|Jean-Paul Woodroffe ’08 of Trinidad is among the talented international students recruited in recent years.
To Shumei Chen, a straight-A student from Chengdu, China, Dickinson was just one of many possible college destinations … until she met David Taylor ’91 last year for lunch in Shanghai.
Intuiting the welcoming nature of the college through this graduate who now lived and worked in her home country, Chen quickly made up her mind to pursue “the distinguished Dickinson liberal-arts education that is going to shape me as a real international person with a critical mind,” she says. “David was so warm and had such loyalty to Dickinson. I wanted to go to a college that would produce this kind of graduate.”
Chen knew that Dickinson had a high percentage of students going abroad but was surprised, once she arrived this fall, to see that even the home campus was globally integrated—five of the 20 young women residing on her floor were international.
Just five years ago, there were only three international students in the freshman class, accounting for one-half percent of the student body. Today 5 percent of the student body is international, meaning they are foreign-born citizens of another nation. They are not children of expatriates, dual citizens or permanent residents of the United States, which many other institutions include in their tally of international students. Six percent of Dickinson’s first-year students come from 22 nations, with the largest contingent coming from Nepal (six), South Korea (five) and Bulgaria (four).
How has the college accomplished what seemed impossible in the years following 9/11, when recruitment of students from other lands stalled for most colleges and universities?
“It’s all about relationship building,” declares Robert J. Massa, vice president for enrollment and college relations. “We’ve started visiting these areas.” He’s talking about his own ventures to South America and the Caribbean to recruit the very best students in Uruguay and Argentina, Trinidad and Tobago, and about travel by Giulia Rinaldis ’97, assistant director of international admissions, in East Asia and Western and Eastern Europe.
“Dickinson didn’t travel internationally for student recruitment for about 15 years, until 2003,” Massa explains. “From 1999 to 2003 we deliberately didn’t have staff travel, because we wanted them to develop relationships first via e-mail and telephone.”
The last year of the 20th century was a pivotal one for Dickinson. William G. Durden ’71 became president, bringing with him from his former employer, Johns Hopkins University, that institution’s hard-charging dean of enrollment, Massa. Dickinson had a new mandate—diversify.
Naturally, this meant bringing in greater numbers of racial minorities to an overwhelmingly Caucasian campus. Associating with organizations, like the Posse Foundation, Philadelphia Futures and College Bound, that assist with recruitment of students of color helped Dickinson triple its enrollment to 15 percent between 2000 and 2005. This was critical, but there were other challenges to meet.
“Diversity, for many colleges, has become a buzzword for enrolling underrepresented domestic students,” Massa explains. “But it’s more than that. Diversity includes racial diversity, socioeconomic and geographic diversity, diversity of nationality and ideas. That is what makes a vibrant community. To ignore international-student recruitment, particularly for a campus which has as its vision global engagement, is shortsighted.”
To get on track, the college not only had to invest in seasoned professionals to direct its international admissions and build bonds with overseas guidance counselors and heads of schools but find scholarship dollars to bring in students from countries where, often, the average wage is $1 a day.
First Massa brought in Seth Allen, another colleague from Hopkins, to run Dickinson’s admissions operation. Allen was eager to up the international enrollment, recognizing these students “are in the upper echelons in potential of all student recruits. They gain the tools here to be really productive here and in their own countries.”
A year after ramping up Dickinson’s admissions program, the dean of admissions recruited Diane Fleming. “Diane came from Hopkins, where she raised the percent of international students from 4 to 10 percent in three years,” says Allen. “She did exactly the same thing for us here in the last three years.”
Along with hiring a seasoned staff, adds Allen, the college “committed significant financial resources to bringing in the top international students”—the second key to successfully recruiting these students, who tend to have great need.
A big boost in the effort came from former trustee Yale Asbell ’78. Due to a plea by his rabbi in Cherry Hill, N.J., Asbell became aware of a cohort of excellent but financially strapped Jewish high-school students in Argentina and Uruguay.
Asbell committed an initial $175,000 in 2003 to bring a few of these students to Dickinson each year on full scholarship. Asbell and others, most significantly trustee Larry Kent, added to the account, which is now called the Global Campus Scholarships. It currently stands at $ 3.5 million.
Massa’s claim that international recruitment succeeds or fails on the quality of relationships is exemplified by Asbell’s involvement with the students he is helping—and their parents.
One October afternoon found Asbell on a conference call from his New Jersey home, talking with the parents of one of his scholarship recipients. They had come from Argentina to visit their daughter and to see Massa. Asbell called in and joined the meeting.
Students like Damian Glumcher ’08 enjoy traveling to New Jersey to attend Jewish holiday services with Asbell, his wife Audrey, and their two young daughters. Scholarship recipients know who Asbell is right off the bat. “I write them an introductory letter just to say ‘I’m one of the people behind this, this is my interest, this is why it began, do you have any questions?’ ”
Setting up the scholarship, Asbell says, was “a huge win/win. We’re bringing students of quality to Dickinson who are thirsting for this kind of education, and we are helping to internationalize the student body here. We are being consistent with the curriculum. This is the gift that just keeps giving back.”
Asbell anticipates that international students will be ultra-loyal alums. “They’re already helping to recruit other students from their countries. I expect in the future they will help with our development efforts as well. They see it as a responsibility.”
Tamoghna Ghosh ’07 is a testament to that expectation. He sends e-mails to prospective students in India, held an ice-cream social in his Calcutta home for accepted Indian students in summer ’04, and coordinated the 20-hour flight from Calcutta to Philadelphia this fall so that all the Dickinson Indian students could travel together. “We form a bond even before coming,” he says.
Allen and Fleming are delighted that students like Ghosh are organizing receptions, in places such as Nepal and Bulgaria, before coming to Carlisle.
“We want to build little Dickinson communities everywhere,” Allen notes. “Students want to know that they are not the only ones adventuresome enough to go off to a strange college in Pennsylvania.”
Recruiting that first student from a new country is a real coup, according to Fleming, because the student will talk up the college to those back home.
“Word of mouth is everything. Once a relationship takes off, it’s like being on the cocktail circuit in the Fifties,” she says with a smile.
When Ghosh came in 2003, the only other Indian student was Adi Chugh ’04. Chugh, like Ghosh a very chatty guy, succeeded in spreading the word. Now there are five Indian students at Dickinson.
On campus Ghosh keeps the Indian bond strong as co-founder of the Dickinson Desi (meaning residents of the subcontinent) Association. Formerly called the Indian Student Association, the group has 200 members, many of whom are Americans interested in the cultures of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and other countries in that region.
Ghosh also is vice president of the newly formed 70-member Dickinson Student Ambassadors. Their purpose, he says, “is to foster better relationships between alumni and students.” DSA members enjoyed mingling with the Alumni Council at the leadership group’s fall meeting. He fully expects members of DSA will one day be on Alumni Council.
“We feel we will be successful in our careers, and we feel a sense of gratefulness to the college,” says Ghosh. “I have never heard an international student say he didn’t like Dickinson.”
One of the reasons for their satisfaction is the support they receive from Rinaldis, who was their main phone and e-mail contact before making the journey to Carlisle.
“Recruiting international students is highly labor intensive,” says Fleming. “Ten times as much time is spent on each student [than a domestic recruit].”
With all of this interaction before coming to campus, they feel they know Rinaldis. They also have an affinity for her because she majored in international studies—one of the most common majors for international students—and Italian studies, and her parents are from Italy. She knows what it’s like to cross between cultures.
Rinaldis proves true Fleming’s claim that “the admissions process doesn’t end when the students have enrolled.” Rinaldis keeps in touch with the parents she met literally or virtually through the pre-admissions process, and students often drop by her tidy office in South College to say hi or to relay a concern. “I encourage them to go to the appropriate person” for help, Rinaldis says. Often that person is Lauren Brown Elick ’02, coordinator of international student and scholar services.
Elick helps incoming students with their initial visas to the United States and meets with them regularly once matriculated. But with the rapid rise in international enrollment in such a short time, Rinaldis feels the support system is sometimes strained. Faculty members like T. Scott Smith of physics & astronomy, who has a special interest in students from India, help to fill the gap.
Indian student Ghosh plans to earn an M.B.A. before returning home to build his career and continue his recruitment efforts for Dickinson. But there are international alums who already are helping to recruit worldwide.
Chris Devries ’69 hosts lunches for new students from the Netherlands in his elegant Amsterdam home, but he’s just as likely to engage a prospect in the Far East. As an international banker who speaks six languages, Devries may be in Denmark one day, Bali the next, extolling the benefits of a Dickinson education wherever he lands.
He also wrote a lengthy, heartfelt letter that Rinaldis e-mailed to all entering international students, explaining the outcomes of his Dickinson education and offering his contact information.
“A lot of students came back and said it was a great experience, that they were impressed, and contacted him,” says Rinaldis, who has plans to post the letter on the international admissions Web site.
Besides Devries there are four alumni in Hong Kong who help with admissions and others, like Taylor in Shanghai, scattered around the globe. Rinaldis also has started a pilot program in Bologna, using a current student as an international-admissions intern. Jessica Snyder ’07 is returning to schools that Rinaldis visited and is reaching out to new schools and alumni who live in Italy.
Having a well-organized Web site that clearly explains the value of a Dickinson education is essential for international recruitment, says Rinaldis, because it is often the only way international students find out about the college. Not all have access to guidebooks or guidance counselors who can direct their college searches. One successful tactic, says Fleming, is to have current international students translate the information on the Web site into their own languages. “Our strategy is to push recruitment back onto the [enrolled] students themselves,” says Allen.
Though “the rest of the world is our fastest growing segment” of recruited students, according to Allen, it will be difficult to maintain the momentum without a major infusion of scholarship funds.
“We’ve been so successful, we’ve outpaced our support structure,” he says. “Our five-year goal for the class of 2013 (those entering in 2009) is 8 percent of the student body. Our efforts will grind to a halt without the flexibility to bring people here.”
Maintaining the advances made in diversifying the student body during the last five years is a core goal for Dickinson, says Massa. “Colleges and universities have to make a decision about financial priorities. Diversity in all of its forms is costly. The college is willing to allocate money to this, because it makes the campus more exciting. If we want to engage, debate and respect each other, we have to bring different experiences to our community.”•