Still recovering from jet lag, new University of Akron employee JP Yates ticked off the string of countries he visited on a seven-week trip he wrapped up this week.

“Two stops in China,” he said Wednesday at UA. “South Korea, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam and Japan.”

The country-hopping journey was part of his job at the university, where he is one of four newly hired international student recruiters.

UA President Matthew Wilson says the four are the university’s first dedicated international recruiters — at least in recent history. The school previously contracted with outside recruiters.

Wednesday, the University of Akron celebrated the opening of its new International Center, prominently housed in Buchtel Hall on the floor above Wilson’s office.

UA, which has suffered from declining enrollment and budget crunches, is hoping international students will play a significant role in its overall growth plans.

The new International Center, university officials said Wednesday, is about boosting the number of international students and helping them navigate life in the United States, as well as expanding international opportunities for U.S. students and faculty members.

“It’s about enriching our classrooms,” Wilson said shortly after he and others used a giant pair of scissors to cut a large blue ribbon at the top of the stairs at Buchtel Hall.

“It’s about providing research opportunities for our faculty,” said Wilson, whose background includes serving as senior associate dean and general counsel for Temple University’s campus in Tokyo.

“It’s about enabling students in the state of Ohio to have international experiences — to help prepare themselves to engage in the international community.”

Undergrads wanted

Currently, UA has 1,145 international students. About two thirds — 751 — are graduate students.

Undergraduate international student enrollment this fall is about 10 percent down from last year. Other universities have seen similar declines.

Educators have noted that India has tightened approvals for studying abroad and Saudi Arabia has cut back funding for its students abroad. Other factors include competition for international students from schools in other countries, as well as politicians’ remarks about controlling immigration.

Yates, who heads UA’s international recruitment, said he is focusing on growing the number of international undergraduate students.

Incoming domestic UA students could indicate this year whether they wanted to room with international students in a “Living-Learning Community,” he said.

But there weren’t enough incoming international undergraduates interested in the program to make it happen, Yates said.

“We have high hopes for next year,” he said. “There’s a large population of our domestic students who have an interest in other cultures.”

Rooming with U.S. students is “beneficial to the internationals as well,” Yates said. “They get American students who can help guide them through adjusting to life here in the United States.”

Ashish Akula, 23, who is a grad student in mechanical engineering from India, introduced Wilson to the crowd Wednesday.

In an interview, Akula said he liked having all the services under one roof and in Buchtel Hall, on the main campus.

“Everyone knows President Wilson is in this hall,” Akula said. “That means a lot. You can talk to him.”

Previously, some services for international students were in Simmons Hall on the main campus and others were in the Polsky Building, in downtown Akron, he and others noted.

Investing in growth

The center has four main parts: international recruiting, immigration services, the Center for International Students and Scholars and education abroad advising.

The annual cost of the International Center is about $1.1 million, UA officials said. That’s significantly more than the amount previously spent for international programs.

New hires for the International Center include Robyn K. Brown, who is director of global engagement, which includes immigration services and education abroad advising. Her duties include working with faculty members to grow the number of partnerships with universities in other countries.

She was a judicial law clerk, working on immigration issues for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Another new hire is Nicola Kille, who previously worked at the College of Wooster.

She is director of the Center for International Students and Scholars, which provides support services for students once they are in Akron.

Hussain Alibrahim, 23, a grad student in chemical engineering from Saudi Arabia, is among a group of student assistants who work with the international student recruitment team at the new center.

He said the new center “will make it easier for international students to seek the help they want. Also when they walk in and see its located next to President Wilson’s office, they know international students are important and welcome.”

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781.