The Office of International Services (OIS) at NC State University supports over 3,500 international students pursuing their academic degrees. This Global Pack hails from 119 different countries and is present in all eleven academic colleges at the university. Throughout the students’ time here, OIS provides support in the form of immigration advising, academic resources, programming opportunities, and more. Even with all of these support systems in place, something was missing – student voice.
“We realized that perhaps we weren’t actually addressing the needs of our students; for example, we might imagine new students want a peer mentor to connect within their first semester, but do they really? We had never asked them! We figured the best way to determine our students’ needs is to ask the students themselves,” stated Hayley Hardenbrook, OIS staff member and one of the advisors of the International Student Advisory Council. To enhance the experience of international students OIS knew they had to directly engage the students they were serving, and thus the International Student Advisory Council was born.
The International Student Advisory Council (ISAC) works to improve the experience of international students at NC State by providing informed feedback and recommendations to OIS and other campus units regarding globally relevant programs, services and policies.
Hardenbrook reflected on the original goal of the council: “On a very basic level, our goal for the International Student Advisory Council is to gather input from the population we serve, international students.” With this goal in mind, Jennifer Glass, Hayley Hardenbrook, and Asia King began to lay the groundwork for a council primarily focused on the student experience.
“We knew that although we had set the foundation for the Advisory Council, it was important to transition ownership of the council over to current international students,” stated Asia King. The council is composed of eleven members from all different academic majors, and are a mix of undergraduate, graduate, and Ph.D. students.
Members of the International Student Advisory Council: Molly Sun (Top Left), Amidu Kalokoh (Top Right), Harshit Rana (Bottom Left), Swathi Dinakaran (Bottom Right).
Hossein Saedi, a Ph.D. student in the College of Design, spoke on his motivation for serving as the chair of ISAC. “I believe that most of those people [faculty, staff, and the administration at NC State University] really care about international students, and they are there to help and support students of foreign nationalities. But sometimes they are not familiar with the issues, therefore they do not have a plan for adjustments and improvements.” Saedi hopes that with guidance from the council and proper communication methods, the University as a whole can improve its support of international students on campus.
Although founded in the midst of a global pandemic, this did not stop the council from their work of broadening perspectives and increasing the voice of international students on campus. Throughout their first year, the council has met with campus partners such as the Student Ombudsman and Legal Services as well as created a preliminary survey to help guide their advocacy efforts. The Council decided to focus this initial survey on ideas to support (1) the transition to life at NC State for new international students and (2) the career development of continuing international students. Building connections around campus has also been an important goal for the council. To ensure the success of ISAC, the hope is to enhance the council’s presence by ensuring that international students know the council is here to advocate for them.
“Our priority is to introduce the council to the NC State community in a way that next time when there are decisions being made that might directly or indirectly affect international students, they know that the council is here to share international students’ perspectives with them and help in different capacities,” said Saedi “I would like to also make sure that international students know us very well and reach out to us whenever they come up with ideas, questions, or challenges that may happen to other students.”
This semester, the council will focus on compiling, analyzing and creating actionable steps based on the survey feedback from international students. This information will prove extremely valuable when it comes time for the council to put forth ideas and initiatives to OIS on how best to support and advocate for international students.
Hossein Saedi, Chair of the International Student Advisory Council
Saedi also shared that while he is excited for the opportunity to advocate for all international students, it is important to not view the group as a monolith. “We define all the students who are not born in the United States as international. But in reality, these students are coming from very diverse backgrounds and walks of life; therefore, their expectations and needs are very different.” This broader view will help ensure diversity not only within the members of the council, but also in the methods that it seeks to advocate for the international student body.
While the pandemic has certainly made it challenging for the council to engage with the NC State campus community in the way they expected, the group is excited to continue to build on the foundation laid this past year.
“We certainly don’t have all the answers, and we want our students to have input into this council that will advise the OIS office and ultimately benefit them,” states Hardenbrook “It is certainly challenging trying to start a new council in the middle of a global pandemic, but we have an excellent chair this year, Hossein Saedi, who is doing a great job of keeping us on task and creating a motivating environment in which I think all members want to contribute. I am looking forward to seeing what this council will do together!”
As the council continues to grow, Saedi hopes that international students continue to engage with the council. “I want to sincerely ask all of you, international students, to help me and my fellow council members and support us to build this council in a way that you guys expect and deserve. My fellow council members and I have decided to dedicate our time to advocating for all of you and we cannot be successful without your engagement and support. Please introduce us to your friends, reach out to us with any ideas, share your thoughts, bring your concerns to our attention, express your feelings, and be aware that without your presence and support ISAC will not exist.”