By Courtney Westlake
At this year’s International Festival, Rick Lane noticed that during downtime, members of the Students of African Descent group and the Indian group began to dance together and enjoy each other’s cultures.
That is exactly the environment Lane is working to create, with help from many others on campus, as the director of the Office of International Student Services at UIS.
Organizing the International Festival, held annually, is just one of the responsibilities of the office. Its primary duty is to assist international students with immigration issues, whether they are arriving as new students or maintaining their legal status, and the benefits of that status, in the United States, Lane said.
“We also do programming with the students and for the students, like the International Festival,” he said. “We assist them with tax workshops and cultural adaptation. I am also one of two advisers (along with Dana Atwell) for the International Student Association, so we do welcome parties and other activities to help them interact with each other and get to know the campus and Springfield.”
The Office of International Student Services works closely with numerous other offices on campus, including the Diversity Center, Housing, Student Life and the Admissions office. In fact, a new counselor recently started in the admissions office who is dedicated solely to international students.
“We know how important it is for international students to get a quick response when they’re trying to figure things out from many miles and many hours away,” Lane said. “We wanted someone who could understand their unique needs and questions and respond promptly to those, and dedicate himself to that.”
The Office of International Student Services is located in the Human Resources Building, in the same space as the Office of International Programs led by Jonathan GoldbergBelle. The student services office also includes office manager Sherri Boner, graduate assistant Jolene Vollmer and student worker Reid Johnson. A future goal for both offices is to rename the space the “International Center” to bring all programs together.
The international studentson the UIS campus, including U.S. lawful permanent residents and all non-immigrant visa categories, number around 500, Lane said, which is close to 10 percent of the campus population. The majority come to study at UIS from India, most of those in computer science. The office and the international recruiting task force, which is chaired by Lane, have plans to expand recruiting efforts to parts of Asia, as well as recruit students in a variety of majors and programs.
“We have many students from India, Korea, Japan, China, but we also have students from western Europe, Africa and the Americas – North, Central and South,” Lane said. “We are now going to be concentrating on Asia; that area of the world is sending the most students to the United States, and we would like to grow our international population very quickly. While we certainly want to continue welcoming students from India in computer science, we have a goal of diversifying to other parts of the world as well as what majors they are pursuing outside of computer science.”
While it’s the law to have such a department on campus to provide services regarding forms and legal status, Lane believes the office provides much more than that to the international students who come to UIS.
“I believe that interaction between international students and American students is crucial not only for education of those international students but for - dare I say it? - world peace,” he said. “I don't think there is anything that does as much to help foster good understanding of who were are as Americans, and understanding of the rest of the world, as having international students and American students interacting. They couldn't do that if we weren't here to help that happen; they need someone to be their advocate, their liaison.”