J-1, F-1, CPT, OPT, I-20. There are quite a few abbreviations and acronyms that international students must learn as they navigate what is often a new country, unfamiliar surroundings, a new culture and rigorous academics. Realizing that these students could use more help with all that they encounter, the Harvey Mudd College Division of Student Affairs created the Office of International Students and Scholars.
Formed in fall 2018 and staffed by Evelyn Real, principal designated school official, and Danny Ledezma, designated school official, the ISS office is meeting the needs of a substantial population of HMC international students. The number of students coming to HMC from countries beyond the U.S. now makes up 10% of the overall student body. The 2019 graduating class consisted of 34 international students; they represent 10% of the incoming Class of 2023. In addition to international students, the ISS office also assists research scholars, professors and exchange visitors participating in programs that promote cultural exchange.
“In our efforts to better serve our international students, we saw that it was finally time to start our own office at Mudd,” says Real, who began working at HMC in 2017 as international student advisor in student affairs. “We’re fully committed to the students, not only in terms of their needs related to immigration but also regarding Mudd-specific activities.”
International students must be diligent about filing certain papers by specific deadlines, including managing their visa status (exchange visitor non-immigrant visa [J-1]; full-time degree program participant [F-1]; Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status [I-20]) and considering work opportunities and related regulations (curricular practical training [CPT] and optional practical training [OPT]). This technical work takes priority, but in a survey administered by staff in ISS and institutional research, students shared that they wanted opportunities to have fun experiences and get to know all of their classmates.
Building community—among the international students and within the entire student body and campus community—is a high priority for the ISS staff. “We’re trying to build those relationships and connections, not just with the students who are from the same regions of the world but also with people coming from other places,” says Real. “We want them to get to know each other and build relationships with each other.”
While international students at all Claremont colleges can utilize International Place, a 7C resource center on the Claremont McKenna campus, HMC staff noticed that the international students at Harvey Mudd often did not want to leave campus to make the 10-minute trek to I-Place and many did not feel supported beyond their technical document needs. An office at HMC dedicated to serving international students offered the best solution, says Real. The College continues to collaborate with I-Place on certain activities, like the annual International Festival, which celebrates the many countries and cultures represented on the campuses.
To encourage cross-cultural interaction, Real works with HMC’s Office of Institutional Diversity and other units of student affairs to plan fun events that will help international students experience the local culture and lifestyle. One of the most popular recent excursions was a whale watching trip in Newport Beach, California.
When international students graduate from HMC, the ISS office remains a dedicated resource. Office staff often keeps in touch with students/graduates for up to seven years, says Real, “making sure they are aware of their immigration status even after they leave Mudd and helping them move through their lives after graduation.”