International Support Fund impacts

photo of Tawakalt and son

I am a graduate student of the Chemistry department.  I applied for the international student support fund as a new student with a two-year-old son, after incurring unexpected travel expenses due to the pandemic.  The support I received helped lessen my financial burden and allowed me to concentrate on my studies

Tawakalt Akinjobi

From Bhopal to Bellingham

Ashima Shrivastava completed a Bachelor’s in Computer Science at the Rajiv Gandhi Technical University in her hometown of Bhopal, India.   “Ever since I was young, and saw my elder brother taking CS classes, I was fascinated with the idea of computers being able to do so much.”   She landed a job at Netlink Software and was able to pay off her school loans, and even help her family.  However, as one of few women software developers she felt her ideas were not always heard or supported.  Her family encouraged her to pursue a master’s degree in the US, which would greatly help her career. 

She chose to study at Western Washington University’s MS in Computer Science. “Finances was one of the biggest challenges.  I didn’t want to ask my parents for money,” she explained.  The currency exchange rate from Indian Rupees to US Dollars meant she had to take a very large student loan in India, and her family put their home as collateral for the loan.  Since international students don’t qualify for financial aid, Ashima knew she would have to budget carefully and find a job on campus to afford her graduate degree.  She had the motivation, but also the added pressure knowing her parents would lose their home if she could not pay back the loan after graduation. 

Ashima Shrivastava

photo of international student Ashima Shrivastava

Asking for help is okay, even it’s difficult at first

The CS department was able to give Ashima a Teacher’s Assistant position, which covered her tuition expenses.  She covered her other fees and living expenses with her loan from India and a summer job on campus as a website developer. 

While trying to keep her funding, she had to balance challenging coursework and a requirement to maintain a 3.0 GPA in her program.  She often felt isolated.   “It was difficult for me to ask for help or connect as the only Brown student and one of few women in my department.”  She lost her TA position and had to use all her student loan to pay for her tuition, leaving her with no funding for her final two quarters. 

Finally, she reached out to her research advisor and two professors, who were able to advocate for her.  She also reached out to ISSS.  The International Student Support Fund provided financial assistance to help pay tuition in her final quarter.

I’m eager to help others; I know how difficult it is. 

Ashima has applied for Optional Practical Training, which would allow her to work in the US for up to three years in her field.  She is currently searching for a job. She looks forward to working and paying off her loans, as well as helping other students who face challenges.