Students from around the world bring international experiences and outlooks to the DU campus
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of University of Denver Magazine and features additional international students from outside the Daniels College of Business. Read more of their stories on the magazine website.
With more than 70% of undergraduates studying abroad, global learning is a signature DU experience. From once-in-a-lifetime interterm trips to quarter-long study abroad programs, there are countless opportunities for students to travel, experience and learn from people and places across the world.
But, for many students, DU is where they come to have global experiences and share their unique perspectives. The more than 650 members of the University’s diverse international student community hail from nearly 100 countries, bringing valuable and unique perspectives and talents onto campus and out into the world after graduation. From gymnast Jessica Lopez Gaveika (BA 2009), a three-time Olympian from Venezuela, and legendary Chinese opera singer Hao Jiang Tian (MA 1987) to Njabulo Ndebele (PhD 1983), chairman of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, and the late Nigerian novelist and scholar Isidore Okpewho (PhD 1976), DU’s international alumni have made their mark for decades.
More than ever, students’ ability to find global perspectives and experiences in the classroom and abroad is important. “We’re living in a global world now,” said Theresa Johnson, director of International Student and Scholar Services. “It would be very rare to go through life and not interact with someone from a different country or a different cultural background. Having international students on campus, as well as international faculty and staff teaching and working on campus, creates opportunities for interactions and learning across the entire DU community.” Chances to meet, connect and learn across borders and cultures, she says, are a key component of the DU experience, and play a major role in sending students on a path towards living lives of purpose and strengthening DU’s global community.
One current Daniels student and one recent alumna offered their global perspectives on the DU experience.
Born and raised in Nanjing, China, senior Steven Gu began his international education in eighth grade. Drawn to the possibility of studying in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies while earning a dual degree in accountancy from the Daniels College of Business at the same time, Gu transferred to DU after his freshman year at the University of Richmond.
In just two years on campus, Gu has already distinguished himself—working as a special population coordinator with Student Affairs and Inclusive Excellence, a 4D peer mentor and a research assistant in Korbel, where he’s contributed to and coauthored several peer-reviewed publications on global economic development.
Working and studying across numerous departments on campus has had an influence on Gu’s experience of DU. “Because of DU’s size, it’s just big enough where you have different populations within different colleges,” he says. “I think it’s been very interesting to see it that way rather than have the whole campus as one big group. For me, it’s also been an interesting journey, in the sense that you meet a more diverse group of people.”
For Gu, the diverse and interconnected nature of campus has provided unique opportunities to network.
From meeting and working with students to connecting with a trustee at the Founder’s Dinner, distinctly DU experiences have played a major role in his time here. “It was really amazing to have this unique, sort of more personal experience to just talk. That’s how I ended up with my major,” he says.
But, Gu says, networking and coursework have not been the only driving forces behind his DU experience. Finding time to reflect on and explore his own interests, he says, has been crucial. “I have found it fascinating to explore these topics outside of the traditional realm of accounting or international relations and to be able to dive into it. That’s what I love to do during my free time, I dive into topics of our times,” Gu says. “Like the question of, ‘How do you embrace uncertainty?’”
With less than a year left in his undergraduate studies, Gu says he is excited for what’s to come. “The thing I’m most looking forward to is the ability to turn what I’ve learned in the classroom into practical experience.” And beyond just turning knowledge into action, the prospect of diving out into the world and setting off on his own path is exciting. “I’m looking forward to this unique experience of being able to explore my own interests on my own feet,” he says.
Daphne Rajenthiram graduated in August 2023, after completing an MBA and a master’s in business analytics in just two years.
Raised in Rajapalayam, India, Rajenthiram earned a bachelor of technology degree from Anna University, in her home state of Tamil Nadu, before continuing on to a earn a master’s in environmental engineering from Oklahoma State University. Upon graduating, Rajenthiram dove straight into the industry as an environmental engineer in Texas before returning to India to pursue an interdisciplinary doctorate in engineering and management. But she quickly realized that her interests lay in the management realm. “That’s part of what caused me to apply for MBAs,” she says, “and to make a trajectory change.”
Diving into the Denver MBA program at the Daniels College of Business, Rajenthiram took analytics courses as electives during her first year, rediscovering a passion for combining management with a math-heavy discipline. After her first year wrapped up, she was accepted into the data analytics program, and a year later, she graduated with both degrees. For Rajenthiram, her path from engineer to manager and analyst makes sense. “I’ve always had an interest in numbers, and maybe that’s why the engineering and the analytics,” she says, “and what I realized was, a part of what I used to do in engineering was analytics, and I just didn’t know it.”
When she managed to find free time amidst her dual-degree course schedule and her role as a graduate assistant in Daniels Executive Education program, Rajenthiram took advantage of DU’s central location to get out and explore Colorado.
“As international students,” she says, “it’s fun. You don’t have commitments like other students who are like, ‘Oh, I have to go visit family, or I have go do this or that.’ It’s just, ‘What do we do?’” And do, she has. From trips to Crested Butte and Gunnison to witnessing a pack burro race—one of Colorado’s most unique traditions—during Gold Rush Days in Buena Vista. “I’d never seen anything like that,” she says. “And then the same weekend, we saw people surfing on a river, which was pretty cool.”
While it enabled her thorough exploration of the state, freedom from commitments was not without its downsides. “I knew that not having a community would be harder,” she says. “So, I was looking to plug myself into places.” Rajenthiram says she found her community in Bridges International, an on-campus student group. “It’s a faith-based organization, but they provide a platform for all students to just come meet and hang out,” she says. “They are all from different countries and different programs, but we’re all essentially going through that same experience of being an international student at DU.”