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International Students Face Unique Challenges in Their College Transition: Lessons Learned From a Discipline-Specific Support System

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

International Division Technical Session 4

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Haritha Gnanasegar Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Tawni Paradise Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Tawni is a fourh year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. She holds a B.S. and a B.A. in Industrial & Systems Engineering from The University of San Diego in San Diego, CA. Drawing on previous experiences as a mathematics and engineering teacher, her current research interests include studying the disconnect between home and school, with a specific emphasis on elementary students. She continues to pursue these research interests with the support of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowships Program.

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Ramida Theeravachirakul Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Ramida is an undergraduate student majoring in Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech and intends to graduate in 2023. She is an international student from Thailand. She involves in the International Student Support team to help international students transitioning to the university.

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Soumya Khanna Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Margee Pipaliya Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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I am an undergraduate student majoring in Aerospace Engineering.

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International students are growing in number throughout universities in the United States, but many of them are not receiving the support that they need to transition to both a new country and college life. In their transition to college, international students face unique challenges when compared with their domestic peers. Many colleges have international centers on campus that aim to serve and support international students with their needs. Not only are these facilities often underfunded and overworked, but they often don’t provide discipline-specific support for students. International students pursuing Engineering may experience different challenges than those who are pursuing a degree in Business or English. This realization led to the formation of the International Student Support Team (ISST) within the College of Engineering at a large, land grant, mid-Atlantic university. ISST has a mission to provide targeted support to international engineering students so that they can do well-pursuing engineering majors at the university and a vision to better the international student experience at the university, including their transition into engineering and the United States. Over the last three years, this team has engaged several engineering international students in conversations, support sessions, mentoring, social events, and otherwise. The purpose of this paper is to understand how engineering international students are experiencing their transition to college and to what extent ISST has supported their transitional experience. Interviews with freshman, sophomore, junior and PhD international engineering students will be conducted with questions related to their transitional experience during their first semester in college and the role of ISST in their transition. Through informal conversations, we have found that most international students faced challenges during their first semester and that they were unsure how to seek help for these challenges. Students have also shared that ISST supported them with their career and academic challenges, but that they do not feel ISST addressed their desire to connect with American students. Alongside the interview results, this paper will also present details of ISST and its offerings for students. This paper could be useful to colleges looking for manners in which they can fully support international students, specifically at the discipline-specific level.

Gnanasegar, H., & Paradise, T., & Theeravachirakul, R., & Khanna, S., & Pipaliya, M. (2021, July), International Students Face Unique Challenges in Their College Transition: Lessons Learned From a Discipline-Specific Support System Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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