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Mellon to Fund St. Lawrence’s Global Gateways Program

St. Lawrence University will receive nearly a quarter-million dollars from a private philanthropic foundation to advance a summer immersion program for first-year international students, develop faculty and staff training workshops and create an ambassador program with first-year domestic students.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will award St. Lawrence $240,000 over the next four years to create the Global Gateways Program. The program is meant to help the growing number of international students better transition to academic and campus life at an American institution of higher education. The program will seek to foster intercultural exchanges while at the same time to strengthen the bond between domestic and international students.

“In recent years, one of the most striking changes at St. Lawrence has been our evolution into a more global campus community,” President William L. Fox ’75 said. “As we continue to expand each year’s cohort of international students, the Global Gateways Program will help these students more seamlessly integrate into the St. Lawrence community.”

While international students currently comprise about 8 percent of St. Lawrence’s total student population, the University aims to raise the international student population to between 15 and 20 percent of its student body by 2020. However, the increase of non-U.S. students calls for additional support networks to be put in place, said Evelyn Jennings, associate professor of history and associate dean for Academic Advising Programs.

“While St. Lawrence has a public commitment to diversity, we need to go beyond tolerance and move toward engagement, which also includes our international students,” she said. “This is a big transition for many of them, and often they need some orientation to what the liberal arts are and what teachers expect of them. For example, more oral communication is expected from faculty, which may be a new concept for students from systems where large lectures were the norm.”

The Global Gateways Program will create an intensive summer orientation program, which will include some academic work beginning in the summer of 2016. It will also include a professional development component for faculty and staff, focusing on international student education and cultural competency training.

There will also be opportunities for the four members of the Associated Colleges of the St. Lawrence Valley to take part in campus exchange days. Groups of international students will visit nearby campuses in order to build a regional network in the North Country.

“Not being in an urban area means that there aren’t any existing networks where international students can interact with each other,” Jennings said. “We need to help connect them with other international students.”

Nearly 700 international students attend one of the four Associated Colleges, which includes Clarkson University, SUNY Canton, SUNY Potsdam and St. Lawrence University.

A final component will be a domestic student ambassadorship program, which will select high-achieving first-year domestic students who will serve as conversation partners and guides to American culture for the international students.

“We want to avoid the enclaves of students grouped by nationality,” Jennings said. “There’s a danger that students will only associate with students like them. We want to try to capture all students’ attention and get them to interact in other ways. We hope this will help all students navigate that early cultural transition.”

Planning for the Global Gateways Program will get underway this fall. The grant will take effect starting in May 2016.