By: Elizabeth DiEmanuele
At McMaster, welcoming the incoming class happens long before Welcome Week. For the Student Success Centre, welcomes officially began August 1, 2018 at Pearson International Airport.
As part of the Centre’s larger goals to support international students in their transition to University, the Student Success Centre partnered with the City of Hamilton, Mohawk College, and Columbia International College to provide one month’s worth of welcomes for all international students coming to Hamilton, Ontario this Fall term. Day in and day out, staff and student volunteers from these organizations arrived at Pearson International Airport, equipped and ready to support international students as they made arrangements to get from the airport to their respective institution. Welcomes have also taken place at the Hamilton Go Bus station.
“Providing that first warm welcome as soon as students go through customs is a great way to connect,” says Gina Robinson, Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Director of the Student Success Centre. “These students are joining our McMaster family. Warm friendly faces for when students arrive here is a good example of what families do.”
Students connecting with other students was one of the many outcomes of this airport welcome initiative. Many of the student volunteers were trained upper year international student mentors as well as Student Success volunteers involved with International Student Services, a division of the Student Success Centre. Manveetha Muddaluru, a final year McMaster Humanities student and airport welcome volunteer shares, “As someone who moved to Canada, I understand the struggles of coming to a new country. Paying it forward and welcoming international students to Canada has been a really rewarding experience.” (Learn more about Manveetha’s experience volunteering with the airport welcomes on the Stories From The Arch blog.)
These airport welcomes are only one facet of a larger, more holistic approach to welcoming McMaster’s international students. Providing support for international students and enhancing their experience is a University Funded Priority. The Student Success Centre with the School of Graduate Studies and other stakeholder groups have been tasked with the implementation.
As part of this implementation, throughout 2017 to 2018, McMaster Student Affairs conducted focus groups to determine the growing needs of our international student community as they prepare for their transition and arrival at McMaster University’s campus. Outcomes of these focus groups include: iCent, a new international student app for first-year international undergraduate and graduate students, geared towards providing students with information related to their basic settling needs and immigration; and the Ignite Program, a program for first-year international students living in residence.
“We are so excited about the partnership we’ve made in residence with Ignite,” says Sean Beaudette, Manager of Student Leadership and Learning. “Getting to welcome the students from Ignite into our residence buildings early has been a great opportunity to help these students feel comfortable in residence, build relationships with residence peers and students leaders, and connect with resources to help their transition to University.”
The Ignite Program is a pilot program presented in partnership with the Student Success Centre and Housing & Conference Services. Participants in the Ignite Program had the chance to get to know McMaster University and the City of Hamilton before the incoming class moved into residence; it also gave first-year international students a chance to connect and get their basic settling needs organized before Welcome Week.
“When students arrive, they have to get basic stuff out of the way before they can start engaging in real orientation activities,” says Gina Robinson. “The Ignite Program helps students with setting up their cell phones, bank accounts, shopping, and navigating the University and the City before Welcome Week and the start of classes begins.”
In creating a more inclusive community, a global lens was added to many of the signature events taking place during Welcome Week. In addition to this, Faculty planners and reps will be wearing name badges including languages spoken and their pronouns. The goal of these additions is simple: to provide international students with multiple points of access for support and connection at McMaster University, whether it be with staff, Faculty, upper-year student mentors, and other first-year students.
As Michele Corbeil, Orientation and Transition Program Coordinator at the Student Success Centre, offers, “One of the Welcome Week strategic priorities is increasing our international student participation throughout the week. Orientation student leaders have participated in new training sessions through the winter and summer months, which have challenged them to increase representation of international students on their Rep teams and recognize international students as an asset for the rich diversity and perspectives they can bring as leaders.”
Other initiatives to support international students this year will include the hiring of additional support positions, including a Student Success Coach (International Students), Immigration and Mobility Specialist, a Program Coordinator for undergraduate students, as well as Program Coordinators for graduate students. The University will further invest in iCent as a tool to connect international students with important information.