The PIE: Over the past two years, international students and scholars at ASU, and across the globe, have experienced many challenges due to the effects of the pandemic. What are some of the ways pandemic challenges specifically impacted ISS at ASU regarding learning and mobility?
Holly (Moninder) Singh: Our spring break came, and we transitioned to learning and what we call “ASU Sync”. Many of our international students chose to go home, many were stuck on campus, and many had families and friends all over the US they could go to and learn from there. ASU Sync was instrumental in them being able to finish their spring 2020 semester and then the year, year and a half, after that, of learning. And that was primarily remote learning for many of them. One of the major struggles was that students who were on the ASU campus and couldn’t leave were really stuck for summer 2020. And many of them did not go home until summer of 2021.
The PIE: Tell us about some of the joys experienced, lessons learned, or unexpected learning opportunities that surfaced for students during this time as well.
HS: Many of our international students who were graduating in May 2020, in summer, and in December, were applying for Optional Practical Training. And the jobs were not there. While this was a challenge for them, ISSC took this as an opportunity to create pathways for them to get engaged on campus. So, for students who were looking for positions while they applied for OPT, we asked them to submit their resumes, and we distributed them to other areas at ASU to see if they were looking for people for jobs. So, where the students could get possible positions, they were able to get them.
“I’m also glad that we had opportunities for international students to learn through ASU Sync”
But many also, were involved in project-based classes. Our Fulton School of Engineering started a new class where over 200 of our international students will graduate, and they participated in local community projects. The faculty members said, ‘these are the projects that we have in the community’. And these students, while they were continuing to look for jobs, participated, and created value for the community.
But I’m also glad that we had opportunities for international students to learn through ASU Sync. So many of our Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern students, started fall 2020 learning in remote fashion from home, but they were able to make it to campus either in spring 2021 or in fall 2021. And when we brought them on campus, we made sure we had orientation for them, separate from our new student orientation, and we had global guides, helping them. We created a new program. Our international students who have experienced the campus, guide these newcomers who had started their academic journey a semester or a year before, and they partner together for the next semester or year so they can really understand the university culture. Because in-person university culture is definitely very different than learning remotely.
The PIE: What were some of the experiences of international scholars at ASU during the pandemic?
HS: On the scholar side, and for the faculty who were on H-1 visas, they had similar challenges. Either they couldn’t make it at the time they were trying to go home, or the State Department was not able to extend their J-1 visas with H-1B, or they were stuck back home because of the restrictions. They couldn’t travel, because of many restrictions, but we engaged them on an individual basis, and we were able to help them in that respect.
The PIE: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask about the recent $25 million gift given to ASU and how that will impact ASU international students and scholars.
HS: ASU has been the number one innovative university for the last 70 years collectively. And our Thunderbird School of Global Management is one of the most important aspects in global education for us. It’s a school that’s run by dean Sanjeev Khagram, and both the president and the deans in Thunderbird School feel that education has to be done at multiple levels. You can’t just have the same model of all of us expecting international students to come to campus always thinking that they have to get a bachelors, or masters, or PhD degree.
“This $25m is a perfect example of how we will further expand and extend our engagement in the international arena”
So, as we are innovating constantly in the in the domestic space, we are always thinking how we can innovate on the international stage. And this $25m is a perfect example of how we will now further expand and extend our engagement in the international arena. [Dr. Panchanathan], who was our chief research officer, mentioned “speed and scale” and those are the terms that president Crow uses all the time as well. Well, this $25m is definitely going to give us that speed and scale to be able to be able to engage folks all around the world.
The goal, of course, of that $25m, is to engage at least 100 million [stakeholders] who need not come to our campus. They could study from where they are. But once they have that education, those micro credentials, those credit hours, then they can use to them wherever they want. There’s a certain dysfunction in higher education, as if there are almost roadblocks attached with each section you finish. Now, those roadblocks are being cancelled out, or maybe easier, because you can start your journey from where you are. It’s not the finances, it’s not the visa, not the admissions. None of those are factors because now you can say, ‘I have this opportunity to learn online and create a transcript that is easily accessible for me to go wherever I can.’ I think that’s the beauty of the $25m.
And we’re very grateful to our benefactors in creating that process because it’s a vision that the university has and it’s, to an extent, ingrained into our ASU Charter; the idea of inclusivity instead of making it an exclusion. We are always talking economics and that there are always scarce resources, but our ASU charter, our basic principle, is to make things inclusive, and you want to make them inclusive for people where they are, not where we are. The inclusivity is critical and a game-changing mindset when we talk about higher education which has always been exclusive. So, the $25m helps us take that step towards it.
The PIE: You often speak about the benefits of global education. As aligned with this year’s AIEA conference theme, how do you describe the value of global education as we begin to move into post-pandemic times?
HS: If nothing else, there is definitely a pent-up demand. The doors are reopening, and people are saying, ‘We need global education!’ And that’s something I think that’s going to continue on. And if the figures are right, global education is supposed to double, if not more, in the next 5 or 10 years. And I think the US has an advantage because we’ve kept up with what the pandemic has brought. It definitely has brought challenges. But I think we have done a very good job in looking at those challenges. The US has been very flexible to an extent. That also needs a certain kind of leadership and I think the US is doing that in the right fashion.