International Center merges existing offices

International student services including ISSO, Intercultural Programs, Education Abroad combine to alleviate increasing needs of foreign students

The centralization of international student services under one office will be formally inaugurated in February.

UTD’s international students comprise 24 percent of the student body, and there is an increasing interest in education abroad by domestic students according to Cristen Casey, assistant vice president of international programs. The new International Center hopes to better accommodate the burgeoning needs of these students.

It has been a part of the university’s 10-year plan beginning five years ago to centralize the international student services, said Lisabeth Lassiter, director of intercultural programs and study abroad.

The IC oversees the operations of all the international program’s departments on campus, Casey said.

Merged in April 2014, the departments that operate under the IC are the International Student Services Office, or ISSO, Intercultural Programs, Education Abroad, International Risk and Safety and International Partnership Development.

Before the creation of the IC, ISSO was responsible for international student programs, which is now handled by Intercultural Programs. The Office of International Education’s affairs have been divided into the offices of Education Abroad, International Risk and Safety, and International Partnership Development.

Prior to the merger, the ISSO and the Office of International Education were the only entities on campus that tended to the needs of the international student community.

The ISSO is the immigration advising and benefit processing office for students with F and J visas. It helps international students assemble travel documents and look for jobs after graduation.

“What we really want to do is build awareness of the IC and what services we provide to students and what’s available to them than do any kind of rebranding,” Casey said.

To spread awareness about its services, the IC launched a new website for each of the five offices at the end of December 2014. The IC also collaborated with InterCom, a communication system for the faculty and staff, presented at the Texas International Education Consortium and other conferences and used email to spread the news of its formation.

One thing the IC is trying to stress moving forward is technology and its role in creating a hassle-free interface for students to get pertinent information about international studies, Casey said.

As a part of this goal, the IC developed an app that allows students to search study abroad opportunities and explore options that will allow transfer credit.

“The app was initially geared toward helping prospective and new students with the process of obtaining immigration documents they need to begin their studies at UT Dallas,” said Director of Immigration Services Josephine Vitta. “We also will be working to move towards web conferencing for some of our immigration workshops to better serve students outside the DFW area.”

International student employees at the IC helped develop the app while working with Information Resources and Information Security to ensure that everything was done correctly.

Expansion efforts include some new education abroad programs such as exchange plans with the University of Wollongong, Vienna University of Economics and Business and Dublin City University. In addition, Education Abroad is hosting weekly information sessions and walk-in advising hours for students.

Although the IC is currently in full operation, it will formally host an open house on Feb. 27 to announce its founding. Students in attendance can meet the staff, tour the offices and learn about the department’s goals and strategies in achieving those objectives. They will also be shown videos of administrators discussing international education at UTD.

The IC will host celebratory events during International Week in late March or early April. Students can expect an education abroad fair in November during International Education Week.

The iFriend program, in which an American student is paired with an international student to acquaint the latter to American customs and traditions while learning about a different culture, will continue to grow under the IC and promote cultural awareness on campus.

“The benefit of Intercultural Programs is helping domestic students realize that if they want to learn another culture, yes it’s a great idea to study abroad, but we can also connect them to somebody from a different culture right away,” Lassiter said.

Although the IC’s long-term goals are still being established, the newly unified offices hope to expand the popularity of education abroad and take advantage of the diverse population on campus to increase cultural appreciation.

“I think it’s important for the campus community and the surrounding community to know how we’re expanding our services and doing more to support students,” Lassiter said.

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