Former international student leads discussion event in hopes of better international integration at K-State

Ken Guan introduces himself to the audience. He was the guest speaker at an event hosted by the English Language Department about internationalization and diversity on October 19. (Abigail Compton | Collegian Media Group)

Ken Guan said he knows it’s important to make international students feel welcome on campus, so he returned to Kansas State to tell his story.

Originally from China, Guan was once a student at the University of Hawaii, but said he encountered an unexpected obstacle.

“My first semester, I only [spent time] with Chinese students,” Guan said. “I didn’t show up to classes. I didn’t take exams. I got two Cs and two Fs in my first semester. I didn’t have a good experience. I wanted to transfer out.”

Years later, in 2010, Guan enrolled at K-State. His less-than-perfect experience in Hawaii led him to launch an initiative aimed at reaching out to international students and ensuring their success at the university.

On Friday, Guan—currently a residence life coordinator at Indiana University with a doctorate in higher education—was welcomed back to K-State, where he was the featured speaker at the English Language Program’s Creating Dialogues event.

The day-long occasion at the Leadership Studies Building included Guan’s 30-minute lecture, as well as panels from students, faculty and support services, all centered around how the university can better integrate international students into campus culture.

“Encourage meaningful relationships with senior leadership and faculty members,” Guan said. “International students will have opportunities to personally meet with the senior leadership members on campus—not just one time.”

Kimathi Choma, assistant dean of diversity, recruitment and retention in the College of Arts and Sciences, also lectured. His speech included his ideas on how K-State faculty and students can better include international students in campus events, as well as statistics showing why they should.

In 2016, all six American winners of the Nobel Prizes in economics and scientific fields were immigrants. Since 2000, immigrants won 40 percent of the Nobel Prizes won by Americans in chemistry, medicine and physics, Choma said.

“For everyone here, what are you going to do to help in the integration of international students into the campus community?” Choma said. “If you sit through this today, but you don’t take it home or back to your classes, back to your offices, and take any action, it would be pointless for you to sit here today and have all this beautiful discussion that we had.”

There are currently more than 1,500 international students enrolled at K-State, 260 of which are first time students to the university.

The first panel included seven international students. Among them was Vedant Kulkarni, freshman in business administration from India.

Kulkarni said it’s important to remember that he is like every other student on campus.

“I live in Jardine, so [the] Rec Center is pretty close to me,” Kulkarni said. “So I do try to go there once every while. [The] Union is like my second home. You can always find me at the Union, pretty much near Radina’s. That’s where my sweet spot is.”

Guan, whose return to required roughly eight months of planning, said he wanted to make one thing clear.

“I didn’t come here for myself,” he said. “I wanted to spread this message. I’m really thankful that K-State recognized my work. They made me feel a great welcome back.”