Katie Dunagan is the Assistant Director of International Admissions at the University of Wisconsin Madison.
Founded in 1848 when Wisconsin was incorporated as a state, the University of Wisconsin Madison is the flagship campus of the 13-university system across the state.
It is now one of the Top ranked Public Universities in the US especially in Engineering and Business.
Hi-Fives from the Podcast are:
Episode Title: Katie Dunagan, Int’l Admissions at UW Madison: Flagship campus, Wisconsin Idea and the Isthmus.
Episode summary introduction: Founded in 1848, the University of Wisconsin Madison is the flagship campus of the 13-university system across the state. It boasts of highly ranked programs in Engineering and Business.
Katie Dunagan, Assistant Director of International Admissions at UW Madison gives us her views and insights on the school, students and applications.
In particular, we discuss the following with Katie:
Topics discussed in this episode:
Our Guest: Katie Dunagan is the Assistant Director of International Admissions at the University of Wisconsin Madison. Katie has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications-Public Relations and French, from University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and a Master’s degree in American Studies from the University of Alabama.
Memorable Quote: “They may discover us [UW Madison] because of our Ranking, but they are learning about that ‘fit’, how they see themselves fitting on campus.” Katie Dunagan on what Int’l Students look for now.
Episode Transcript: Please visit this episode’s transcript.
Transcript of the episode’s audio.
Hi! Welcome to this episode of College Matters. Alma Matters.
We podcast, Personal College Stories, and All Things College. Check us out and subscribe at “almamatters.io, forward slash podcasts” (almamatters.io/podcasts).
You know, to give, to give it some perspective. When I started in the office, there was maybe three of us that focused on international students. And now we're up to a team of six. And we receive about 40,000 applications year round for all of our, all of our applicants.
And so we've grown and I've really enjoyed getting to meet the students, meet the parents as we're traveling. And so this year has been a little bit challenging in that aspect and that we don't get to connect the way that we did.
Founded in 1848 when Wisconsin was incorporated as a state, the University of Wisconsin Madison is the flagship campus of the 13-university system across the state.
It is now one of the Top ranked Public Universities in the US especially in Engineering and Business.
On our podcast today, we are privileged to have Katie Dunagan, Asst Director of Int’l Admissions.
Katie has been focused on International Students for over a decade as she and her team shape the international student body at UW Madison every year.
Before we jump into the podcast, here are the High-Fives, Five Highlights from the podcast:
[About UW Madison]
We are very unique in terms of our location, we are actually located about five blocks from the state capitol. So our physical location is unique. Because we are in the heart of kind of downtown Madison, the city itself is only about 200,000 people. So it's pretty comfortable in terms of size. And, and quite picturesque because we're on an isthmus between two lakes. So it's a very beautiful location, but also lends itself to having a traditional kind of American college experience.
[Why Int’l Admissions]
Yes, I studied abroad as an undergraduate. And so for me, I had the experience of being in a country where there I had studied the language, but I would not say that I was 100%, fluent, and had the same feeling that many students have in terms of adjusting to a completely different country, a different educational system. And when I came back home, I really sought out connecting with international students because I wanted to make sure that they were feeling connected to the campus and feeling connected to their college experience.
[What UW is looking for in Applicants]
Wisconsin was founded on this notion called the Wisconsin Idea, which is where we want our students to take what they've learned in the classroom and apply it beyond those four walls. And so we're looking for that in our applicants, we're looking for students who, you know, they can do the work in the classroom, but we really want them to be influencing our campus community, our states, the world.
[Advice for 2022 Applicants]
What we came up with in terms of advice is, don't be afraid to reach out, you know, your, your counselor is still there, you might not be located physically with that, but they're still a strong resource to use. And they're very knowledgeable about the institutions that you might be applying to, including ours. And stay connected with us as well. So we've actively worked to put our profiles on the admissions website so that way, students can find us and reach out to us with, you know, specific questions or concerns that they might have.
[UW Financial Aid]
A full, full funded scholarship called the King-Morgridge Scholars Program, and that is available to students from kind of targeted regions of the world, which would include Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America, South Asia, and it's for students who have an interest in kind of poverty alleviation or returning to their home countries or home regions and sort of in a position where they can give back in a large way.
Venkat Raman 4:27
Now, I'm sure you want to hear the entire podcast with Katie. So without further ado, over to Katie Dunagan!
Venkat Raman 4:35
Venkat Raman 4:40
Hi, Welcome to our Podcasts, College Matters. Alma Matters. Thank you for making the time here.
Yeah, sure. Great.
So, as we chatted a little bit before, you know our audience is primarily aspiring international students, and actually, just as of yesterday, we reached about 50 countries in the world. So we were pretty excited that our guests are actually going yeah, to different parts of the world.
Yeah, I mean, you know, slowly but surely. So that's good.
And so we're really trying to bring as much information and stories and personal experiences to the table for these people, for these students so that they have the benefit of best possible information.
So thank you for doing this. And I think they'll appreciate what you have to say. I'm sure.
So maybe Katie, the best way to get started as maybe, maybe we can start with a little bit about University of Wisconsin Madison, and then we can make our way through the rest of the conversation around admissions and students and all that good stuff.
Sure. That sounds wonderful.
Venkat Raman 6:04
Cool. So we know what's probably the best way, is for you to talk about University of Wisconsin Madison, what, what kind of university it is and what you're looking for, and maybe a little bit of history, that'd be awesome.
Yeah, so I'm very happy to do that.
Yeah, so the University of Wisconsin Madison is the oldest and largest state university in Wisconsin. So we were founded in 1848, which is actually the same year that Wisconsin became a state. So yeah, we were kind of the foundational University, we have 13 system campuses.
So students, when they're looking at us might find other university of wisconsin locations, but we are that main kind of flagship campus. Sure. We are very unique in terms of our location, we are actually located about five blocks from the state capitol. So our physical location is unique. Because we are in the heart of kind of downtown Madison, the city itself is only about 200,000 people. So it's pretty comfortable in terms of size.
And, and quite picturesque, because we're on an isthmus between two lakes. So it's a very beautiful location, but also lends itself to having a traditional kind of American college experience. In terms of our student body, we have just over 30,000 undergraduate students, so it is a bit of a larger campus. And we're about 9% International with students from over 120 different countries and, and that that number has actually gone up. And I'm really excited about that, given the that international students are sort of my expertise. Sure.
And then, you know, ratings and rankings are often important. And a lot of students find us that way. Because we are ranked, I think 26th in the world right now, and our business school is quite popular, we’re a top producer of Fortune 500 CEOs.
Engineering is also quite popular on our campus, we're in the top 15 for the College of Engineering overall. And we have a nuclear engineering program that's ranked second in the United States. So we have very strong academics, unique location, we're in the heart of the Midwest, the people are very warm and accommodating.
And I always tell students that, you know, coming from warmer climates Be prepared because we, we have all four seasons, and they usually get pretty excited about winter, many students haven't seen much snow, they will be exposed to that and their time on our campus.
Venkat Raman 8:44
Maybe a little bit about yourself, I mean, you know, how did you get into college admissions, always fascinated by folks like you who are shaping every class and you know, every university? So, what is it...
Sure. Yeah, so, um, I guess a bit of background about me, I've been in admissions, specifically international admissions for about 10 years now. Prior to that, I actually worked in study abroad. So I was doing the reverse where I was sending American students abroad to have an international experience.
And I kind of wanted to broaden my expertise in the field of international education and thought about the impact of international students coming to the US and how, how that created such a unique experience for a lot of American students who don't get the chance to leave and how that can often be a life changing experience on both sides.
So I interviewed for a position with the University of Wisconsin, I, I'm from this area, so I, I was moving back at the time.
And candidly, I had to present on the education system of China and had no understanding of it at the time, but dove right in and it's just been, it's been great. I've been, I enjoyed so much learning the broad range of educational systems.
You know, to give, to give it some perspective, when I started in the office, there was maybe three of us that focused on international students. And now we're up to a team of six. And we receive about 40,000 applications year round for all of, our all of our applicants.
And so we've grown and I've really enjoyed getting to meet the students, meet the parents as we're traveling. And so this year has been a little bit challenging in that aspect that we don't get to connect the way that we'd like. But, you know, it's still rewarding and challenging work and always happy to see students when they, when they are able to come to campus.
Venkat Raman 10:44
Was there any particular reason that you kind of moved towards international or were attracted by international students or admissions?
Yeah, I guess I studied abroad as an undergraduate. And so for me, I had the experience of being in a country where, there I had studied the language, but I would not say that I was 100%, fluent, and had the same feeling that many students have in terms of adjusting to a completely different country, a different educational system.
And when I came back home, I really sought out connecting with international students, because I wanted to make sure that they were feeling connected to the campus and feeling connected to their college experience.
So that's, I think that's sort of what drove me towards admissions, was an interest in, you know, making University study accessible for, for all students really, for the challenge of learning about different cultures and how they interact with the American system and American culture in general.
But also, I've had some great experiences where I've gotten to be a representative of kind of American culture, and hopefully have, have done that strongly, in a positive way.
Venkat Raman 12:01
Now, you mentioned that currently, they're like, 9% of the body is a student bodies, international students. What was it when you started, what was what was the number then? Percentage?
Yeah, yeah, we were at, I think, around 6%, when I started, okay. Yeah. And so we're consistently looking to grow our international population, and we're looking to diversify the population. So we're happy to see that that number is going up.
Venkat Raman 12:32
We can sort of talk a little bit about what your experience has been with international students over the last decade that you've been there.
And, and then also, what you're looking for, in these students are, you know, and maybe also some, give it a little bit of color with how things have changed, maybe.
Right. So I think when I started, it was students just sort of applied.
Well, I guess this is common across the board, students, students sort of seek out universities based on the ranking. And I know that rankings are very important for international students and their families.
And so I think what's changed over the years is that a student might discover us because of our ranking, but really, they're learning about that fit or that, like how they see themselves fitting on campus. And so the conversations have changed a little bit. They've changed from, you know, tell me about scholarships and computer science to discussions around mental health support for students, and what services are there to help students integrate onto campus. And, you know, we're always asked why they should choose us over another institution. And, and we just talked them through that fit piece, you know, really imagining how you fit on this campus, you know, what you're trying to get out of your college experience.
And so I think those conversations are becoming more prevalent than just sort of learning about the institution, because there's a chance that if they've heard of us, they may apply or they're likely to apply. So we're really trying, we're really trying to shift the conversation more towards, you know, if not us, that's fine, too. As long as you find your best fit.
In terms of what we're looking for, in a student, you had mentioned that we're looking for a student who is not afraid of a challenge.
So, you know, they, they're in a challenging curriculum, they're doing quite well in their studies. But they're also active and engaged. And that could be through external activities. It could be through volunteer work, it can be through community participation.
Wisconsin was founded on this notion called the Wisconsin Idea, which is where we want our students to take what they've learned in the classroom and apply it beyond those four walls. And so we're looking for that in our applicants. We're looking for students who, you know, they can do the work in the classroom, but we really want, want them to be influencing our campus community, our states, the world.
And so we're looking for a student with, you know, a strong sense of, of self of being willing to explore, but still being up to an academic challenge.
Venkat Raman 15:17
Well, that sounds fair. Now, how, how have things changed? I mean, you know, thing, you know, the word, obviously, students are changing all the time. some perspective on how much our students have changed since maybe from 2010?
Mm hmm. Oh, well, so when I started in 2010, we actually weren't out recruiting as much, we've made more of an effort to be more visible, and really, in diverse areas.
So, again, I think the conversations are the biggest things that have changed with students, and connecting with parents more, you know, we realize that parents are the decision drivers for a lot of students.
And so we want to make sure that the parents have an understanding of the safety and the security and what resources are there for their son or daughter, while also communicating as directly with the student to, you know, to let them know that we're here to support them, that college is more than just academics, of course, it's important to be strong academically and do well while you're here. But really being open to that kind of Liberal Arts focus.
Venkat Raman 16:33
So what kind of outreach are you doing? You know, I mean, you've been doing typically, pre-COVID days, what kind of stuff were you able to do?
Yeah, so pre COVID, we would travel in country. So our team of, was the team of five, we were traveling to India, to other parts of Southeast Asia to China, Japan, Korea, South America, Africa, we were really broadening our reach to make sure that students knew about the university.
And if they knew about us, they had a chance to connect with us one to one. Because we're a large institution, you know, we don't want them to feel like they would just be another face in the crowd, we want them to know that, you know, you can make a bigger University feel like a small campus.
And so being able to connect with those students face to face was, I think, the primary and most important mode of outreach that we've done. We've done some events where we've partnered with other offices on our campus, to speak with students about issues around safety and security. We've worked with our alumni in the country to host events and host speaker series as well.
And we've, we've been able to do some of that virtually, you know, moving into this COVID space, but really the heart of it was being in country being visible and letting students know that, you know, they matter to us.
Venkat Raman 18:05
Sure, sure. And so when you go to these countries, you do, you are able to meet with the families. And if you do sessions, I mean, I'm assuming these are some small breakout kind of sessions that you might end up doing, in addition to seminars type of things.
Yeah, so we we've done everything from school visits, where, you know, we, we might go directly into a school and meet with students and counselors there. We hope we've hosted sessions just for school counselors in a particular region, to talk about issues that they might be facing with their students and to kind of give them updates.
And then we have hosted some, some sessions for our admitted students, and to answer some of their questions as they're making that final admission decision. And so it's kind of been a mix of, kind of seminar style presentations to school visits. And we've also traveled in tandem with some of our big 10 peers.
So we've done a little bit of small group travel, to kind of show students the broad range of options that they have in the US.
Venkat Raman 19:16
Now, I'm guessing you get a lot of questions about COVID these days. So maybe before we jump into that, how was Madison able to, It's I guess it's ongoing, deal with COVID-19 and through fall and now, spring, what has the general response mean?
Yeah, so at UW, we had to pivot pretty quickly. I think that our, our office, the Office of Admissions, went fully virtual in March, which I think is what a lot of things sort of locked down.
So at that point, you know, students were being offered a full virtual, kind of suite of courses and kind of allowed to stay in Madison should they choose. I think, a handful of international students stayed offered to stay. And our International Student Services Office worked with them to make sure that they were in status.
If they had any challenges financially, they could request some support through our international student services. And so we really made sure that those students were messaged early, so that way, if they needed to get home, if they needed to book a flight, and get out of here, they were able to do that.
Faculty were, you know, really great at pivoting into the online space, I think it was quite a shock for all of us. Wisconsin is traditionally more of like a brick and mortar institution where there's very few online courses. And so to translate all of our faculty to an online environment was, I'm sure, you know, a large feat, but it's been pretty, pretty successful.
And they instituted extensive [COVID-19] testing. So for fall, students were allowed to make the choices to if they wanted to return to a hybrid model where there might be some in person classes, but they would be smaller in size and held in a larger room for security.
The labs were changed a little bit as well to make sure that they met safety kind of measurements, or students could remain fully online. And so the big question, of course, was always around international students and the visa component. But luckily, the you know, they were allowed to remain in the US and be online. So it was an option across the board for all students, and moving towards a model where students could opt for a pass fail grade. So that way, they wouldn't be penalized as a result of all of these things going on with COVID.
Looking forward to spring, we've instituted a safer badgers app is what it's called. And so our faculty and staff and students who are returning to campus do have to do frequent testing. And so they can actually be tested in a variety of different locations on campus, they get the results back within 24 hours, it's trapped within an app so that way, they are safe to enter the buildings, and they can track their negative tests as well as be notified if they they've had an instance of exposure.
So if a student maybe had been exposed in a lab, and they weren't aware of it, they would be notified through that app as well.
And then a lot of the mental health resources for students has transitioned online to I think the biggest negative thing that we've been hearing from students, you know, across the board, has been just the lack of social interaction, or they felt that that's been a big challenge for them. And I can totally understand that.
And so, you know, they've, our Health Services Office has been really great about transitioning their services online, and reaching out to students who, you know, may be in crisis, or might need to kind of talk through and get some additional kind of support in that way.
Venkat Raman 23:18
Now, what fraction of the students came back to campus and fall for the hybrid model?
Yeah, I mean, unfortunately, I don't have kind of that data at the right. Okay. Okay.
But, but I can tell you, the the vast majority of of international students started online. And I'm talking about kind of the new incoming class.
So yeah, we did see, you know, students who still wanted to study at the University of Wisconsin, and we worked with them in terms of getting them to start online have virtual support. Our advisors are really great. They're trained in depth on advising students from a variety of different academic backgrounds. And so they really worked to make sure that the student was taking a course load that was, you know, keeping them on track for their studies, but also was meeting their needs for their time zone.
You know, we definitely didn't want a student taking a class at 2 or 3am. And expecting that they're going to get, you know, an A. We, we really work to make sure that we were being as accommodating as we could for those students.
Ah, people keep talking about, I don't know if it was entirely COVID or not, but there are lots of there's a lot of impact and some temporary some probably longer lasting.
So how would you sort of counsel or advice applicants for the 2022 sessions and onwards with their college application? I mean, I know there's the test optional, SAT just changed a whole bunch of things. And there's always something new every day. So...
Yeah, it's it's been a crazy, crazy landscape. For we we actually went test optional through spring 2023 as a response to COVID, but also acknowledging the fact that test is a barrier for a lot of American students as well.
And so we are actually working with our education lab on campus to do kind of a more reflective study on this, these next upcoming years of application review. And really, if that test score impacted our review at all.
I have to say, you know, this is my 10th year, almost 11 going into admissions, and I've really liked not having it, I've really enjoyed it being test optional, I find that I'm getting a lot more from the context of the students essays, from those letters of recommendation from from teachers who are working with them more directly than then I'm having contact with them.
And, and so for I think, going forward for students who are looking at applying to test optional institutions, you know, really communicating in those essays, I think, is important. We don't do any kind of interviews.
So for us, the essay is where we really get to know the students. And so really taking your time to to speak to your fit for the academic institution that you're applying to why you're interested, you know, there's a wide range of options in the United States. And so why are you applying to that particular institution?
And kind of speaking to your fit for it? And I think that's kind of the important pieces that we have been pulling out alongside academic preparation.
Venkat Raman 26:46
Now, now is, does, you know, a question I always have is, is test optional - Does it make it harder on folks like you to evaluate, evaluating applications? Or do you think it's about the same?
Well, I I really, I don't think it's been harder. I think, if anything, it's been less of a barrier. Okay, no,
Venkat Raman 27:13
Yeah, we we don't we do holistic review. So in our particular case, you know, it's a small part of the evaluation in the past, but not having it at all hasn't really negatively impacted the applicants from my experience. And I think my other team members would say the same. I think if anything, we're looking more closely at that students fit for the campus, and the experiences that they would bring as an international student here.
Venkat Raman 27:42
Fair enough. How’s the SAT subject test going to impact things? Is that a big deal? And the fact that they're no longer going to conduct it?
No, because we actually never required the Subject Tests at all. Okay, so no impact here.
Venkat Raman 27:59
Okay. So, maybe, I thought, a good way to close as your advice to international students. And also, I don't know if Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin gives a lot of financial aid. So around those what, what kind of advice would you have for the international students who may need to think about that?
Yeah, so I think from our perspective, I did a poll for my team, because they miss seeing the international students on the road.
And I think collectively, what we came up with in terms of advice is, don't be afraid to reach out, you know, your, your counselor is still there, you might not be located physically with them, but they're still a strong resource to use. And they're very knowledgeable about the institutions that you might be applying to including ours.
And stay connected with us as well. So we've actively worked to put our profiles on the admissions website, so that way, students can find us and reach out to us with, you know, specific questions or concerns that they might have. And you know, we are seeing an uptick in that and we really appreciate having that direct communication.
So, reach out, ask lots of questions. Know that we are being as flexible as we can. We are a large institution, many state institutions in the US, like ours report to a board of regents who sometimes sets requirements and so we are trying to be as flexible as we can given the circumstances.
So, you know, in some instances because of COVID, and school closures and kind of continuous lockdowns, we've been flexible, and how we've been accepting documentation. But we can't be, always be as flexible as what a student or a parent would like. So just kind of have some patience there. Know that we're there to support you and Plan ahead.
So, you know, with things constantly changing, be aware of deadlines. Make sure that you're asking for letters of recommendation from your counselor in a reasonable timeframe. Make sure that you're looking at the International website, because a lot of admissions officers will put specific information in there as to what we might need. And so just having that general awareness is helpful for us as we try to work through reading all of those applications.
Venkat Raman 30:34
And what about financial aid?
Yeah, so financial aid, it's kind of tricky, because, again, with US institutions, we all vary just a little bit.
Yeah, at University of Wisconsin Madison, we are, we don't award any scholarships upon admission. So when a student gets their offer of admission, they won't at the same time get a financial offer.
So international students, we would direct them to our scholarships website, it's called WISH, Wisconsin Scholarship Hub. And all of the different scholarships that are open to students are listed there. And they're often housed in the different schools and colleges. So for a student who might be interested in engineering, they can actually see all of the different financial options that would be open to them. And most of them have a deadline right around February 1. So that kind of coincides with the application deadline, which goes back to kind of staying on top of those things and things and being prepared.
I am happy to say that we are opening up a little bit in terms of our financial kind of offers or scholarships for international students. Next, Next year, we will be offering a scholarship that's being supported through Western Union. Okay, it's a small kind of one time offer, but we'll be posting that information on our admissions website as soon as.
And then we do have a full, full funded scholarship called the King-Morgridge Scholars Program. And that is available to students from kind of targeted regions of the world, which would include Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America, South Asia, and it's for students who have an interest in kind of poverty alleviation, or returning to their home countries or home regions and sort of in a position where they can give back in a in a large way. So sustainable energy, working with underprivileged children in remote areas.
You know, it's it's open in terms of whatever student would want to major in. And it is a full-funded scholarship that covers everything from airfare through a nice winter jacket that you would need for winters here. And it's for six students per year. So it's pretty competitive. But we have some really wonderful students as a result of it.
Venkat Raman 32:55
That sounds really great. That sounds really great. So, um, so we're nearing sort of the end of our podcast here, I, what I would like to do is, you know, put a link to your site, I mean, to the admissions page, where you have people asking questions, if they have anything that they want to sign up for.
And so I was reaching out to you offline and get those links and put that as part of our notes here.
And I really, really appreciate you taking the time and sharing your thoughts and the outlook for the school for the coming year, I mean, years now. And so, you know, I'm hopeful we can chat again and get a little deeper on a couple of things as we go forward. But for now, thank you. Take care. Be safe.
Thank you. You too.
Venkat Raman 33:53
Okay. Bye Katie.
Hope you enjoyed this podcast with Katie Dunagan, Asst Director Int’l Admissions at UW Madison.
I hope you got a better understanding of UW Madison and the opportunities it offers as well as what it is looking for in their students.
Do explore UW Madison.
In addition, we have provided a link in the Episode Notes to request more information from the Admissions at UW Madison.
For questions to the guest or comments on this podcast, please email podcast at almamatters.io [email@example.com].
Thank you all so much for listening to our podcast today.
Transcripts for this podcast and previous podcasts are on almamatters.io forward slash podcasts [almamatters.io/podcasts].
Till we meet again, take care and be safe.
University of Wisconsin Madison, Admissions, SAT, International Students, Pandemic, COVID-19, Wisconsin Idea