International Ed Director Envisions Campus Without Borders

CSU Stanislaus students may soon notice more diversity in their classes and hear more foreign languages around campus.

That’s because the university’s Office of International Education has a new director with big plans and a proven track record of increasing international student enrollment in the United States.

“I’m envisioning a United Nations on this campus,” said Mahmoud Lamadanie, who started at CSU Stanislaus in the summer. “People celebrating outside, having food from different cultures, dressed up differently — the fabric of the whole university will look different.”

VIDEO: Meet Mahmoud Lamadanie

Lamadanie arrived at CSU Stanislaus after a successful stay as executive vice president of the Center for International Affairs and Programs at Grambling State University in Louisiana. In his seven years at Grambling, Lamadanie touts a surge of international students — from 30 students to nearly 1,200 from more than 45 countries.

The key to success in recruiting international students, Lamadanie said, lies in building relationships with education and government leaders around the world.

“I invest heavily in building friendships for the university,” he said. “These are everlasting relationships.”

CSU Stanislaus has 66 international students from 22 countries, though most are from Saudi Arabia and China. Lamadanie hopes to stimulate more global-mindedness on campus by recruiting students from places such as Nepal, Turkey, India and Africa, in addition to China and the Middle East.

Studying in the United States can be a life-changing experience for international students, but Lamadanie said diversification can bring benefits to current students, as well.

“We are not living in a hermetically-sealed environment,” Lamadanie said. “Our American students can learn about the whole globe on our campus, get engaged in study abroad or be part of a buddy system with an international student.”

International students also bring added revenue to a university, paying more than double the tuition for in-state students. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, international students contribute more than $22 billion annually to universities nationwide through tuition and living expenses.

But for Lamadanie, the economic impact is secondary. An international student himself once, Lamadanie understands the aspirations and the challenges of the students he serves.

Personal Journey Provides Inspiration

Lamadanie was born in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, and at the age of 7, he saw his home bombed and community destroyed.

“Any day I lived after that was a gift from God,” he said.

His family was often without electricity or water, and he had to use candles for studying in junior high and high school.

No matter the obstacles, Lamadanie earned his bachelor’s degree at a prestigious university in Palestine and emigrated to the U.S. for a master’s in linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Fluent in English, Hebrew and Arabic, Lamadanie landed his first job with the U.S. Department of State as an interpreter for diplomats and foreign dignitaries. That’s when he realized the power of international education in building understanding between people from different countries.

“As a country, international education allows us to engage the whole globe — help them appreciate us and absorb some of our positive values, like democracy and human rights,” he said.

Lamadanie’s strong belief in the value of international education has driven him throughout a career that now spans more than 20 years at colleges and universities in Saudi Arabia, Washington, New York, Missouri, Louisiana and now California.

“For me, it’s not a job, really,” he said. “I have a passion for it. It runs in my blood.”

That passion is evident in the methods he uses to mentor and retain international students. Lamadanie thinks of himself as the students’ “local parent,” providing guidance at all hours of the day, if necessary. Like a parent, he monitors his students’ grades — anyone below a 3.0 grade-point average gets called in for a meeting.

But to achieve success at CSU Stanislaus, Lamadanie knows he can’t do it alone. He hopes people on campus will help provide a warm welcome to increasing numbers of international students.

“The presence of international people on campus is something to be appreciated,” he said. “Please take initiative when you see someone who looks different from you. Strike up conversation. You will be so happy that you met such wonderful people who might impact your life forever.”