This fall, four students from India joined the Class of 2024 and 49 enrolled in graduate programs. Enrollment exceeded goals for both groups, in spite of the upheaval caused by COVID-19. That’s thanks in part to Lehigh’s recent efforts to build a presence on the ground in India.

In 2019, Shishir Upadhyaya was named Lehigh’s first Senior International Advisor, heading up admissions recruitment efforts in the country. Over the last year, he has been developing strategies to allow Lehigh to increase the number of Indian students who are applying to and ultimately enrolling at the university.

“When I first started, the focus was visiting schools and meeting with counselors so they could learn about Lehigh and the programs we offer,” says Upadhyaya. “I wanted to connect with as many counselors as possible.”

Ultimately, he visited 42 schools in person and met 150 counselors.

And then the global outbreak of COVID-19 changed everything.

In March, the U.S. Department of State suspended routine visa services at all embassies and consulates, making it impossible for newly admitted students to get a visa to travel to Lehigh. In July, the Department of Homeland Security issued guidance limiting international students’ ability to take online courses, and then revoked the guidance two weeks later. At the end of that month, Lehigh advised international students who were not already in the U.S. to remain in their home countries for the fall semester and start or continue their education remotely.

Throughout those tumultuous months, the Office of International Affairs (OIA) communicated frequently with newly admitted students and worked across the university to respond quickly to changing circumstances. Courses in the fall semester are offered remotely, in-person and in a hybrid mode. Almost all courses for the fall are accessible remotely, and many graduate programs have moved fully online for the semester. OIA is working closely with international students to ensure that they can make progress in their studies and advising faculty on potential issues like lack of internet access and significant time differences.

Although our international students may be starting (or continuing) their Lehigh studies away from campus, they are all part of our campus community. Throughout the semester, the Global Lehigh Instagram account is sharing posts from students like Tara Sukumar, a first-year student from Coimbatore. And we remain committed to recruiting the brightest students from around the world.

For his part, Upadhyaya is optimistic about the future of recruiting in India. He says that working virtually lets him reach more counselors and students. He has attended virtual events and college fairs hosted by the United States-India Educational Foundation (USIEF), Education USA, QS, Yocket, IC3 and others. He is also supporting Lehigh’s continuing partnership with Ashoka University in Haryana and new collaboration with IIT-Kharagpur.

Lehigh alumni in India are a key part of this outreach. They can help with fairs, meet with interested students, refer students to Lehigh, or even just wear their Lehigh tee shirt so people know where they graduated from.

“In the short term, we will need to continue what we’re doing because it will take at least a year for things to return to normal, or to settle into a new normal,” he says. “Long-term, we’re working to build relationships and connect with the right institutions. We’re doing all the groundwork now and moving to integrate research partnerships and recruiting strategies.”

Upadhyaya is particularly pleased that prospective students are beginning to contact him directly to get more information about Lehigh. “We’re not just going out to seek students (the first stage of investing in a country),” he says. “Lehigh is moving into the second stage – students are starting to seek us.”