The PSU Office of International Programs and Services (IPSO) underwent a change recently with former director Shama Ali’s ouster from the university. Ali joined the IPSO staff in January, 2018.
Howard Smith, associate vice president for enrollment management and student success, said all actions relating to Ali’s absence goes through his office.
“Right now I’m serving as the acting international director while we’re in the process of actually looking into how the office is structured and what we’re going to do from this point on,” Smith said.
Ali’s primary duties within the IPSO included overseeing the office and handling immigration work for PSU international students. It is unknown if Ali has found job placement elsewhere, as Smith declined comment.
A town hall meeting was held Wednesday, Nov. 14 to discuss university enrollment and budget, including international enrollment. There are 311 international students currently enrolled at PSU—about 200 of whom are degree seeking—who represent 39 countries. Additionally, international student enrollment has decreased by 42 percent within the last 10 years. Tuition for international students has reached between $34-35,000 per year.
“… And that’s a huge ticket when those students are no longer paying to attend …” Smith said at the town hall meeting regarding international tuition.
Smith said he is not worried about Ali’s absence, saying that enrollment is his main concern.
“… Once we get (students) here we want to keep them,” Smith said at the town hall meeting. “… In comparison, nationally our numbers are great, but at the same point we’re losing enrollment, so we want them to be better. It’s not that we just beat the national number, we want to continue to improve every year. …”
International students, on the other hand, hold various feelings about Ali’s work while at the university as well as her recent absence.
“Since she managed the OPT (optional practical training) paperwork, which is important for graduating and alumni students, they might suffer for their OPT processing and extension,” Sakshi Bhati, graduate student in communication, said. “Also, I believe managing the operations would be a little overwhelming but people work hard in the office.”
The OPT is an employment benefit offered to students who are in the F-1 visa category that provides students with authorization to work up to 12 months in the U.S. Students can also apply for a 24-month extension if studying a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) field. Students must complete the OPT 14 months before their graduation date.
Naman Kaushal, graduate student in business, was one international student who claimed to have issues in communicating with Ali concerning his OPT.
“I have never met her in person and had contacted her in February 2018 to know more about the STEM extension process and paperwork that I would need,” Kaushal said. “I left her voice messages and emails and got no reply for weeks. Then I randomly called her and she picked up. I discussed about STEM extension to which she had very less knowledge about. She told me she would send me an email that will have all the instructions. I then waited for a week and sent her a follow up email. Got no response. A month later when I called and got to talk to her, she said ‘I forgot to reply to your email, I will send you now.’”
Kaushal also said that he was not pleased with Ali’s work during her time with the IPSO.
“She was not at all efficient,” he said. “I wonder how she even got hired to begin with. … The current international office staff is a group of very professional and knowledgeable people. Her going away does not affect anyone.”
Smith said international students should not worry about the change within the office, as “no services have changed.”
“… You will not have noticed anything at this point,” Smith said. “Those folks (the IPSO) were, actually they were doing it on their own before, now they’re back to doing it kind of on their own again, but we need to step back and look at—anytime you have a change, regardless of when that change occurs, we step back and say are we doing it the best way we can, are we the most efficient we can be, you know are we putting our resources in the right places.”
As Ali’s position is currently vacant, Smith is serving as her temporary replacement.
“Well, you know this is an interesting time at the university,” he said. “We’re looking right now at how best to (find a replacement).”
Bhati said that while this change in personnel came as a surprise, students remain confident in the future of the IPSO.
“It was a complete shock when I heard the news, but the international programs and services is steady and active and never fails their students,” Bhati said. “They have always provided the best experience and will do the in future too.”