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Recruiters travel to Washington, D.C., embassies

BY EMILY BUSSE | FEBRUARY 24, 2010 7:30 AM

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A new recruitment effort in the nation’s capital could help University of Iowa officials bring in more international students.

For the first time, UI representatives traveled to Washington, D.C., and met directly with international embassies to recruit students.

And fewer than three months after the face-to-face meetings, officials said the trips have already begun to generate results.

During the two-day trip in December, two UI officials met with higher education representatives from five Central Asian, South Asain, and Middle Eastern countries.

Downing Thomas, the dean of International Programs, said they provided an overall presentation and fielded questions about admission standards, English as a second language, and programs offered.

Thomas said the university started these trips only this year because international recruiting “hadn’t been part of the priorities of the university” before 2007. Now that international efforts have increased dramatically this year alone, he said, reaching out to embassies will promote the UI in different areas of the globe.

And so far it’s worked.

Applications from underrepresented countries such as Kuwait have increased, prompting recruiters to make this an annual effort.

“One of our goals in the international student recruitment area is to diversify. So we don’t want all students from one country,” Thomas said. “We want a mix of students both for their experience and for domestic students’ experience.”

At the embassies, they also assured diplomats that Iowa City was a safe place for their students to live.

“They want general comfort in the community. Many of these are Muslim countries, and they’re going to want to know if it’s going to be an environment where they will be comfortable and accepted,” said Scott King, the director of the Office of International Students and Scholars. They told representatives the oldest mosque in the United States is located in Cedar Rapids.

Thomas, noting that Malaysia almost exclusively sends female students to the United States, said safety is a big factor.

While this is the first trip for UI officials, Michigan State University representatives have made these trips annually for several years, said Peter Briggs, the director of its Office for International Students and Scholars.

“It’s really good to have relationships with our contacts in D.C.,” Briggs said, noting the number of government-sponsored international students at Michigan State has increased by 260 in the last five years.

Funded by the recruitment budget, the UI’s “relatively inexpensive” trip — airfare and hotel costs — was planned before reports about six budget-cutting task force initiatives came out earlier this month. But they wrapped their efforts into the report in order to garner response from faculty and students.

Because many of the countries send their students abroad through funding from their government, Thomas said, the embassies end up being the “pipeline” to U.S. universities for those students.

Governments use embassies to grant their students education in the United States in hopes they will return home to use their skills.

“It’s exciting to see we’re part of the future, building a group of people who will be the leaders in science and possibly government abroad who will graduate from the University of Iowa,” Thomas said. “They will be alumni and be ambassadors for us abroad.”


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