In an effort to keep international students in Michigan after graduation, the University Research Corridor recently announced the Global Detroit International Student Retention program.
The URC – comprised of Wayne State, Michigan State and the University of Michigan – received a three-year $45,000 grant from the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan to implement the retention program. The organization is also working with additional strategic partners, including Eastern Michigan University, Lawrence Technological University, Michigan Technological University, Oakland University and the University of Michigan - Dearborn.
The retention efforts come partially as a result of the findings of Global Detroit, a study authored by Steve Tobocman, former majority floor leader of the Michigan House of Representatives.
Through his research, Tobocman said he found that the contributions by international students in Southeast Michigan have been significant, particularly the contributions by those who have studied science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“Global Detroit documented the incredibly powerful contributions that the immigrants and ethnic communities make in Southeast Michigan,” Tobocman said. “They’re key drivers to the real transition to this new economy.”
As Michigan continues to experience economic difficulties, Tobocman said the industries that once stabilized the area will no longer be enough to keep the state afloat.
“The economy in Southeast Michigan needs to transition from being based on the automotive industry to something more viable. We’re transitioning to a knowledge economy,” he said. “Michigan is in the process of transitioning to an economy based on advanced manufacturing, homeland security and biotechnology. The immigrant community is at the forefront of that transition.”
The program aims to complete four objectives outlined in the Global Detroit study. These include marketing the region to international students from orientation to post-graduation, recruiting area businesses to build working relationships with international students, working with students to navigate international legal barriers and developing relationships between students, businesses and universities.
Jeff Mason, executive director of the URC, said retaining international students is a critical step in the economic revitalization of Detroit.
“There’s no one silver bullet. There are different initiatives, peoples and organizations that are all having an impact on the economy in Southeast Michigan,” Mason said. “But retaining more talent in Michigan – from Michigan, from around the country and from around the globe – will result in a better economy.”
Linda Seatts, who is both a member of the International Student committee of Global Detroit and the director of the WSU Office of International Students and Scholars, said she anticipates several positive outcomes for the program.
“The contributions of immigrants are helping move us forward not only economically but also competitively,” Seatts said. “There’s this myth out there that immigrants are taking American jobs, but it’s just not true, especially in the stem cell fields; they’re keeping us competitive.”
Organizers are still in the process of hiring a program manager to implement the retention efforts with the help of the directors of the international offices at the university partners.
“We expect to have the program in place by fall, and we expect to see a more concerted effort amongst universities to communicate and provide information to connect students effectively with the community and job opportunities we have here, while also exposing them to the wonderful assets we have in Michigan,” Mason said.
Like Mason, Tobocman said he does not believe the retention program alone will rescue the Michigan economy. He does, however, believe it will play a large role.
“There is not one single program to revive the economy – it’s a combination of efforts. But this will encourage students to stay in the communities and help the regions prosper across the board,” Tobocman said. “International students with advanced degrees are valuable economic catalysts.”
Seatts said the program will not only help improve the economy of Southeast Michigan, but will also improve campus and community life overall.
“It’s really a win-win for everyone,” Seatts said. “It’s key to remember that our country was built by immigrants, and this is a great opportunity for all of us. We try to acclimate our students to Western culture as well as help domestic students embrace and understand the importance of other cultures. We want to be that bridge. All of us are working for the same common good.”