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Pilot administrative role supports international graduate students

Shayna Kessel assumes role as interim associate dean for international graduate students

Associate Dean for Master’s Education Shayna Kessel took on the new role of interim associate dean for international graduate students May 1. The position, created by the Graduate School and the Office of Global Engagement, was made to support the 38 percent of graduate students who hail from outside of the United States, wrote Dean of the Graduate School Andrew Campbell in an email to The Herald.

While still upholding her duties as associate dean for master’s education, Kessel will support international graduate students with a myriad of issues that are specific to them. She said that international students often have unique needs, including handling visa issues, adjusting to life in a new country and professional development abroad or at home.

“Little things that domestic students may casually do can have a really deep impact for an international student, so we want them to be informed and prepared and to know their unique resources,” Kessel said.

Kessel’s position is even more imperative given recent political discourse at the national level, said Associate Provost for Global Engagement and Strategic Initiatives Shankar Prasad. For example, the Supreme Court’s decision upholding President Trump’s travel ban last June may impact international students.

“This is really a world in which the rhetoric seems like we don’t want international students in America, and I think it’s really important for Brown and other institutions like us to say, ‘No, we want you. We need you, and we’re so happy that you’re here,’” Prasad said.

Prasad added that Kessel’s position was also created following the realization that there should be more “structural resources” for international graduate students.

Previously, the functions of supporting international students have always existed among various associate deans in the graduate school. Now, the administration is experimenting with consolidating those functions into Kessel’s position to try to better support students, though the role is still in its pilot phase, Campbell wrote.

“We want to use the pilot period to assess whether consolidating functions that meet the needs of international graduates is best met by a single position or person, or (through) having the various functions of the position be distributed,” Campbell wrote.

Campbell and Prasad will assess how effective the consolidated position is before they start thinking about whether or not to fill the role permanently.

Kessel was chosen for the additional position because of her current work as the associate dean for master’s education. According to Campbell, a sizable number of international graduate students are master’s students. Because of that overlap, Kessel will support all master’s students, as well as international doctoral students.

“In a way, this work is a natural extension of the work that I’ve been doing in the graduate school for the last two and a half years,” Kessel said.

Kessel started in the new position with this year’s international graduate student orientation last month. Though there has always been an orientation for international graduate students, Kessel said that this year’s program centered more around the students’ voices.

“The tone of the program was more community building and welcoming students rather than compliance, which has been more of the case in the past, and students had a little bit more flexibility about when they could attend certain sessions,” Kessel said.

The orientation organizing team also built in extra time for socializing and meet-and-greets with deans, and it removed content that was already covered in a graduate student of color orientation and a general graduate student orientation, Kessel said. She added that the changes paid off and many students loved the new programming.

“It’s a really, really important role that needed to be created,” Prasad said. “Already we’re seeing an impact in the role that the international students feel. Just having someone who can advocate for the needs of international students across the university is really important.”


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