International Student Mentors Program fosters community, support

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Senior ISM Nola Yang ’18 with her international student mentees in a circle on the quad

Going away to college and leaving home for the first time can fill students with trepidation. And when you’ve come from thousands of miles away—sometimes from the other side of the world—the challenges of transitioning into a new culture and University life are naturally compounded.

Senior Nola Yang ’18 isn’t from a great distance away—her hometown is Syracuse, New York—but having volunteered as a mentor in the University’s International Student Mentors Program for the past three years, she knows that international students can often use additional help in integrating into life at a U.S. college or university.

“We know that students don’t often ask for help, so we want to be there from the very beginning—before they even arrive on campus—to help them and support them in adjusting to this new experience,” says Yang, who has served as a senior international student mentor this year. “ISMs really just want to ensure that students have the most possible positive experience in their first year.”

The ISM program is designed to foster meaningful interactions between current University students and incoming international first-year students. ISMs—the upperclass volunteer mentors—begin reaching out to new international students in the summer before a fall semester to help them get acquainted with the University. During Orientation and throughout the first year, ISMs continue to support these students by organizing special events and programs, and serving as a resource for questions about U.S. culture and academics. The ISM program operates from the College Center for Advising Services (CCAS) and matches each ISM with about 20 new international students from all over the world.

As a senior ISM, Yang helps program and plan for ISM training, heads the ISM mentors team, plans a program for International Education Week, and works with the International Student Counselor, Michael Dedes, to provide ongoing mentorship services to the international student population at the University, which represents about 25% of the undergraduate student body.

“International students often don’t see their families as often during the academic year, as compared to U.S. students who can go home for quick breaks and holidays,” says Yang.  “So creating a network of friends and connections can be very assuring.”

Yang estimates that about half of the international students who participate in the ISM program from the start stay engaged with the group and use its resources to help navigate their first full year. She observes that the program has gained a lot of momentum since she began with it three years ago, and international students really seem to appreciate the chance to meet and socialize with both mentors and other students coming from far points to Rochester.

“For me, being a part of the program has been really meaningful. I’ve had a chance to meet so many people from all over the world and learn about their stories and cultures,” says Yang. “I didn’t have an opportunity to study abroad, but at the same time I feel like I have gained so much international experience through the program.”

Yang will soon be a chemical engineering graduate and will begin a position at Capital One in McLean, Virginia through its CODA Software Engineer program.

“The amazing team of students who mentor incoming international students have made many strong connections this year,” says Molly Joliff, director of International Student Engagement and associate director in CCAS. “And Nola has been an admired leader of both the mentors and the program participants.”

“Many of our international students comment on how they always remember that first communication from an ISM,” says Shandra Kieffer, administrative assistant in CCAS. “Many rich friendships are created from the program, and several participants turn around and become mentors in the following years.”

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