BRONZEVILLE — The international students at the Illinois Institute of Technology arrive each year from across the globe, bound by similar ambitions for good jobs in high-tech fields.
For many, it’s their first time in America.
Foreign undergrad students make up 23 percent of the enrollment at the Illinois Institute of Technology, third highest in the nation, a new report says.
U.S. News and World Report ranks IIT just below New School of New York and the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Fla.
School administrators say the uptick in enrollment from foreign students can be chalked up to a few things: first, the school has earned its reputation as pathway to jobs in science, technology, engineering and architecture.
Add to that a robust global alumni network — the school has offices in Beijing, Paris, Seoul and Bangalore, all of which help serve as recruitment centers for the Chicago campus — and the result is a relatively small campus packed with thousands of foreign students engaged in rigorous coursework.
IIT's most popular major for 2012 grads was engineering, claimed by 49 percent of the total grads. The student body, with some 2,900 undergrads, is almost 70 percent male. School officials say it's the largest undergrad enrollment since 1981.
"International students can add diversity to a college or university enriching the experience of other students on campus," U.S. News said. Foreign students also add needed cash, as some schools, including the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign, have started to charge international students extra fees.
The abundance of foreign students also presents unique challenges for students and faculty alike.
Once accepted, students must quickly acclimate to a new culture of education — that’s to say nothing of adjusting to life in Chicago, including learning a transit system and surviving the city’s brutal winters.
"It was really, really scary experience. But IIT had an admissions counselor who was very, very helpful to me. As an international student, you're always asking questions...I was in a state of constant panic but they were able to really able to calm me down and explain procedures," said Joshua German, 20, who emigrated to America from Nigeria on Christmas Day 2011 to study aerospace engineering at IIT.
Many newcomers join fraternities and sororities and other social clubs to get oriented.
Gahyun Kim, a 24-year-old architecture student from South Korea, said an on-campus Asian-American club "rescued" her from the isolation she experienced after arriving here in 2011.
"They looked at me as I am and got to know who I am," she said.
Faculty, meanwhile, have developed a "patience and expertise" when teaching in a classroom that could include a diverse range of students from India to Estonia.
"I think the faculty have become very good at asking customer-service type questions of students," said Mike Gosz, IIT's vice provost for admissions and financial aid.
It's a tactic that hasn't gone unnoticed by the international student body.
"They treat us like we are international students but not that we're different," said Qimei Huang, a 22-year-old chemical engineering from China's Guangdong Province. "Here, we can all feel the same."