OISS Announces Initiatives to Enhance International Students' Experience

The Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) is moving forward with several initiatives to enhance the experience of international students on campus and minimize barriers they may encounter while at St. Thomas.

Joint international/domestic student orientation

In fall 2016, for the first time, OISS and the Dean of Students offices coordinated a joint orientation program for international and domestic students. In previous years, incoming international students went through a separate orientation. This year, the groups were blended, giving both populations the opportunity to build connections and relationships with each other from the beginning.

This presented an opportunity for international students to be more integrated into the St. Thomas experience and receive a similar preparation to other students.

Orientation Connect

Beginning this fall, OISS is implementing a six-week extended orientation program for new undergraduate international students that will help increase retention and allow for a smooth transition to life in the U.S. and at St. Thomas in a cohort model titled Orientation Connect.

Orientation Connect spreads out important orientation information over three sessions in the first six weeks and allows for meaningful, timely discussions on challenges faced and consideration of critical concepts through a more applied approach as the students gain experience both inside and outside of the classroom.

Through this program, new students will be able to connect with current international students and an OISS staff member, as well as other new international students from their orientation groups.

International Student Retention Group

In fall 2015, Xiaowen Guan, associate professor in the Communication and Journalism Department, and Lori Friedman, director of OISS, created the International Student Retention Group to help minimize barriers for international students.

Throughout the last year, they have worked with the Career Development Center to include more resources for international students on their website, with Faculty Development and Academic Affairs to offer workshops to faculty, and coordinated activities with other stakeholders across the university on projects still in progress.

Representation in this work group includes Dining Services, the Business and Card offices, Dean of Students, International Admissions, Academic Counseling and Support, several faculty members and current international students.

International student advisory board

OISS has created an international student advisory board to formalize the feedback that is being received from international students. This group is made up of 11 diverse undergraduate and graduate international students who will meet twice per semester.

The board provides feedback and advice to Student Affairs leaders (namely Residence Life, Dean of Students, Career Development, Counseling and Health Services, Campus Life and OISS) to improve the international student experience and better understand the current challenges faced by international students at St. Thomas.

Communication to faculty with first-year international students

As a part of the International Student Retention Group, Guan and Friedman will send an email to all faculty with a first-year international student in their class beginning this fall. The email will provide useful tips for working with international students in the classroom as well as information for those seeking additional resources.

For more information, contact OISS.