The path to career success for international students—whether at home or abroad in the United States—isn’t always easy.
“We are always encouraged to follow our passions, but for international students, it’s not simply following that path. There are legal issues,” says Linh Anh Le’20.
While visiting a friend in California and discussing visas, Le was inspired to bring Beloit’s large international community together to think about the particular issues students from countries outside the United States face as they choose classes, forge careers, and do everything in between.
A business economics and education major from Vietnam, Le hoped to leverage the connections she had already made as a member of the college’s International Club. Her goal was to create a career services resource especially for international students. She contacted Jessica Fox-Wilson’98, the college’s director of career development, who connected her with two other students completing honors term research on the experiences of international students. Lu “Emily” Liu’18, a math and economics double major from China, and Hian Yong Yeo’17, a critical identity studies major from Singapore, had each identified career development as a major area of need for international students at Beloit.
Together, the three women founded the Beloit International Student Career Services club. They held their first campus event, “Students Helping Students” in early March, with more than 40 students attending. The event was an opportunity for juniors and seniors to exchange knowledge with first-year and sophomore students about internships, selecting classes, and to have their résumés reviewed. Fox-Wilson was invited to attend and gave a presentation on resources available to international students through the college’s Liberal Arts in Practice Center.
“International students have a lot to offer to employers. Oftentimes, they are multilingual and have a diversity of experiences that we don’t always see in domestic students. Those things are to their benefit, but they also face the obstacles of having a student visa,” says Fox-Wilson.
For instance, when international students with F-1 student visas graduate, they are eligible to apply for 12 months of Optional Practical Training, a type of employment authorization and a benefit of their student status. Optional Practical Training makes students eligible to work in employment directly related to their fields of study for 12 months, and students with majors in qualifying STEM fields may be eligible to obtain an additional 24 months of authorization. Once they complete this period of practical training, students require a sponsor to continue working in the United States. Those without employer sponsorship need to return home or begin a new program of study.
Fresh off the success of the Students Helping Students event, the Beloit International Student Career Services club decided to tap into Beloit’s international alumni network. They began planning “Global Beloiters,” a larger undertaking that brought alumni back to campus or via video-chat to offer advice and perspectives to current students. After securing more than $4,000 to bring alumni back, the founders reached out to every department chair on campus, used their Facebook connections, and worked with the college’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations to identify and connect with alumni.
“I wanted to have people [participate] who had real experiences searching for jobs,” says Le.
Thu Pham’12, a native of Vietnam now based in Seattle, Wash., attended the Global Beloiters event via video chat. She said she was able to connect with several students about the hurdles she faced entering the career force after college.
“My advisors viewed me as they did domestic students,” says Pham, adding that they didn’t fully understand the visa process and couldn’t advise her on that part of her post-Beloit life.
Pham, a double major in economics and management and media studies, said she initially had trouble finding a job in her field upon graduation. To become more competitive, she challenged herself to learn technical skills and now works in public relations for a biotechnology company.
She says she hopes the club expands to include more mentorship opportunities between alumni and current students. “I have a lot of things I want to share and I want them to utilize my experiences,” says Pham.
More than 100 students, alumni, and a few faculty members attended the Global Beloiters event, which featured two panels—one focused on the path from college to graduate school, and another on the path from college into the workforce.
Twenty alumni flew back to Beloit for the event, including Matej Jungwirth’14, who is completing his master’s degree in public affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He says that funding post-collegiate plans was a hot topic of discussion for students facing the all-too-familiar anxiety of what to do after graduating from Beloit.
“Specifically, students were interested in my path to Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School and how I made my way in,” he says.
For Le and Fox-Wilson, the two events held in the club’s inaugural year are only the beginning.
The club has expanded to 20 student members and will be continuing to host events through the 2018-19 school year. Le says she hopes to start a mentoring program between international alumni and current students, while Fox-Wilson says her office will expand Beloit’s presence at career fairs with an eye toward locating and building relationships with companies that have a solid record of sponsoring international students.