May 21, 2024

International Student Association Dedicated Space in the International Center

In addition to celebrating 150 years of international students at Michigan State University, the International Student Association (ISA) is finally getting their own dedicated space! Construction for the long-awaited space begins this fall in the International Center basement, across from the Spartan Bookstore, with an expected opening of spring or fall 2026. 

The catalyst for this dedicated space came from the very first International Student Leaders Summit held in 2022. The summit provided a platform for students and international organizations to voice their concerns directly to university leaders. 

“The first international student leader summit was very influential in making this happen,” says ISA Vice President Ishwari Kapale. “It became clear to everyone how important it was for us to have a space like this and how it would benefit us in so many ways because of the people who participated in that summit and all the conversations that happened.” 

A Vision Takes Shape 

The idea of a dedicated space for ISA wasn't born overnight. It stemmed from a crucial question that students were asking themselves about the International Center. 

“The main question was, ‘What is international at the International Center?’” says former ISA President Nikunj Agarwal. “ISA took up these conversations with [Student Life & Engagement (SLE) Senior Vice President (SVP)] Vennie [Gore] and [Assistant Vice President of SLE for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging and Assistant Dean for Student Success Initiatives, Undergraduate Education] Dr. [Genyne] Royal to see if we could have a dedicated space in the International Center, wherein ISA and its affiliates, including global Spartans, could hang around, bond, study and build new relationships and friendships.” 

Fortunately, SVP Gore identified an underutilized space previously used by the bookstore. He reached out to CFO for SLE Bob Patterson to see if they could work out a deal with the bookstore to convert it into a dedicated area for international students. 

A Space for Growth and Collaboration 

The dedicated space will be designed to adapt to the evolving needs of ISA and its affiliates. It will include offices, flexible furniture and a designated storage area. This adaptability is crucial, as ISA has grown significantly since its revival in 2021.  

“We were revived back in 2021, but we did not have many affiliates,” says ISA President Rochisshil Varma. “We started the affiliate program with the goal to host more collaborative events, and in return, we give the affiliate organizations $1,000 per year, and now we have 15-20 affiliates.” 

This growth highlights the need for a dedicated space. One of ISA's main goals for the space is to launch office hours. Here, affiliates can connect with ISA, share their experiences and gain valuable mentorship. This will deepen understanding of the international student experience and allow ISA to provide even better support. Gore emphasized the importance of this space, as well as his hopes for it. 

“Student groups are really important because they allow for international students to maintain their culture but also learn from other cultures,” says Gore. “And so, what I'm hoping this space in support of organization will allow for that to thrive and grow.” 

Bridging the Gap and Building Community 

This vision for a more inclusive MSU community is a legacy left by Agarwal, who graduated in December 2022. Despite not benefiting personally, Agarwal worked tirelessly to ensure future international students would have a dedicated space to feel they belonged. Other executive board members, such as Varma and Kapale, are leaving behind a similar legacy.  

“I think it is a great example of student leadership, student advocacy and really paying it forward,” says Director of OISS Krista McCallum Beaty. “Some other folks, but especially Nikunj, put a lot of time and energy into this for something that he’s not going to benefit from.” 

More than just a dedicated space for international students, this area is envisioned as a bridge between domestic and international communities. Beyond being just a physical space, it’s envisioned as a platform for cultural exchange, for fostering friendships and for enriching the entire MSU experience.  

“We see this disconnect between our domestic and our international students,” says Dr. Royal. “I’m hoping that it serves as yet another space where students know where they can find each other, so they can collaborate in more meaningful ways across the different ways we identify.” 

The many benefits of the new dedicated space are expected to reverberate throughout the Spartan community, amplifying international students’ voices. 

“International students are bringing unique perspectives and unique intellect and showing us windows into their cultures,” says Vice Provost and Dean for International Studies and Programs Steven Hanson. “They enrich the experience of all students at MSU. I really look forward to continuing and growing their role as key contributors and community members of the university.” 

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