Virginia Tech welcomed nearly 100 incoming first-year international undergraduate students this fall semester from 21 different countries. Due to the current travel restrictions and the COVID-19 pandemic, VTBound is helping them take their first semester of courses asynchronously while residing in their home countries.

The VTBound program was created to support virtual learning for international students who are in numerous time zones, so they were able to begin their education at Virginia Tech in fall 2020.

VTBound students are pursuing 14 different majors with a majority pursuing general engineering. They are enrolled full-time this fall and plan to take courses in Blacksburg in the spring, pending the completion of their visa requirements. These students have access to academic support services, such as tutoring and advising as well as the opportunity to join clubs and organizations even though they are not actually on campus.

Helene Goetz, an academic advisor in University Studies, serves as the primary academic advisor for VTBound students. Goetz meets with students during the week and weekends to accommodate their various time zones.

“Working with VTBound students has been exciting,” said Goetz. “While they are not physically on campus, they are very much Hokies and exhibit that Hokie Spirit. I’ve been able to provide a broad variety of academic advising to my VTBound students and travel the world and time zones through my conversations with them on Zoom.”

VTBound students are enrolled in a First-Year Experience (FYE) course, UNIV 2984, taught by Jill Sible, associate vice provost for undergraduate education, and Mingzhi Li, assistant director for international student programs at Cranwell International Center. As part of this experience, VTBound students are able to work with undergraduate peer mentors, many of whom are international students themselves, as they adjust to college work and remote learning simultaneously.

Sible finds VTBound students to be highly engaged. “Whether it’s my 6 a.m. or 9 p.m. office hours, VTBound students attend. I may be having my first cup of coffee while they are thinking about afternoon tea in India or dinner in China,” said Sible. “They ask great questions about how to succeed in college and how to get involved in the experiential opportunities that drew them to Virginia Tech in the first place.”

VTBound students are enrolled in specifically designed courses to meet their cultural and international student needs. Sible communicates regularly with faculty members teaching VTBound students to discuss any recent changes and answer questions on how to best support these students.

“We are fortunate to have recruited faculty members who value our international students and understand their unique learning circumstances this fall,” said Sible.

Diana Bairaktarova teaches Foundations of Engineering to VTBound students by using technology in new and interesting ways to ensure students are learning, no matter where they are located. “I use a wide variety of strategies to create a multicultural environment and better serve our VT international engineering students,” said Bairaktarova. “Applying student-centered pedagogies helps me to create a virtual learning environment that more closely maps the global engineering world.”

An administrative workgroup meets monthly to discuss upcoming issues, including enrollment management, advising needs, admissions, international visa information, campus resources, financial aid, and frequently asked questions from students. Headed by Rachel Holloway, vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs, this workgroup met weekly over the summer to help students during their orientation to Virginia Tech.

VTBound’s success is due to the joint effort by multiple colleges, academic advising, admissions, undergraduate academic affairs, Cranwell International Center, and student affairs. With strategic enrollment goals for international students and an appreciation for the rich diversity these students bring to the Virginia Tech community, VTBound is an innovative example of collaboration at Virginia Tech.

Written by Chenaye Blankenship

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