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Exhibit - International Students at Michigan State

Michigan State University has a long, rich history of welcoming International Students to its campus. As early as the 1870s, students were coming from the distant shores of Asia and the Middle East to study Agriculture here in East Lansing. By the year 1900, 60 International students, from 5 continents, had studied here.

In 1903, the Cosmopolitan Club was formed. A 1909 issue of the M.A.C. Record (v.15 n.12) offered a quote from the president of the Cosmopolitan Club, Cary W. Hays. He described the Cosmopolitan Club as being a “Good opportunity to become acquainted with people of other lands and to learn the customs and conditions in various nations. In such a way we widen our intelligence and broaden our sympathies.”

Starting in the 1904-1905 school year, international student enrollment was up to 16 students and increased steadily to 20 students in 1920. In 1927, another first happened. Flora Mumford became the first international female student to graduate from the Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science. A native of Amhurstburg, Ontario, Canada, she graduated with a degree in Home Economics and was a member of the Cosmopolitan Club. International students and the Cosmopolitan Club would continue to be a presence on campus throughout the next decade.

In 1941, John A. Hannah took office as president of Michigan State. He believed in making the campus into a place with international focus. He decided to bring in international scholars to teach classes and build centers to welcome students from all over the world. He felt that all students, no matter where they come from, should have knowledge of the world as a whole. The world, in his opinion, now relied on the relationships that individual countries had with one another and a way to foster those relationships was to expose students to people and cultures different then their own.

During World War II, the college made an effort to become a more internationally focused institution. In 1942, the “World Adventure Film Series” was shown on Saturday nights. These films would showcase different places around the world, as well as different cultures. In 1943, it was announced that the Institute of Foreign Studies, which focused on South America and Asia, would be opened. The following year the International Center was opened on campus. It offered rooms for International students to congregate and study. International tea parties were held that brought almost 200 students to the Center on a weekly basis. Additionally, in 1944 the International Club was formed by Dr. Shao Chang Lee. The 33 International and 34 American members would discuss topics concerning different current event topics from around the world. By the end of the decade, Michigan State ranked sixth among land-grant colleges for international student enrollment.

The 1950s at Michigan State saw the formation of the Office of International Programs, the first in the country. The Canadian–American Studies Committee was also created that same year. The most substantial push for International Students to study at Michigan State University occurred in the 1960s. The Office of International Students was formed to offer advice about legal and financial issues, as well as other issues faced by foreign students. The English Language Center was started to offer classes in English for students who were learning it as a secondary language.

Several special centers were opened prior to 1965. African, Asian, Latin American, and Russian and Eastern European students now had their own centers that would offer courses, lectures and places to foster culture. These centers not only supported students from those countries, but also benefited the entire Michigan State University community by providing access to information about foreign cultures and people. Exhibitions would regularly be held at the centers featuring different aspects of language or culture. The International Festival, held every year, would also celebrate the international community’s presence at MSU. Tables would be set up with food and goods from other countries, exhibitions of foreign made items, and dance shows would be put on to raise awareness of different cultures.

Exhibit created by Sarah Bicsak, March 2013.University Archives and Historical Collections

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Cosmopolitan Club Group Photograph, 1926
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International Club, ca. 1949
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International Festival, 1953
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Students sew with the International Club, date unknown
Students sew with the International Club, date unknown
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