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Marshall looks to diversify campus

Aug. 17, 2013 @ 11:32 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Marshall University will have a little more "international" feel this fall, as the first students from a new worldwide recruiting effort come to campus.

This semester, more than 160 international students are coming to Huntington through the new INTO-Marshall program that is being led by Into University Partners. The company, which has offices all over the world, helps recruit students who are seeking to study abroad.

In recent years, Marshall has averaged about 400 international students among the more than 13,000 students typically enrolled. That number will about the same this year, but officials predict that figure could grow to more than a thousand in three to five years.

"Until we actually see the full manifestation, which may be a few years, this has the potential to be one of the most important decisions this university has made," said Marshall President Stephen Kopp. "We thought that with the School of Pharmacy and School of Physical Therapy, but this one, because of the potential impact on an entire community, may dwarf the influence of those two schools."

Helping to lead this new endeavor is Eric Fry, the director of INTO Marshall LLC. Since arriving in the spring, Fry has immersed himself in the community and thinks it is ripe for hosting a new influx of students from at least 20 countries.

One of those countries is Vietnam, the home country of several of the 160-plus students who are coming. The interest, Fry said, has been generated from showings of "We Are Marshall."

"They fell in love with the community because it's like their own," said Fry, who brings both higher education and international experience to the position.

He spent time in the military, then worked in school safety and mitigation in California. He moved to Qatar and worked for Cornell University, then helped plant a pharmacy school at the University of Illinois, while also working in Saudi Arabia.

Huntington may not have seemed like the next logical step, but Fry said it's a great place to raise his two young children.

And it's also going to be a great place for international students to get an education, he said.

"It's the community. That's what will drive the success," Fry said. "How incredibly friendly the people are, and that's what our students will send back."

One person who wants to help make that impression is Clark Egnor, the director of the Center for International Programs. For years, it's been the job of his office to handle international student recruitment and admissions and coordinate the English Second Language program.

He's a staunch supporter of the INTO program and campaigned hard to get the partnership signed. He also has traveled extensively since the spring to INTO offices and attended some international fairs.

However, he acknowledged that the focus of his office will now change to a supporting role for INTO Marshall.

"The students are Marshall students, so we're all working together to take care of these students," Egnor said.

Range of programs

Students coming through INTO can engage in one of a handful of pathways, Fry explained. There is a group of students coming this month from Brazil through the Science without Borders exchange program. They'll only be here for one year.

About 30 are coming as graduate students and about two dozen will be true undergraduate students, he said.

"After they get out of the INTO program and continue in the university, they will continue to need support," Egnor said. "And my office will need to play a role in helping them stay at Marshall because they have choices."

Egnor said he'll also focus on faculty and staff who are interested in teaching or conducting research abroad, along with continuing to focus on study abroad.

Egnor's office also plans the International Festival. This year's 50th annual event on Nov. 9 at Big Sandy Superstore Arena, is targeted to be one of the biggest.

INTO Marshall, the festival and the students are all parts of what Kopp described as internationalizing the campus into a "rich melting pot of experiences that transcend the classroom."

Academic emphasis

For all the focus on a good first impression and helping these international students feel comfortable in their new surroundings, none of it will matter if they are not academically successful, said Ben White, the new academic program director and associate professor in the Department of English.

"We're very focused because that's the best marketing INTO can provide, to succeed academically," White said. "There's a lot of pressure on the academic side to make sure students are prepared."

White said his primary role is to help students adjust to whatever pathway program they are taking. Some will take the pathways program; others will take the already-existing but bolstered 15-week academic English program; while others will take a shorter, five-week English language program.

The INTO pathways program includes both English languages courses and core curriculum that allows students to matriculate completely into Marshall as sophomores during their second year.

Campuswide impact

Another part of why Marshall officials consider the INTO program so valuable is that it internationalizes the campus. That provides value to West Virginia students who hadn't planned or considered studying abroad.

"Thanks to INTO, the number of international students and the awareness about the world and different cultures will increase significantly on campus," said Chloe Pasquet, a graduate student from France who works as a student services assistant with Marshall-INTO offices in the newly-renovated East Hall. "This will be a great way for our community and the American students to meet people from all around the world and learn about different languages and cultures without going abroad."

Egnor said he expects to have the same number of international students, about 400, as last year, because there are some who might have come anyway but were recruited through INTO.

However, he expects it to grow quickly and be a big change for Marshall and the community.

"This year, you may not see the huge numbers we'll see three to five years down the road," Egnor said. "But what I would like to see is more integration with international students."



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