Each year, more than a thousand international students find their way to Indiana State from all corners of the globe, helping to make it the most diverse public institution in Indiana.
It’s no secret technology is making the world smaller every day.
Case in point: Akintobi Akinwumi, who first learned about Indiana State while scrolling through Facebook in his home country of Nigeria.
Akinwumi, 30, is now a graduate student at State, working toward a master’s degree in technology management with a focus on automotive engineering. He couldn’t find a similar program in Nigeria, so he traveled more than 6,000 miles to Terre Haute to attend graduate school earlier this year.
“I didn’t know what to expect — everything in the U.S. was foreign to me,” he said. “But everyone I met here made me feel like I’ve been in the U.S. for a very long time. It felt like a home-away-from-home.”
Akinwumi is one of the hundreds of international students who find their way to Indiana State from all corners of the globe, helping to make it the most diverse public institution in Indiana. Although the exact number fluctuates from year to year, Indiana State’s international community is vibrant and here to stay.
The campus is also working to increase the number of domestic students who have an international experience during their time in college, whether that be through a traditional
study abroad program, a short-term faculty-led excursion overseas or an on-campus event that introduces them to a new culture.
“We want the university experience that our students receive to mirror what the world is like,” said President Dan Bradley, who is retiring in January after nine years at the helm of Indiana State. “The world is a very diverse place, and we want our students to experience some of that when they’re here. Our students get to see how different people are yet, at the same time, how very similar people are regardless of who they are or where they’re from.”
While the university primarily serves Indiana students, an increasing number of Sycamores grew up in a foreign country and came to the United States to pursue higher education.
International students pay the university’s out-of-state tuition rate, which is more than double the rate paid by Indiana residents. While they study at the university, international students also infuse new money into the Wabash Valley economy with their spending on rent, groceries, restaurants, clothing and other necessities.
Although foreign students no doubt benefit the university and the community financially, they represent a very small proportion of the student body. Their impact is much greater within the classroom.
“They’re certainly an important piece of the enrollment picture in terms of contributing to the bottom line, but what’s more important is the exposure that our resident students receive from interacting with various cultures and backgrounds,” said Diann McKee, senior vice president for finance and administration and university treasurer.
The countries that send the most students to Terre Haute are Saudi Arabia, India, China, South Korea, United Arab Emirates and Morocco. Some foreign governments sponsor students from their country to travel to the United States and earn a college degree, providing them with scholarships that cover the cost of attendance.
“It’s really the student success mission,” said Chris McGrew, director of the Center for Global Engagement. “The customer service and the experience that students have here is why the sponsoring agencies continue to send students. Indiana State is well-positioned to accommodate those students and help them be successful.”
The university has people like Jeff Harper, executive director of graduate programs for the Scott College of Business, to thank for many of the Moroccan students studying at Indiana State. In 2014, he helped launch an exchange program between Indiana State and Hassan I University in Morocco.
Through the program, roughly 30 Moroccan students have traveled to Terre Haute to spend a semester taking courses and a GMAT prep class. Some 80 percent of those students have returned to Terre Haute after finishing their undergraduate degree to enroll in the university’s MBA program.
“It’s been a wonderful recruiting tool for us,” Harper said. “Usually we have anywhere from six to eight Moroccan students in our MBA class of about 130 students. It’s a nice, added dimension to our program.”
Faculty from the two universities have collaborated on research projects, and Indiana State students have visited Morocco to learn about business abroad. Because of the partnership spearheaded by Harper, the university hopes to expand its overall recruiting efforts in Morocco.
Harper said he believes international relationships like the ones being fostered between Sycamores and Moroccan students and professors are critical for creating a more tolerant world.
“The majority of the world’s strife is due to misunderstanding,” Harper said.
While recruiting international students is important, that’s just one side of the coin. The university is also very focused on ensuring that international students are successful during their time at Indiana State. That goal is accomplished primarily by the university’s caring faculty and staff.
“Being away from home, a lot of international students feel homesick,” said Chinonye Olumba, a junior chemistry major from Nigeria. “But when the environment you are in is very welcoming, then you don’t have to worry too much about that. I feel very welcome here. The faculty are helpful. Every time I have questions, I could go to any of my professors.”
Many of the university’s employees also have an international background, which means that global diversity permeates nearly every aspect of the campus.
Santhana Naidu, ’01, MBA ’17, associate vice president for marketing and communications, was once an international undergraduate at Indiana State. He left his home country of India to study in the United States and, many years later, he’s still here.
Because he experienced the university’s open and welcoming environment firsthand, it’s easy for him to integrate that feeling into Indiana State’s marketing efforts.
“When I came here, I remember my family said, ‘Where are you going, somewhere in the middle of nowhere? Are you sure you will fit in?’” he said. “I’ve lived in this community for 21 years, and people here really respect you for who you are and the ideas you bring to the table.”
Sycamores are also venturing out to explore the world, too.
Every year, between 80 and 100 Indiana State students participate in a traditional study abroad program, during which they spend a semester or two enrolled in classes at a university overseas. Another 200 students travel abroad as part of an Indiana State class, spending several weeks in another country experiencing the course’s subject matter in action.
Each year, John Conant takes a group of undergraduate students to China, Thailand or Morocco to learn about sustainability issues related to local development.
Conant, who chairs the economics department, collaborates with faculty members in political science and earth and environmental systems to give students a truly interdisciplinary experience.
Although the trips are just three weeks long, Conant says they have far-reaching implications, particularly for Indiana-born students.
“A lot of students have never been outside of Indiana, and it certainly is an eye-opening experience for them,” Conant said. “Clearly the world is far more integrated economically, and our students need to have the ability to work with people from everywhere, to be comfortable going wherever their employer wants them to go and to be comfortable dealing with and working with different cultures.”
For many Sycamores, hopping on a plane to visit another country simply isn’t feasible, so the university is trying to bring the world to them in the form of course curriculum and events.
“Traditionally, study abroad is the way most students have come into contact with other people, other places, other ideas,” said Bassam Yousif, associate dean for the College of Arts and Sciences. “That’s more difficult to do with our students. Many are first-generation, a lot are putting themselves through college so they have jobs. And if traditional study abroad is not possible, we still have an obligation to impart some global knowledge to your students.”
Many faculty members are engaged in research overseas or are studying international issues, which adds a level of richness to the university’s curriculum, Yousif said. The college is also working to create an international competency certificate for students who can’t travel abroad.
The Center for Global Engagement also partners with faculty members to bring guest lecturers from other countries into the classroom using video chat software. The university also encourages international students to share their perspectives in a meaningful way during their courses.
The center regularly hosts food anthropology events in which students dive into another culture through its cuisine.
“We want to make sure that students get a lot more than an academic degree — they also get an education here,” said Zachariah Mathew, associate director for the Center for Global Engagement. “We want to prepare students to be global citizens, ready to tackle the challenges of the 21st century. When a student has a problem to solve, we want the student to be able to address it by looking through multiple lenses or perspectives.”