Advocate for International Students Leaves Indelible Impact

May 12, 2010 — Mongolia native Batkhuu Dashnyam decided he wanted to come to the University of Virginia four years ago during "Days on the Lawn," an annual series of springtime open houses at the University for admitted students who are undecided about attending.

There, then-Student Council President Darius Nabors spoke about the principle of student self-governance and the active role the Student Council plays in shaping the student experience on Grounds.

Dashnyam, 21, said he was inspired by what he heard from Nabors, "who deeply loved this institution and who displayed a personal conviction to tend to the affairs of this University and to better this University," and felt attracted to the opportunities both to contribute to U.Va. and to develop himself as a young man and an effective leader.

As he prepares to graduate May 23 with degrees in economics and foreign affairs, he has clearly seized those opportunities.

He became engaged immediately upon arrival, serving as a Student Council representative for the College of Arts & Sciences in his first and second years. In this role, he took the first of what would become many entrepreneurial steps on behalf of his fellow international students, helping to create a committee to study the possibility of extending need-based financial aid to international students.

Working on Student Council exposed Dashnyam to other student leaders and he saw "how seriously U.Va. students took the idea of self-governance. The idea grew in importance."

In his third year, Dashnyam "banded together" with 12 like-minded international students who believed that to effectively advocate for international student issues like those coming out of Dashnyam's financial aid committee, the international student community needed a representative umbrella organization that could speak to the administration with one voice.

Thus, the Global Student Council was established. In that first year, Dashnyam served as the new organization's chief operating officer and chaired its International Student Financial Aid Committee.

With Dashnyam at the helm for the 2009-10 school year, the group has won the administration's attention and support. The Office of Admission and the Global Student Council now partner to train international students to host admissions information sessions at high schools in their home countries. In addition, the University's Development Office is working with the council to identify potential donors to support international student financial aid.

In the upcoming year, the council will begin the U.Va. International Connect Project, which Dashnyam describes as "an attempt to bring together, under one roof, delegates from all the different ethnic or international CIOs on Grounds." He hopes the project will facilitate collaboration in hosting multicultural events and developing policies and programs beneficial to the whole of the international student community.

Parke Muth, U.Va.'s director of international admission, has called Dashnyam "indefatigable" in his efforts on behalf of international students.

"When he gets up in front of a room, he is incredibly organized and prepared," Muth said. "His negotiation skills and his consistent efforts, semester after semester, meeting after meeting, have really made this an issue that is moving."

Gowher Rizvi, U.Va.'s vice provost for international affairs, lauded Dashnyam's "extraordinary dynamism."

"What he did in his four years has brought tremendous energy to galvanize the University's efforts internationally," he said.

Dashnyam said the Global Student Council has made satisfying headway in its first three semesters.

"Since I helped to launch GSC, I feel proud of the fact that I was able to make some progress," he said. "Being patient, getting things done – you can be discouraged, but be persistent. Go after a concrete goal."

Looking ahead, he is hopeful international students will continue to see good come from the council.

"If people are able to look back five years from now and say that I was able to make some gradual but significant changes, that is very valuable," he said.

Dashnyam is conscious, too, of the change the University has wrought in him. Spending four years here "made me realize from an early stage that I am who I am. I am in control of my life and the impact I make here."
Next year, Dashnyam plans to work for a political consulting firm in Washington, D.C., and he hopes later to study international law. He plans to stay involved at U.Va. both as an active member of its local alumni clubs and as a resource for future student leaders of the Global Student Council and other groups.

— By Pat Casey