborn International student experience, please email OIA Director Francisco Lopez.

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