Photo (l-r): Rob Cassleman, international scholar advisor, Laura D’Antuono,
postdoctoral researcher, Bhadra Murthy Vemulapati, post-doctoral researcher, and
Dena Neese, immigration specialist.
 
 
PULLMAN, Wash. — The WSU community is invited to an International Scholars reception to celebrate the contributions that international doctoral students, research assistants and faculty make to the academy, both culturally and professionally.
 
The reception is from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 24, in the Honors College lounge and all are welcome. 
 
During the reception, the scholars will have an opportunity to network and share their experiences at WSU with others from different programs and countries as well as with university leaders and staff of the Office of International Programs.
 
500+ international students
More than 500 international scholars were working on the WSU campus during the 2010-2011 academic year, said Rob Cassleman, international scholar advisor. But, he said, they typically come and go throughout the year, which makes it difficult to plan an event where all can be welcomed and acknowledged. Even so, the year-end event is a great opportunity for WSU faculty to meet their international colleagues and network for interdisciplinary international research opportunities.
 
Dena Neese, WSU’s immigration compliance specialist, said about 300 visiting international scholars are on campus at any one time. She expects about 10 scholars will receive certificates of appreciation at Tuesday’s reception.
 
Speakers
Bhadra Murthy Vemulapti, who earned his Ph.D. from Mangalore University in southern India, has been working for two years in the lab of professor Hanu Pappu, a plant pathologist. He’ll be one of the invited speakers at the event along with Nishant Shahani, an assistant professor in Women’s Studies, and Rita Abi-Ghanem, a researcher in crops and soil sciences.
 
Good to work at WSU
“I just want to tell other international scholars about WSU and how good it is to work at WSU,” said Vemulapti. Funding for his postdoctoral position ends in July and he is currently looking for another postdoctoral position at WSU or elsewhere in the U.S. or Europe.
 
“I feel the U.S. is really good for research,” he said, and he has particularly enjoyed the academic climate at WSU. “People are approachable,” he said. “I can go and talk with any other scientist.”
 
While at WSU, he said, he has had one article published, another article has been accepted for publication and a third article has been submitted. A fourth article is nearly finished and will be ready for submission very soon.
 
Creative problem solving
According to Vemulapti, during his time in Pappu’s lab he learned to be more creative in his approach to solving problems and he became a more independent, self-directed researcher.
 
Abi-Ghanem, who is also scheduled to speak at Tuesday’s reception, has been in Pullman since 2005.  Originally from Lebannon, she first visited WSU has a Fulbright student scholar in 2003 for one year of research, and then returned in 2005 to start a doctoral program, which she completed in 2009.
 
Now working in the lab of George Vandemark, WSU scientist with the USDA, Abi-Ghanem said her experience at WSU has been wonderful, particularly her opportunities for international work. On her first trip to the U.S. as a Fulbright scholar, she said, she participated in a six-week training program aimed at easing her transition to U.S. higher education and American culture.
 
Without that, she said, the transition would have been much more difficult. “I think it is challenging to people who have never been here before,” she said. Abi-Ghanem said her advice to new international scholars is to reach out to colleagues, get involved in campus activities, attend workshops that will help you apply for grants and prepare academic papers, and balance work and play.
 
“Pullman is a wonderful and safe place,” she said. “People are happy to help.”
Just as every doctoral student or faculty member comes to WSU for different reasons, from a month-long visit to learn a particular research technique to accepting long-term employment that might lead to tenure and permanent residency, so is every experience different.
 
Rome to Pullman
Laura D’Antuono, a postdoctoral researcher in the psychophysiology of human emotions, will be returning to Rome in June after spending 14 months in Pullman.
 
Moving from Rome to Pullman was a big shock, she said, and she never quite got used to the relatively empty streets and sidewalks. Her advice to new international scholars is to buy a car if you can afford one.
 
The problem, she said, was that she arrived in the U.S. with very little English fluency — despite being able to read academic papers in English. She did well in classes at the Intensive American Language Center, she said, but it took effort to keep up in lab meetings and make friends.
 
Peer mentoring
The Office of International Programs is working to establish a peer mentoring program for international scholars to build a network for professional development as well as  support the needs of scholars such as D’Antuono.
 
Plans are in the beginning stages, she said, but the idea is to create a system so that scholars who are new to the U.S. could find a more experienced mentor who could help them navigate the cultural and professional challenges of working in a foreign country.