Webster Teams Up to Attract More International Students to Region

Jul. 3, 2013

Webster Teams Up to Attract More International Students to Region

ST. LOUIS, JULY 3, 2013 - Webster University will join other institutions of higher education in the St. Louis area to explore ways to improve services for international students, including how to connect those students to local employers. This effort is just one component of the St. Louis Mosaic Project, a seven-year regional effort between government, universities and private enterprise to increase the number of immigrants living in St. Louis.

The belief is an increase in immigrants will spur economic growth in the region.

The project was launched during the Immigration and Innovation conference held at the Danforth Plant Science Center on June 27. It was sponsored by the St. Louis Immigration and Innovation Steering Committee and the World Trade Center St. Louis.

Webster University Provost, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Julian Schuster spoke as part of a panel to the audience of more than 200 people about how immigrants add both social and economic value to a region. He was a member of the St. Louis Mosaic Project steering committee and has been attending meetings with government agencies and other partners for the past year to help launch the effort. But he also had another reason to speak:  Schuster was able to draw upon his personal experience. He came to the United States 25 years ago from the former Yugoslavia.

“Once we embrace in St. Louis that (stereotypes) are not the defining characteristics of a human being, but rather that we should be viewed by the contributions we make to our community, once we embrace that, we will redefine St. Louis,” Schuster said to applause in the audience. “It is absolutely essential that immigrants are included and measured in terms of their civic engagement and that we should help them be the best person they can be.”

St. Louis has seen the percentage of residents who are immigrants shrink over the past few decades. According to a study released by the St. Louis Mosaic Project, the city dropped from 26th place to 43rd place between 1970 and 2012 for cities in the United States with the largest immigrant populations. The study also said that from 1980 to 2012, St. Louis shrank from the 10th largest city in the United States to the 19th largest, a downward trend that the attendees at the conference believe is linked to the shrinking immigration population. Currently, about 4.5 percent of St. Louis' population is immigrants.

 “If we want growth, immigration is the key,” said Charlie Dooley, executive officer for St. Louis County. “We have to become a more welcoming community for immigrants. It is in our best interest because it is a known fact that the areas that are growing fastest are all welcoming to immigrants.”

Professor Ibrahim Vajzovic, who teaches at Webster University, said that the area's universities already are helping St. Louis by attracting international students to the region. Additionally, professors from area universities often spread information about St. Louis to colleagues in other countries, he said, which further raises global interest in the city. That idea was reflected in the St. Louis Mosaic Project's list of recommendations presented during the conference.

The audience also was told that there is a need for more local services for international students.  According to a study cited in the project's report, nearly 80 percent of international students who studied at local universities said they wanted a local internship while they were students, but most said they were never offered or encouraged to look for internships in St. Louis. Had they received that encouragement, the majority of those students said they would have considered staying in the region. Because of this, representatives from Webster and several other universities will start meeting in the fall to look at ways to improve internship and job opportunities for international students, the conference attendees were told.

“We do have great educational institutions, and those institutions already are great ambassadors of St. Louis to students around the world,” Schuster said. “And St. Louis has many great resources to offer to immigrants, from colleges to the civic and cultural programs, as well as the healthy attitude that people have about our community.”

For more information about the St. Louis Mosaic Project, or to read the studies behind the project, visithttp://www.stlmosaicproject.org/.

With its home campus in St. Louis, Webster University (www.webster.edu) is the only Tier 1, private, non-profit U.S.-based university providing a network of international residential campuses and a robust online learning program. Founded in 1915, Webster University's campus network today includes metropolitan, military and corporate locations around the world, as well as traditional residential campuses in Asia, Europe and North America. The university is committed to delivering high-quality learning experiences that transform students for global citizenship and individual excellence.