In the 2018–19 academic year, nearly 6,000 individual students visited the International House on Trowbridge Road.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic surged during the beginning of D-term this year, Colleen Callahan-Panday knew that her team wouldn’t be able to serve those students in person—and most of their work traditionally needs to be done in person.
“We help them with their immigration paperwork,” says Callahan-Panday, director of International Student Life (ISL). “We photocopy paperwork, we get student signatures, we send documents to the government.”
Thanks to quick thinking, a pivot toward Zoom calls in lieu of in-person appointments, and the shipping powers of FedEx, the ISL got its work-from-home sea legs. “We’re having students scan and upload their paperwork, and through screen sharing we can go over it together online. After virtual appointments we scan and email or FedEx documents as needed,” Callahan-Panday says. “If you'd asked me in February, I couldn’t have imagined how our office would work remotely, but it’s nice to know now that we can do it.”
What’s even nicer is that even though international students are far from their families, ISL is working hard to make them feel at home. That’s no easy feat—Callahan-Panday says there are nearly 700 international WPI students living off campus in Worcester.
She says one of the most difficult aspects of the pandemic is not being able to open the International House for students to gather in person. “We’re a small office, and pretty close-knit. Before we started working remotely, these students would come to our office, which is almost like their home away from home. Now we offer virtual office hours so that students can ask questions or just see a friendly face.”
“We wanted to be there for them, we wanted to know how they were doing,” says Mirabelle Tseng, assistant director of ISL. “It’s more than just a job for us.”