WesMiles, a new program created by Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) members with help from the Office of International Student Affairs (OISA) and the Office of Financial Aid, will help fund winter break flights home for one to two students with home addresses outside of the United States.
In the spring of 2011, WSA President Zachary Malter ’13 began brainstorming ways to allow international students with financial need to return home.
“I was in a Board of Trustees sub-committee where we were discussing [using air] mile donations as a source of revenue for the University,” Malter wrote in an email to The Argus. “At the same time, I was approached by a number of international upperclassmen who hadn’t been home since entering Wesleyan or had only been home once. These students, African students and Freeman scholars, missed their friends and family at home and would have gone home more if they had the means to do so.”
According to Associate Dean for International Student Affairs Alice Hadler, the University used to offer international students receiving need-based financial aid the chance to return home once a year. However, in light of financial strain, this is no longer the case. WesMiles will potentially reinstate this opportunity.
WSA Financial Aid Committee Chair Sisi Miteva ’15, one of the founders of WesMiles and an international student herself, explained that, the University currently gives international students receiving need-based aid two tickets for their entire four years as students.
“The financial aid office sponsors a one-way ticket for [international students] to come to the U.S. to start their education as freshmen, and then another one-way ticket as a senior after they graduate to go back,” Miteva said. “Throughout their four years at Wesleyan, [many international students] don’t have an opportunity to go back home if they can’t afford to buy a ticket.”
Malter and Miteva approached the OISA about a month ago to discuss their idea for WesMiles. Hadler, who interacts with all of the international students during their time at the University, was receptive to the idea.
“People can only work so much during term time, so that to work enough to save enough to be able to go home is really stressful,” Hadler said.
Malter identified air mile donations as a potential source for the WesMiles program when he found out that one alumnus had previously used his miles to sponsor two potential international students, which allowed them to attend WesFest.
“The alum who donated the miles is the same one who raised the idea in the Board of Trustees,” Malter wrote. “Without his generosity and the work of University Relations [who helped contact potential donors], this program would have never happened. He sponsored two prospective students last semester, but we are hoping that in the future miles donations will be used principally for current students with high need.”
Miteva began working on the project last spring by researching different ways to donate miles. This semester, one alumnus will directly purchase one or two tickets using his own unused miles. However, Miteva hopes that, in the future, more alumni will donate miles, and allow more students to return home.
Director of Financial Aid John Gudvangen helped to identify students who might want to apply for WesMiles. Applications were sent to sophomores, juniors, and seniors receiving need-based financial aid who are international students or U.S. citizens with home addresses outside the United States. Roughly 50 students received applications.
Gudvangen and Hadler will review applications and select one or two students, depending on the cost of each ticket. Among considerations for qualification are how long it has been since the student has been home and why the student hopes to return for this upcoming break.
“We’re interested first in helping a student or two who have not had the financial means to make it home since they started at Wesleyan,” Gudvangen wrote in an email to The Argus. “We’ll also consider other extenuating circumstances.”
Hadler and Gudvangen both praised Malter and Miteva for establishing the program.
“It’s an exciting thing, and it’ll be a hard decision,” Hadler said, referring to the choice of who to sponsor among the applicants.
Malter hopes to find more donors in the future to contribute to the program.
“There are many students who aren’t able to go home much while at Wesleyan,” Malter wrote. “I heard about one alum who went through his whole undergraduate career and two years of grad school before getting the funds to return home. We hope more alumni will consider contacting University Relations and donating to this cause.”
Miteva has high hopes for the program as well.
“I’ve heard from international students who are really excited about it, so I do hope we have a lot of applicants,” Miteva said. “We hope to continue it in the future. I think that people deserve to get a break and see their families.”
Applications for WesMiles are due today, Friday, Nov. 8. For more information, students can contact the Financial Aid office or the WSA (firstname.lastname@example.org).