When Paula Garcia was first starting at Drexel University in fall 2020, she was forced by the pandemic to get connected to her new school and new community not only while living away from campus, but while living in a different country.
Now a second-year public health major and an international student born in Colombia and raised in Costa Rica, Garcia remembers last year seeing fellow first-year students — from her major or through Facebook groups she was a part of — easily connecting with each other while living in closer proximity.
“Being in a different country and starting my University experience without having those connections was a little tough,” she said. “But I think the Drexel Global Scholar community was very beneficial to me during the pandemic in terms of getting to know people and feeling connected to Drexel.”
Paula Garcia (left) poses with fellow second-year Global Scholars, Nathalia Gomez and Ahmed Azhar, at a Phillies game trip sponsored by Drexel's STAR Scholars program in summer 2021. Photo courtesy of Garcia.
The Drexel Global Scholar program (DGS) recognizes a select number of incoming international undergraduate students with both academic and leadership prowess with a full scholarship to the University, as well peer-based mentorship, professional development and community-building activities once they arrive on campus. At the onset of the pandemic, these offerings pivoted to virtual, and accommodated DGS students tuning in from time zones across the world. And this was important, as to these students, DGS is so much more than just a scholarship. It’s a community, and it’s one that’s meaningful to scholars well past their freshman year.
Darrell Omo-Lamai, a fourth-year material sciences and engineering BS/MS student and Global Scholar from Nigeria, remembers a recent meeting with other DGS students in his year where they discussed the power of positive thinking, which helped reframe his outlook on the pandemic.
“I was coming into the meeting with all of these rather negative comments about how everything was so bad, whereas another DGS member was just like, ‘You know what? We don't have control over certain things. So as opposed to complaining, I've been trying to figure out how to make the best of every situation,’” Omo-Lamai remembered. “That kind of stuck with me. … There have definitely been rewarding experiences that have come up from having this trying experience and having this community to work through it with.”
Sandra Petri, assistant director of Drexel’s Center for Inclusive Education and Scholarship, and Marc Vallone, associate director of International Admissions for Enrollment Management & Student Success, co-lead the DGS program, supporting its admissions pipeline as well as getting new students acquainted with the program and with each other before they even start at the University. They also devise meaningful programming for scholars like the session Omo-Lamai mentioned, though the students are tasked with some planning aspects themselves.
Since its founding a decade ago, the Drexel Global Scholar program has welcomed more than 80 international students from nearly 40 countries. Each year, out of hundreds of applications, admissions offers the DGS scholarship to between 15 and 20 incoming undergraduate students, and the majority end up at Drexel. The application requires students to answer prompts and submit a résumé, and their transcripts and test scores, if available, are also evaluated.
Petri said the goal of the program is to equip these students — whom the University has recognized and invested in their ability to become global leaders — with the knowledge and skills to do so.
“Getting the students together and letting them form relationships with each other, since it's such a diverse and dynamic group, is really key to the program,” she said. “Plus, I want them to trust each other so that when we have these workshops, they feel compelled to come, they feel compelled to share openly, they know how much they can learn and also how much they can share with their peers so that we can maximize their learning and maximize the impact of the program while they're here.”
For the students, acceptance into the Global Scholars program is often a big reason why they choose to come to Drexel, along with the opportunities provided by the co-op program.
“I got in, and I haven't really looked back since. It's been great,” Omo-Lamai said of his acceptance into DGS. “It's really given me a platform to be very flexible in terms of what opportunities I pursue here in the United States.”
“I feel like the fact that Drexel had this cohort of students, of international students, and plus all of the economic help, was a key factor in my decision to come here,” added Garcia. “I really wanted to be surrounded by people that also had diverse backgrounds, so that was definitely a very important aspect of it.”
For Vansh Gupta, a first-year computer science student and a Global Scholar from India, coming into Drexel as an international student who already knew over a dozen fellow Dragons through the program felt like an advantage. He remembers fondly hanging out with other first-year Global Scholars during Welcome Week, and they continued to check in with each other and help each other throughout their first term.
“It was very nice to be around people who felt like a family from the first meeting,” Vansh said. “When you don't know anybody, it just felt [nice] because everybody was going through the same feelings of being away from home, settling into a new environment from a different country, cultural shock, all the first years together.”
This kinship amongst DGS scholars can be felt all the way from Welcome Week through graduation. Vallone said that although their June 2020 celebration for that year’s DGS graduates took place virtually — with students and their families joining in from all over the world — it became one of his favorite memories while working at Drexel.
“From an institution point, it's truly important for us to continue to reinvest in our mission and to build global leaders,” Vallone said. “These students, I think, are going to have awesome stories in 20 years, and we would have had them first, which is great.”
“I see it as part of the puzzle of valuing a global mindset on campus, and part of the puzzle of valuing diversity on campus,” Petri added of the DGS program. “In every classroom that they're in, every team project they work on, every co-op they go on, every student org that they're in then gets this extra flavor. … Just having that additional perspective is super important.”
Not only does the DGS community bring a lot to the University — they influence each other as well. Wei Cheun Chong, a third-year computer science student and Global Scholar from Malaysia, said the experience of being able to communicate and empathize with people of different cultures through DGS has been a learning experience.
“I think that experience will help me to cope with dealing with issues in my home country a lot better than had I not come to DGS,” he said.
“It's a pretty special thing to have so many individuals from different backgrounds, both national backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, and just different experiences congregating in a single room to have conversations and to exchange ideas,” added Omo-Lamai, also mentioning that the efforts of Petri and Vallone are what cultivate and elevate this sense of community due to the routine and ease with which they can come together. “Anytime we meet together as DGS, that's something that we're always humbled by, the fact that we do have this unique privilege to assemble ourselves into a space and just grow or widen our perspective on what's out there, what kinds of things people have done in the past and make ourselves in the process more culturally aware.
“We have this community that we can always fall back, this community that we've had since the very beginning of our academic programs here. That's been a wonderful thing.”