Abington Global Programs supports academic success of international students

Abington Global Programs

Yiqi Li, a finance major from China, and Melanie Boston, international academic coordinator in the Office of Global Programs at Penn State Abington, discuss resources for students.

Credit: Zack Gething

ABINGTON, Pa. — The Penn State Abington Office of Global Programs added an important tool this year to support the academic success of international students, developing a structure for outreach to the estimated 250 students they oversee through a technology product called Starfish. 

Throughout Penn State, Starfish is the primary system for advisers and faculty to record notes, progress reports, and academic reviews. It helps identify students in need of support, based on academic performance and concerns raised by faculty and staff. Starfish connects students to helpful resources and simplifies communication. 

Among the Global Programs offices in the Penn State system, Abington’s staff is the only one actively using Starfish, according to Melanie Boston, international academic coordinator.  

“We can monitor our international students through Starfish with full communication across campus partners. I can read notes from advisers and faculty, and I can also enter notes and make appointments with students. Faculty and advisers can see my activity with students,” she said. “The point of my outreach to international students is to make them aware of the resources that are available.” 

The University’s Division of Undergraduate Studies reports positive outcomes for students when faculty submit Starfish progress reports and students follow up. 

We are all about academic support, and our staff is dedicated full-time to international student academic success.

—Melanie Boston , International academic coordinator

A collaboration between Global Programs and advisers at Abington allows coordinated outreach to international students whose GPAs dip below 2.0, pushing them into academic warning status. Boston works closely with the advising team to keep at-risk international students on track. She initiated an academic warning contract that students must sign before their adviser lifts the academic warning hold on their account, which allows them to register for the next semester.  

“Before students sign the contract, they have conversations with me and with their adviser about their challenges, goals, and plans to succeed going forward,” Boston said. 

Boston regularly runs reports and follows up on flags submitted by instructors, often reaching out to 100 students each semester. Most contact is through the Canvas site dedicated to international students, where custom messages can be sent as well as regular updates in monthly email blasts.   

Boston said international students, who hail primarily from China and India, face different obstacles to success in the classroom than their domestic counterparts. The challenges include language, the pace of the course — especially in the first semester — and uncertainty about choice of major.  

”We are all about academic support, and our staff is dedicated full-time to international student academic success,” she said. 

About Penn State Abington 

Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With more than 3,000 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 24 majors, undergraduate research, the Schreyer Honors Program, NCAA Division III athletics and more.