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A spectrum of international CS majors

There are, of course, many things that I appreciate about teaching at Grinnell. The diversity of student backgrounds, perspectives, and interests is one of the top ones. Now, I realize that almost every liberal arts college says that it’s diverse [1]. Nonetheless, I seem to keep hearing from people in the know that it’s true [2]. I recall a year or so ago when I was meeting with some guidance counselors touring campus, and I asked what they surprised them in their visit. A few said, Every school says they are diverse; you really are! Then a few months ago, I was eating breakfast with one of our marketing folks and asked what they had learned during their visit to campus. They said, Your international students come from a much broader set of countries than at most institutions [3].

The other day, as I was writing to an international applicant to Grinnell, I decided to make a list of where our current majors are from so that I could give them possible contacts. Here’s what I produced: We have CS majors from the US, Albania, Bulgaria, China, England, Georgia, Ghana, Greece, Honduras, India, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan, Serbia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Tanzania, and Vietnam [4]. And that list is probably incomplete. We’ve certainly had students from a much broader array of other countries, including Grinnell’s first Slovenian student [5].

I appreciate that this broad variety of students brings an equally broad variety of perspectives. When we have discussions in CS Table, I like hearing very different takes on the roles computing technology can play, and I regularly experience one of those I never thought about it that way moments. I also appreciate that many of these students are thinking about ways in which they can take what they are learning about CS at Grinnell, and bring it back to their home countries to help train the next generation. Ursula Wolz’s work on Code Communities has been helpful for many of those students.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate our domestic students. Those students also bring a variety of perspectives and help me learn to think differently. Many are also committed to helping build the next generation of computer scientists, and helping expose students underrepresented in the discipline to the wonder that is CS.

Still, there’s something special to know that I am helping students from around the world learn CS. And I think that our domestic students realize that there’s something special about being able to study with people from around the world while being out here in the middle of nowhere the corn and soy fields.

[1] I know of a few who often brought in under ten domestic students of color each year; they are probably more cautious in their claim.

[2] I do know that the fall 2016 entering class was approximately 25% domestic students of color and slightly under 25% international students.

[3] Okay, they didn’t say exactly that. I don’t remember the marketers’ exact quote. But they implied that they found the the diversity of international students surprising. They had also done focus groups with first-gen students and with international students, and they were equally surprised at the overlap between those two groups.

[4] If we only had one student from each of those countries, we’d still be bigger than about ten other majors at Grinnell.

[5] All our Slovenian students have been astounding.

Version 1.0 of 2017-03-29.