WORDS: Jenna Watson          GRAPHIC: Tram Nguyen          VIDEO: Erica Husting

The first time a Colombian international student learned about Cal Poly’s reputation, it was through a Google search.

International students at Cal Poly such as architectural engineering sophomore Emmanuel Castaño make up less than half of 1 percent of the university’s student population, according to Fall 2013 data from the International Center.

But Cal Poly wants to boost that number.

California is the most popular state for international students during a time when more foreign students than ever are studying in the United States, according to the Institute of International Education’s 2013 Open Doors Report. However, Cal Poly only has 211 international students on a campus of nearly 20,000 students.

The term “international students” includes visiting, exchange or degree-seeking students enrolled at Cal Poly.

“There’s such great potential for growth,” director of the International Center Cari Moore said regarding current recruitment efforts.

Moore stepped into her position in August 2013, after having worked at the University of Oregon, which has 10 percent international student enrollment.

Cal Poly doesn’t have an international recruiter like many other university campuses do, Moore said. Consequently, Cal Poly doesn’t have a presence at high schools abroad or international education fairs.

“They haven’t heard about us yet,” Moore said. “I think the more that folks learn about the opportunities here, the more interested students and families we will have. We just need to get Cal Poly on the radar more.”

Adding an international recruiter would not only be a decision for the International Center, but also upper administration and enrollment management. According to the International Center, dedicating staff and resources toward this effort will make a significant difference.

International students bring a different cultural perspective to the campus community and can enrich diversity at Cal Poly, which is why there is a focus of “bringing the world to Cal Poly and Cal Poly to the world” — a phrase Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong has used several times.

“Our students cannot be truly successful in an increasingly diverse society and in an increasingly complex global economy unless they experience, as students, what it takes to function in the real world,” Armstrong said in his Fall 2011 conference statement. “That means students need to be exposed to multiple academic disciplines in their Learn By Doing projects, and they need to be exposed to multiple cultures and be made more globally aware.”

I’m willing to sacrifice, work hard, and be on a budget and just pay for it later on.

Armstrong has said his goal is to add approximately 4,000-5,000 students to Cal Poly’s population by 2022, partially by increasing the university’s international recruitment.

On average, undergraduate international students at Cal Poly pay $10,000 more in one academic year than a California resident.

Alberto Ganis — an Italian student and member of the Cal Poly men’s basketball team — said the extra expenses are worth the quality of the communication studies degree he is seeking and the opportunities he is exposed to.

“I’m willing to sacrifice, work hard, and be on a budget and just pay for it later on,” Ganis said.

Ganis, who transferred from San Diego Miramar College, said he loves that Cal Poly has so many extracurricular activities and resources to offer, unlike most universities in Italy. He said he feels lucky to be here and is thankful Cal Poly Athletics lets him play the game he’s loved since he was 5 years old.

Ganis said focusing on increasing Cal Poly’s international student enrollment is beneficial, not only for the people coming to campus and the people they study with, but also for the San Luis Obispo community. It would help with community growth by allowing locals and students to experience diversity together, he said.

A deterrent to international students, though, could be a misunderstanding of what the term “polytechnic” really means, Moore said. Different cultures and languages may have other interpretations of the word, depending on the context, which could cause confusion.

“This is where we have work to do — letting it be known that we actually are a comprehensive institution,” Moore said.

In Moore’s experience, the presence of an intensive English-language program was effective in attracting and supporting international students. This could be an optimal opportunity for the International Center to expand their international student recruitment, Moore said.

“It provides an opportunity for language support for those that may have the academic skills but need a little more in terms of English-language preparedness,” Moore said.

The outlook for getting a program like this in place is going to take time, commitment and an approval from immigration services, Moore added.

In addition to their International Peer Counselor program, the International Center is looking to offer conversation groups to help students adjust to life in America. International students can pair up with other students to practice English or keep up with their first language.

This resource also helps benefit Cal Poly’s outbound students, which is the other group of students the International Center helps. This means when students go abroad, they can use their conversation groups to prepare for that experience by sharpening their foreign-language skills.

The International Center looks to continue collaborating with various campus entities to develop a comprehensive international strategy with specific goals for recruitment.