How does UGA stack up?

The increase in international student diversity at the University of Georgia begs a question: how does UGA stack up to its peer and aspirational universities?

Peer and aspirational universities are institutions comparable to the University of Georgia. If a university is UGA’s peer, it is directly comparable to UGA in its current state. If a university is one of UGA’s aspirational institutions, it holds a higher standard or ranking than UGA at the moment (translation: the University of Georgia ‘aspires’ to be like them in the near future).

The universities discussed below were selected for comparison using the two criteria below:

  • Were they listed as a peer or aspirational institution on the university website? Quite simply, if UGA doesn’t recognize the universities discussed as peer or aspirational schools, this comparison wouldn’t be legitimate.
  • Are they a public university? This restriction is my own. There are private universities on UGA’s peer and aspirational schools list. However, public universities face similar environments in regards to funding and student demographics, so I decided to solely compare public schools.

So how does UGA stack up?

Let’s look at four different institutions: Michigan State University (MSU), University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA), University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill (UNC) and the University of Alabama (UA).

MSU is one of UGA’s peer institutions, meaning that the University of Georgia views MSU as an equivalent university. UCLA and UNC are aspirational institutions. UA makes the list because, like UGA, it is a member of the Southeastern Conference, or SEC.

International students as a percentage of total student body count
International students as a percentage of total student body count

All four of these schools have varying international student populations, and a quick comparison puts UGA right in the middle. The University of Georgia has a larger international student population than both UNC and UA. MSU and UCLA have larger international student populations than UGA, though.

Further compare UGA and UNC, and you get some interesting finds. Both universities draw their largest numbers of international students from China and Korea. However, UGA has a larger Chinese student population, which numbers 761 at the moment. At UNC, there are 479 Chinese students.

Also noteworthy are the origins of other international students at both universities. Both UGA and UNC draw large student groups from Korea and India, but beyond that, UNC has more students coming from Canada and Japan, and UGA has more students coming from Taiwan and the United Kingdom.

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Top five countries from which international students arrive at UGA.
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Top five countries from which international students arrive at UNC.






Table: International student origins by country between 2000 and 2013
The full list of University of Georgia peer and aspirational institutions can be found here. 


Diversity Institutionalized

University of Georgia Associate Provost and Chief Diversity Officer Michelle Garfield Cook (Photo credit: Brittni Ray)
University of Georgia Associate Provost and Chief Diversity Officer Michelle Garfield Cook (Photo credit: Brittni Ray)

International students at the University of Georgia are familiar with three branches of administration: the Offices of International Education, Student Life and Institutional Diversity.

Of these three offices, the Office of Institutional Diversity (OID) is led by Michelle Garfield Cook, who is the OID’s associate provost and chief diversity officer.

According to Cook, the increase in international students from Asia can be attributed to two primary causes. The University boasts new programs in biological sciences and engineering that bring more international students to Athens, Ga. The University admissions office also partners with alumni in China in order to bring programs to the attention of Chinese students.

Cook also mentions that there is a correlation between faculty and student diversity, particularly for those of Asian origin. “It’s almost direct. It’s around 9 percent. And that’s kind of that sweet spot when you think about diversity. You want to have a nice, a reasonable number, of students, in terms of the percentage of faculty.”

That being said, Cook highlights the University’s diversity plan (which has a target completion date of 2016) as one of the OID’s priorities for the coming year. “It’s probably at the top of our list. We’re not [solely] doing the plan — it’s a campus effort — but we want to make sure we continue to shepherd that plan.”

The diversity plan, which was initiated in 2011, has five main objectives, one of which is an “increase in the recruitment and retention of diverse students.” According to the plan, indicators of success in this area would include campus-wide diversity, an increase in international programs and the number of historically underrepresented students at the University of Georgia.

Table 1: Growth in UGA’s international student population between 2001 and 2013

For the 2013 year, 2,547 international students studied at the University, making international students a little over 7 percent of the student body. In 2000, international students comprised 5 percent of the student body.

Then-Provost Jere Morehead recognized the need for increased student diversity in his 2011 letter detailing the diversity plan:

“Still, there is more that can be done. This five-year diversity plan provides a framework to encourage further progress. It is incumbent on all members of the university community to promote the goals outlined here.”

Experiencing the International: AIESEC UGA

The numbers don’t lie: international students have been coming to the University of Georgia in droves of late. On the flip side, University students are also making leaps of their own and exploring the world around them.

AIESEC, an international student organization present in universities worldwide, strives to be a global platform to connect students. Founded in the aftermath of World War II as a way for students to learn about the diverse world around them, AIESEC has grown to be an organization recognized by popes and presidents alike.

Students in AIESEC are focused on one main goal: exchange. Exchanges, or international internships, are the products that AIESECers (student members of AIESEC) market to both businesses and students.

AIESECers at the University of Georgia work to bring international students to Georgia and to send University students abroad. In doing so, they work with businesses in Georgia to create internships for international students to fill. They also promote AIESEC exchanges with students at the University.

One such exchange promoter is Kiandra Brady, a third year at the University. Formerly AIESEC UGA’s vice president of outgoing exchange, Kiandra was responsible for promoting international internships within the University community and helping University students find, and participate in, those internships.

In her opinion, exchange holds great importance as students look to life after college:

“It helps you realize how small the world is. You kind of realize it now with social media and interconnectedness, but when you can literally get on a plane and travel to an entirely different country… it’s really eye opening. It puts you in a situation where you aren’t necessarily going to know what to do all the time, but you learn, because you’re there anyway. And I think that’s really cool. “

That opportunity to learn is also emphasized by Kimmie Champlin, another member of AIESEC UGA. As the current vice president of finance for AIESEC UGA, a certified trainer for AIESEC United States and a member of AIESEC United Kingdom’s national support team, Kimmie works every day to promote and reach AIESEC’s mission of the “peace and fulfilment of humankind’s potential.”

“I think as students we get really stuck in our routines of stress and classes and final exams, but when you have an international perspective you go beyond that. You begin to think about new things and learn things that you can’t get in a classroom. It helps take students from everyday pressures of getting a degree to becoming more globally responsible and self-aware leaders.”

The last few years have seen a lot of success for AIESEC UGA. The organization has welcomed interns from countries such as Brazil, Colombia, South Africa and Morocco through the exclusive efforts of University students. The interns have worked for companies such as the Athens Latino Center for Education and Services and Valor Homes, bringing lessons they learned in their home countries to the Georgia community.

AIESEC UGA has also sent numerous students abroad in past years. As noted by Kiandra, many University students are interested in working abroad in Asian countries such as China. “Students want to go on exchanges that they feel will benefit their career,” she says. “[The Asian] market will continue to be strong, so it is a wise economic decision.”

At the moment, a majority of international students at the University come from Asian countries like China, South Korea and India. This trend is reflected in the University’s investment in student exposure to Asian cultures. Since the University has started giving out scholarships specifically to students who are travelling to Asian countries, Kiandra notes, the emphasis on international exposure cannot be understated.

Both Kimmie and Kiandra have experienced the international aspect of AIESEC during their time as University students. This past summer, Kiandra interned for a non-profit in Hungary and Kimmie did an internship in Mexico, working to improve AIESEC processes in that country.

To sum it all up, Kimmie highlights the relationships that can be built through the international exposure provided by AIESEC. “It’s  a family. A place where you have roughly 100,000 best friends from 124 countries, and you don’t even have to know their names to know you love these people. If you [approach AIESEC], and you come to us with an open mind ready to learn, you could really, really go far.”

International Student Demographics

International students come from around the world to study at the University of Georgia. Past years have seen significant changes in the places they call home, though.

Information obtained through University Fact Books dating from 2000 till 2013 suggests that the University has seen its greatest influx of international students from China and India.

Between 2000 and 2013, for instance, the University saw an approximately 260 percent increase in the number of international students (both graduate and undergraduate) arriving from China. In 2000, the University had 292 Chinese students. In 2013, the same demographic numbered 761.

The number of Indian international students has also increased in past years. Between 2000 and 2008, for instance, the Indian international student population grew from 201 to 325. Since 2008, though, Indian international students have been coming to the University with decreasing frequency. There has been a 22 percent decrease in the number of students from India between 2008 and 2013, at which time the University welcomed 253 Indian students.

Conversely, the number of international students from the United Kingdom has slowly decreased over the years. Since 2000, there has been approximately a 42 percent decrease in the number of students from the United Kingdom.

Significant numbers of international students also come to the University from South Korea and Taiwan, which had 404 students and 57 students study at the University in 2013 respectively.

Trends in international student enrollment at the University of Georgia.
Trends in international student enrollment at the University of Georgia.

An Interview with Lynn Guo

The last two years of Lynn Guo’s life have been a whirlwind. An international student from China, Guo chose to attend the University of Georgia after a search of 100 American universities because of the University’s program in non-profit management.

Since then, she has worked on video projects in and around Athens, Ga., explored the country and learned a lot about the differences between China and the United States.

I sat down with Guo earlier this week to talk about life as an international student and learn more about the experiences of an international student living a world over from her family and friends.

Photo Credit: Lynn Guo
Photo Credit: Lynn Guo

Q: Tell me a bit about yourself.

A: My name is Lingman (Lynn) Guo–in Chinese it’s Guo Lingman. I’m 27, I’m from China, and I’m a second year master’s student in non-profit management.

Q: Why did you decide to come to UGA?

A: Well, I wanted to come to America for grad studies since I was in middle school, and I chose UGA because I liked the curriculum of my program, and also compared to [other schools] I liked the climate, the cost – what else? – the reputation.

Q: What was the application process like for you?

A: Submitting standardized test scores, transcript from college (from undergrad), personal statement, get recommendations, take English language tests. And for my application, I personally made a video talking about why I wanted to get into the non-profit world, so I made this video, and I sang a song for this video; I think it ended up pretty good.

But the whole process, the very beginning, started from selecting the schools and programs.

Q: So how did you go about selecting schools?

A: So I basically looked at, went through, a list of the [top] 100 universities in America and went through their websites and found out about their programs about non-profits and non-profit administration.

Q: What was your reaction when you found out you got into UGA?

A: I was pretty excited!

Q: And what happened between China and coming to Athens?

A: I was still working; I quit that job one month before I came here, and then I went to another province to visit the kids I had taught three years ago when I was in senior year of college. So I went there, and took them and travelled around the capital city of their province, which they had never been to and then kind of started to meet up with friends in my city (Chengdu), and say goodbye to them. And [spent time with] my family, and then I came here.

And then I went to visit my exchange family in Oklahoma, whom I’ve missed for the past then years. Because I was an exchange student to their family when I was 16, so that was 10 years ago.

Q: What happened when you got to Athens?

A: I kind of settled down in my apartment, I kind of wandered around the environment, I participated in the information session of the Chinese Student Association, and then I participated in the International Student Orientation, which helped a lot.

Q: What do they go over during International Student Orientation?

A: Oh, they do a bunch of stuff. They did activities including all the things like buying a car, getting used to the environment, the food, the transportation, the bank stuff, all the way to [they] take to you to Wal-Mart to shop and [they took] us downtown to try to different restaurants, to play bowling.

Q: What were some of the biggest differences you perceived between China and Athens?

A: Well, I think the first thing is — for sure — diversity. China is not a country of diversity, but in America we have diversity of ethnic groups, food, personal characteristics [of people from] different states. For sure it’s the population of a city, of a town, and air quality.

The other thing is, for America, if you travel around America, you won’t find a huge difference in terms of the architecture, the restaurants, what people do, what people wear. But if you travel across different places in China, you will find differences.

The other thing is, I would say freedom. Like freedom to try different things, to do different things, freedom of speech.

Another thing for America is, it’s very easy for you to get close to Americans, but very soon you will find, you will probably lose track of people; it’s a society of mobility. It’s very easy for us to become familiar with a person, but it’s hard for us to really get to a certain degree of closeness or intimacy.

Q: What have been some of your interesting experiences as a grad student here?

A: I would say its those projects I’ve done with some non-profits here that allowed me to have first-hand experience with things they’re doing, and how well they’re doing things. Basically get an idea of what they’re doing, and how non-profits are doing it. And the idea of doing a project by myself is a pretty cool experience for me. I’ve learned quite a bit from them.

Photo Credit: Lynn Guo
Photo Credit: Lynn Guo

Q: Can you describe one of these projects?

A: Like, say, one of them I shot a video of a local non-profit last semester. One of the categories of their classes is teaching aerial dance to children with developmental disabilites, so I was making a video there featuring one girl who has autism and hearing impairement. It’s also a process for me to know what it means for a single mom with this kind of daughter; what does it mean to live here? And which kind of assistance and aid they can receive from channels, resources. And also to know that the great teacher to dedicated her time to kids with such difficulties.

Q: Is this video online?

A: No, I’m still trying to finish it. I have some work to do!

Photo Credit: Lynn Guo
Photo Credit: Lynn Guo

Q: What are some of the challenges, or some of the benefits, associated with being an international student?

A: Initially, it is the mastery of English, in terms of how well we can use it in reading and in writing. That’s a very obvious challenge. Another thing is a cultural thing. I would say there’s a big cultural difference between how people interact with each other here and in China.

Like, say, I can understand English without any problem. But other things – that American kids talk about — I wouldn’t be able to discuss with them because I would not know what they are talking about. Like TV shows, some famous people.

Q: How do you handle that sort of situation?

A: I think I just listen. If, several times, they have broken into laughter, I would probably just ask them what’s going on, what it’s about.

Q: What are your future plans for after you graduate?

A: I’d like to find a job with a non-profit in Georgia so that i can stay here. Most of the reason is, I want to work with a non-profit, and I really like the natural environment here, which we’re kind of losing in China.

Q: What do you mean by “we’re losing the natural environment”?

A: Well, the environment in China is kind of upset — like it’s polluted. The air quality in my city would be pretty hard for me to really want to take a walk, or go outside and run or something like that.

Q: Is there anything you miss about China?

A: The food!

Q: Have you been back since you started school here?

A: Yeah, I went back for last winter break.

Q: Do you go back pretty frequently?

A: No. Well, this time I went because [winter break] is pretty long, and my grandpa is not doing very well, so I just went back.

Q: What was it like going back after such a long time here?

A: I definitely noticed a lot of changes in my hometown. Compared to how fast things change here, in America, that’s a huge change. Like they put up some more infrastructure, they have a whole high-rise roads (like overpasses) like a loop in my hometown.

An intro*duction* to *inter*national students at the University of Georgia