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A Win-Win for Utah: the U of U’s International Sponsored Student Program

Christoph Dressler

Christoph Dressler is assistant director of the University of Utah’s International Center. Christoph, a native of Germany and a once-international student himself, is in charge of the Center’s international student recruiting and administers its Sponsored Student Program.   This article appeared first in Global Utah Weekly, a publication of the Utah World Trade Center

In 2009 alone international students contributed a total of $ 115.8 million to Utah’s economy. While the majority of those funds came from private sources of the students and their families, about 12 percent of all international students coming to the U.S. received scholarships from private employers, home governments, U.S. private sources and U.S. government. These students are called sponsored students and due to the rigorous selection process of their scholarships, often represent the brightest and most hopeful students a particular country has to offer.

The University of Utah has recognized the potential and the caliber of sponsored students and has focused part of its recruitment mechanism to attract those students. In fall 2010 the number of sponsored students at the University of Utah reached 206 with over 60 additional sponsored students accepted for Spring 2011. Over 25 sponsors from across the globe work closely with the U’s International Center striving to place their students at suitable programs offered by the U. Sponsors include the Fulbright Commission, Embassies and Cultural Missions from 15 countries, non-governmental organizations such as the Tibet Fund, World Learning or the Institute of International Education.

Muna Al-Waili, from Oman, studied women's and children's rights at the U.

Muna Al-Waili from Oman was recently a sponsored student at the University of Utah, having received one of the prestigious Middle East North Africa Peace Scholarships administered by World Learning in D.C. on behalf of the Department of State. With Utah as her destination, Muna’s fully funded scholarship allowed her to focus on studying women and children’s rights and health issues here in the US. In order to supplement her academic findings with real life, in-depth knowledge of her field of interest, Muna volunteered countless hours in Salt Lake’s community and elementary schools. After the program ended Muna returned to Oman, a progressive but less affluent country compared to some of its neighbors on the Arabian Peninsula. She is attending a PhD program in Muscat, hoping to be a leading female policy maker and advocate on women and children’s rights and health issues -always carrying Utah in her heart and the University of Utah on her resume.

Muna’s case is but one example of how the University of Utah and our state can be in a win-win situation regarding international students. While economically benefitting in the moment, the University also is linked forever to these scholars, positively influencing and shaping the world one student at a time. Without doubt, the positive academic and financial impact of these programs on the U as well as the state of Utah are immense. The real impact of these programs lies in the long run, however. After returning home to their respective countries and equipped with a University of Utah degree, these students are immediately absorbed into leadership positions within their country’s work force. Some students take government positions and significantly contribute to the political agenda, while others build the infrastructure and civil society of those countries. Thus, the impact of U.S. higher education, including the University of Utah via international students is far more significant than the obvious economic gain alone.