Innovative Program in Malta Illuminates Refugee Experience

Thursday, June 13th
The country of Malta is a flashpoint in the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean and, as such, it offers an ideal opportunity to explore issues of migration, refugees, and resettlement policy. Dr. Tim Raphael, Professor of Arts, Culture, and Media at Rutgers University–Newark and Director of the Center for Migration and the Global City, was awarded two grants from Rutgers Global to embark on an innovative and multi-dimensional project in Malta.  With the goal of documenting displacement through digital media, Dr. Raphael wanted to provide refugees and at-risk youth in Malta with the tools and training to tell their own unique stories. He proposed partnering with Spark 15, the world’s first youth-led refugee NGO, on the project.  Spark 15 formed following a UNHCR consultation meeting in October 2015, and its members are comprised of young people ranging in age from16 to 28 hailing from many different countries, including Eritrea, Lebanon, Somalia and Libya. Dr. Raphael noted, “I first met the members of Spark 15 in Malta on a trip led by Rutgers University–Newark Graduate School Director Kyle Farmbry in 2017. They spoke with me about their intention to create a media wing of Spark 15 so they could share their stories and represent themselves and their lives in Malta.” Spark 15’s co-founder and president Hourie Tafech is currently studying in the Division of Global Affairs at Rutgers University–Newark. Dr. Raphael also wanted to engage Rutgers students to become involved in this project, and worked with his colleague Dr. Mayte Green-Mercado, Assistant Professor of Islamic History at Rutgers University–Newark, to propose adding a new component to the Rutgers study abroad program in Malta: the Malta international internship. This week-long, interdisciplinary, three-credit internship program would partner Rutgers students studying abroad in Malta with members of Spark 15 for the project.  A key component to this project was photography—truly providing a lens into the refugee experience—so Dr. Raphael and his partners, filmmaker Julie Winokur and photo-journalist Ed Kashi, worked with the National Geographic Photo Camp, which provided cameras, workshops, and in-the-field training. Additional partners included Talking Eyes Media and Newest Americans, who are working on a documentary film about Spark 15, and the Integra Foundation, a refugee advocacy organization in Malta. This innovative project has now come together, as a group of five students—four from Rutgers–Newark and one exchange student from China who is studying at Rutgers–New Brunswick—traveled to Malta in late May to participate in the international internship program. One participant, Ashley Mendoza, was awarded the prestigious Gilman Scholarship specifically to participate in the Malta program.  The student interns worked with National Geographic and Newest Americans staff, served as group leaders for the refugee photo teams, and were responsible for behind the scenes documentary photography of the process. In this capacity, they interacted with Spark 15 members and other refugee youth participants in the camp.  Dr. Raphael shared: “As part of the internship, each student is conducting research about the young refugees they worked with during the program, and will be completing a multimedia project when they return from Malta. They will also take a two-week intensive course on Maltese history and culture with Dr. Green-Mercado, and Associate Professor of History Gary Farney.” There are plans to feature the final Photo Camp video in the Newest Americans digital magazine later this year.  As for future plans, Dr. Raphael shared that he hopes to continue to provide training and resources to Spark 15, and to establish an ongoing relationship between Spark 15 and Rutgers students through continuing opportunities for internships and study in Malta. A recent article appeared on Lovin’ Malta about the project, featuring photos from the project. Read the article here.

Pioneering a New Approach to International Student Success at Rutgers

Monday, April 29th
Rutgers University has a long history of attracting international students and has shown a deep commitment to ensuring their success at Rutgers and beyond. The university's current strategic plan states that “international students play a vital role in promoting New Jersey’s global connections and intellectual resources and help boost Rutgers’ profile around the world.”  As such, it is crucial to support our international students academically by “heightening attention to student advising and services, both academic and nonacademic, to ensure student success and enduring satisfaction.” In the past decade, Rutgers has seen a sharp increase in the number of international students. For instance, since 2010 the number of undergraduate students at Rutgers-New Brunswick has grown from 592 to 2934 and, currently, the university hosts about 9,000 international students from 120 countries. While this rapid growth in international student enrollment has been heartily welcomed by the university, it has also highlighted a need for new programs to bolster student advising and improve the experience for international students. How best to ensure that resources for international students keep pace with the rapid growth? Enter the Office for International Academic Success, part of Rutgers Global and overseen by Anu Gupta, Assistant Dean, with guidance from Jeff Wang, Assistant Vice President of Global Affairs. The office was created to address this need for improved experience for international students in 2016 and charged with three goals: to enhance academic success of international students, to reduce redundancy in programming, and to ease the complexity of navigating a large university. It was important for Gupta and her team to first identify the challenges that international students can face as they transition to a university in the U.S. Some of these challenges can include: cultural and language barriers, mental health stigma, immigration regulation compliance, lack of familiarity with U.S. academic system, teaching methods, and academic integrity standards. From there priorities were designated, including, first and foremost, to enhance students’ understanding of expectations and resources at Rutgers. Another priority was to design and implement new academic support programs for international students. And, finally, to support faculty and staff capacity to address the unique challenges of international students. Gupta created a multi-stakeholder working group with senior representatives from 12 school and offices across Rutgers, including Student Affairs, Admissions, the Foundation, the School of Arts and Sciences (SAS), the School of Engineering (SOE), and the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS). The group is co-chaired by Gupta and the Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Academic Affairs Dr. Ben Sifuentes-Jáuregui, and meets twice a month to work on projects that are actionable and scalable. “Each member of the working group is invested and takes ownership of these projects, which leads to their success,” said Gupta. The first project was to create a Pre-Departure Orientation (PDO) in the home countries of our international students and their families to prepare them for their arrival to Rutgers. In 2017, the first international PDOs took place in Beijing and Shanghai. In 2018, New Delhi, and Seoul were added, and this year in May, the PDOs will take place in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, New Delhi, and Mumbai. Gupta shared that PDOs have significantly decreased “summer melt,” a term describing accepted students who place a deposit but do not ultimately enroll. She shared: “We looked at the numbers and we saw a decline in summer melt from 25% to 7% after the international PDOs were implemented.” Second, the team conceived of and implemented RU-FIT (First-year International student Transition course), a one-credit course taught by Peer Leaders designed to aid international students in a successful transition to Rutgers University. Peer Leaders, upperclassmen (often international students themselves) are trained by faculty and staff advisors and, as mentors, become an important resource for international students during their time at Rutgers. Nimit Jogani, a Peer Leader notes, “This is a really important course for first-year international students … it will help keep them on track for the next 3-1/2 years at Rutgers.” (See a video about the RU-FIT course here). RU-FIT also reduced redundancy in programming across the university. In addition, it provides students with an important employment opportunity that bolsters their resumes upon graduation. With RU-FIT, Gupta’s working group identified a key model for academic success for international students: a peer mentoring/leadership structure that helps ensure there are enough resources available for international students. Besides RU-FIT, the Office for International Academic Success is pursuing further projects using a peer mentoring model, including a student to student academic coaching mini-course; a peer-led academic coaching program at the Learning Centers; and peer advisors at Academic Advising Offices. This key model of peer mentoring also works well with regard to providing support to faculty and staff, and there is a pilot project that pairs RU-FIT Peer Leaders with Teaching Assistants (TAs) in Rutgers’ signature Global East Asia course, which is currently comprised of 225 students with three TAs. Peer Leaders attend the course on a non-credit basis and hold office hours to provide additional support for international and domestic students. Given that there are many factors beyond what happens in a classroom that determine academic success, such as integration into campus life, the office is creating strong partnerships with the International Student and Scholar Services office in Rutgers Global, as well as various units under Student Affairs, including Resident Life, to offer more holistic programs for international students. What’s ahead for the Office for International Academic Success? New partnerships are being explored to create programs that bolster retention and reduce time to graduation. There are also plans to focus attention on international graduate students, as well as increased programming on the Newark and Camden campuses. Since just 2016, Anu Gupta and her Office for International Student Success have created and implemented innovative programs that are quickly bearing fruit and being effectively scaled to have a significant impact on international students at Rutgers University. The unique placement of the office in the Rutgers Global office versus the more traditional academic advising offices has allowed for collaboration with partners across the university, as well as a creative and nimble approach. “I’m creating a blueprint for this new role,” said Gupta.



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