International Heroes Night will kick off Utah State University’s International Education Week, co-sponsored by the Office of Global Engagement and the International Student Council (ISC). The night, which will be held Monday, Nov. 8 at 6 p.m. in the Taggart Student Center International Lounge, will feature an international karaoke competition and food, followed by an awards presentation and question-and-answer session.
International faculty members Mehmet Soyer, assistant professor of sociology, and Rakesh Kaundal, assistant professor of bioinformatics, will be awarded the 2021 International Faculty Recognition Award from the ISC.
Ibukun Osunbunmi, the vice president of culture and education for the ISC, Ph.D. candidate in engineering, and organizer of International Heroes Night, encourages students to attend and organize more events like international karaoke to bring cultural awareness and appreciation to the university.
“A home away from home is the best gift USU can give to any international student,” said Osunbunmi. “I am glad that International Education Week can be held in person this year. What excites me more is the fact that we are having the first International Heroes Night at USU with the first international karaoke competition and speeches by faculty who were once international students.”
Soyer and Kaundal were selected by the ISC based on their high intellectual merit with broader impact and as models of hard work, discipline, dedication and possibility mindset for all international and domestic students to emulate. One criterion for nomination was at one point the faculty member was an international student who came to the U.S. to study. They will present on diversity and inclusion in academia.
Kaundal advised the university to hire scholars and faculty and admit students from diverse backgrounds, bringing multiple cultures into the university for a lively and productive learning experience.
“By bringing more diversity to academia, the participants gain an arsenal of skills: critical thinking, problem-solving, better their skills in communication and writing, teamwork, and much more; that are easily transferable across work environments,” said Kaundal. “You get a more holistic understanding of the world– different perspectives– which helps the students to deal with real-world problems in a tangible way of understanding the world. Diversity also enhances the skills to better work with the clients or colleagues from diverse backgrounds when students go out to companies after graduation.”
Soyer praised his department for the supportive environment. At the college and university level he acknowledged the progress on the improvement of diversity but would like to see more representation of international professors on administrative level. In addition to administration, Soyer has advised doing more to help refugee academics.
“We need to find a way to support refugee academics who were forced to leave their country. They used to be a professor in their homeland, but to survive in the U.S., they have been doing different jobs such as Uber Eats, Uber drive etc. to afford their lives,” said Soyer.
He recommended USU collaborate with programs such as Scholars at Risk, a program that arranges temporary research and teaching positions at institutions for scholars whose lives are threatened.
Kaundal and Soyer will be available for a question-and-answer session following their presentations on supporting international contribution to academia. USU and local community are welcome to attend and can sign up for karaoke until the spots are filled.
Events will continue throughout the week to celebrate international education with a virtual study abroad fair on Wednesday, Nov. 10, a Zoom session about Diplomatic Fellowships on Thursday, Nov. 11, and a final celebration with Diwali Night, on Saturday, Nov. 13. Information about the events is available at iew.usu.edu.