Rahul Kumar had worked in the information technology industry in Bangalore, India, for over seven years before deciding to pursue a master’s degree in computer science at Missouri S&T. Kumar, who earned a bachelor’s degree in electronics and communications engineering from SRM University in New Delhi, says S&T’s reputation led him to apply for study in Rolla.
“Missouri S&T is one of the top universities,” Kumar says. “It is known for its course curriculum, and the cutting-edge research conducted here made me inclined to join.”
Kumar is one of seven students from India who began graduate coursework at Missouri S&T in October 2020. Getting them here was no small feat.
“Due to this pandemic all the consulates were closed in our country,” says Sai Tigmanya, a computer science graduate student from Hyderabad. “The consulates opened in late August, and we got our interview slots the first week of September. Once we informed S&T of this, the university made a special arrangement for us by adding a late fall semester that started on Oct. 13.” The special semester runs through mid-January.
COVID-19-related closures around the world this past year made enrollment in foreign colleges and universities difficult, if not impossible, for Indian students seeking higher education.
“To make matters worse, the national rhetoric at the time indicated that international students weren’t always welcome in the U.S.,” says Shobi Sivadasan, vice provost of enrollment management at Missouri S&T. “We wanted to make sure they knew that wasn’t the case here. We want students to feel safe. We want students to feel welcome.”
The consulates reopened on Aug. 14, but with the start of Missouri S&T’s fall semester just 10 days away, enrollment management officials had a lot of work to do to get interested graduate students from India to Rolla.
“We reached out to all admitted students in India and asked, ‘If we welcomed you to campus in October, would you come?’” Sivadasan says. “Thirty expressed interest; seven made it through.”
Missouri S&T policy requires all students to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival in Rolla, regardless of their origin. Finding housing and providing dining and other basic student support needs became a challenge.
As each student arrived in the U.S., Erica Reven, business services specialist in enrollment management, arranged shuttles to pick them up at the airport, worked with residential life staff to take photos of each student’s room and then met with the students to give them their keys. “She was the first person the students saw on campus,” Sivadasan says.
“I’m very thankful to the university management for helping us with all the arrangements for quarantine, which made the transition a smooth one,” says Yashwanth Reddy, a graduate student in computer science from Hyderabad.
But much like the analogy of a duck that appears to glide smoothly across the surface of a pond, while its feet busily kick beneath the surface, there were many moving parts behind the scenes on campus.
“The entire community came together to welcome these seven students,” Sivadasan says.
“Our faculty and chairs of computer science and mechanical engineering worked to ready courses for them, the computer science chair and the College of Engineering and Computing provided funds to purchase two-week snack bags, and the international affairs office provided a student union goodie bag with fun activities like books and puzzles to do while in quarantine,” says Sivadasan.
The dean of students office secured temporary housing in Farrar Hall and office staff helped address any issues and answer questions, Student Health Services provided testing and answered medical questions, the IT department ensured the students had access to WiFi, and interim Provost Stephen Roberts provided funding to cover the additional teaching expenses.
“We were able to do all of this because these students braved a pandemic to come here,” Sivadasan says. “They felt strongly they wanted to come and begin their studies.”
And beyond the campus assistance, members of the Rolla Indian Professionals Group, led by group president and S&T mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Dr. K. Krishnamurthy, took turns providing home-cooked meals every day of the quarantine to ensure the students could savor a taste of India despite being far from home.
“It’s personal for me,” says Sivadasan. “I was an international student almost two decades back. I’ve met thousands of students since then and I always try to make a difference. It’s not just India, students all over leave families and everything familiar to go someplace new. How welcoming you are is so important. It stays with them for life.”
“From our arrival in the university to present, all the people we have met have been very warm to us,” says Ankit Sharma, a graduate student in mechanical engineering from Raipur, India. “We have certainly made some great friends. The community spirit among every Miner is very inspiring. And it is an honor to a part of this great community.”
As the two-week quarantine ended and the Indian students moved into their own apartments, Sharma wrote S&T administrators a note of thanks.
“As much excited we are to attend our classes on campus, we are equally thankful to all of you for your extraordinary help and coordination in making this happen smoothly,” he wrote.
“We thank each one of you at residential life, enrollment management and the Rolla Indian Professionals Group for every effort you have taken in ensuring our better stay since our arrival in the U.S. A very special thanks to the families of the Rolla Indian Professionals Group for making us feel at home here at Rolla, and for the healthy, delicious food. It matters a lot to all of us.”
Sharma’s letter was a first for Sivadasan.
“In all my years of doing this at any institution, I have not received an email like that,” she says. “When I think about the vision in my mind when we started talking about this, to see it come to fruition was amazing. Everything went as planned. It all came together so well. You can do amazing things when everyone comes together.”