New initiatives aim to bring more international graduate scholars to ASU

By

Jerry Gonzalez

Eli Perez currently stands as the sole Fulbright scholar from Mexico at Arizona State University, but that is likely to change as ASU’s Graduate College carves out more opportunities for talented international students to study here and for Sun Devils to go abroad.

Several Graduate College initiatives are in place or underway to provide faculty and units a better understanding of the international environment and the processes to recruit and promote graduate scholars.

“We want to serve as a resource for colleges and units in relation to international graduate education affairs,” said Alfredo Artiles, dean of ASU’s Graduate College. “That is, we aim to support the creation and advancement of partnerships, find key opportunities around the world to attract quality students, and contribute to the global engagement agenda of the university.”

Everything begins with data. The Graduate College produces an annual report detailing international graduate student enrollment trends at ASU, including country of origin by unit, by program, sending universities, etc.

“The report is useful because units can see where their graduate student population comes from and then raise questions about strategic initiatives,” Artiles said. “How do we advance our international connections? Do we need to target and prioritize certain regions of the world? Should we consider other regions of a country or a continent where there are high-quality institutions that we want to recruit from?”

Gathering meaningful data to help support decision-making is the starting point to an overall strategic approach the Graduate College is undertaking to broaden opportunities for grad students. They’re also pursuing close collaboration with the Provost’s office, producing “best practices” guides, and proactively collaborating with units to identify and support outstanding grad students for distinguished award nominations. 

“We have a team now collecting information about prestigious awards, reaching out to units and asking them to consider and nominate graduate students,” Artiles said.

"The idea is that you prepare people by allowing them to experience each other’s culture, exchange and learn new ideas, and then have them contribute back to their home countries."
— Alfredo Artiles, dean of ASU’s Graduate College

The university already has a system in place to nominate ASU undergraduates and help them compete for such scholarship awards as Fulbright and Rhodes. But doing so for the more than 18,000 ASU grad students the Graduate College oversees is relatively new.

“We just launched this initiative this academic year,” Artiles said. “We want our graduate students to make the news, to get the recognition their work deserves through distinguished fellowships and awards.” 

Just over 30 international graduate students are currently here under the Fulbright program from all over the globe, including from Myanmar, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kosovo. While the top sending countries for master’s degrees are India and China, Artiles hopes to see an increase of scholars from closer to home.

“One of our priorities is to target underrepresented regions of the world in our graduate student population, such as Latin America and Africa,” said Artiles, himself a former Fulbright scholar from Guatemala.

Alfredo Artiles is the dean of Arizona State University's Graduate College. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

As a U.S. Department of State-sponsored entity, the Fulbright program strengthens international relationships by exposing students to different cultures by way of foreign students studying at U.S. universities and American students going abroad.

“A very rigorous process is used to bestow these scholarships,” Artiles said. “I think very highly of the Fulbright awards.”     

It is through Fulbright that Perez, the Mexico scholar, chose ASU to work toward earning his doctorate in geological sciences from the School of Earth and Space Exploration. Although he admits ASU is not the first name that comes to mind when people in Mexico think of U.S. universities, Perez became interested in ASU after it was highly recommended by one of his trusted counselors, also a previous student here.

“My experience here in ASU has been really good,” said Perez, who is a professor and researcher at the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez. “The commitment of the university to diversity and to include people of all backgrounds, it’s amazing.”

After ASU, Perez plans to return to Mexico where he seeks to replicate the studies he conducted here on ecological and hydrological processes within deserts, something he says is not well known there although more than a third of the country is desert or semi-desert.

“We cannot create plans for the future if we don’t know how the ecosystem actually works,” Perez said. “So in the end it depends on nature.  If we don’t understand nature then we don’t have a clear future.”

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

Perez exemplifies why the Graduate College is pushing to increase student scholar exchanges. The value of the type of international collaboration that programs like Fulbright provide is immense.   

“The idea is that you prepare people by allowing them to experience each other’s culture, exchange and learn new ideas, and then have them contribute back to their home countries,” Artiles said. “We also benefit substantially from having people from around the world in our midst because they infuse creativity and innovation in our work, challenge us to reconsider longstanding assumptions, and advance our global engagement goals.”

Learn more about ASU’s Graduate College, including best practices, international initiatives, awards and funding, professional development and other resources.