A Brief History of International Students at ISU

The mission of Iowa State University is to “Create, share, and apply knowledge to make Iowa and the world a better place.” In support of this mission, the University offers numerous opportunities for students and faculty to explore and share with the world, but it is hardly a one-way street. People come to Iowa State from all parts of the world to share their experiences and to gain a quality education. It really is remarkable how a small agricultural college established in the 1850s in the middle of Iowa has, over the course of over 150 years, built such a strong international reputation. This reputation has been drawing international students to Iowa State for well over 100 years. Unfortunately, documenting international students and their campus experiences is not an easy task.

Page from the 1906 Bomb with the title, "Our Friends from Foreign Lands"

The 1906 Bomb was one of the first to recognize international students at Iowa State. (The Bomb, LD2548 Io9b)

There are very few sources available to a researcher looking for information on early students at Iowa State, regardless of their country of origin. The first students arrived on campus in 1868, but it would be another 25 years before a yearbook (The Bomb) was published. Student directories were not available either, the earliest available being from 1901. For years prior to that, the college biennial reports and the course catalogs are the best sources for information on individual students. The biennial reports include lists of students for the very earliest years and then, by the 1880s, this information was shifted to the course catalogs. It is helpful that the listings often include the names of the students’ hometowns.

Based on these sources, the earliest evidence of an international student enrolling at Iowa State was in 1882 when F. Nouman of Piramaribo, South America, (this is how the hometown was listed) was enrolled for one year as a “special student,” likely meaning that he was not enrolled in the standard curriculum. In 1898 and 1899 there were several Canadian students who received degrees, though it is curious why a handful of them all appeared on campus at the same time with several of them receiving veterinary degrees. In 1902, two young men from Leon, Mexico, enrolled in the agriculture program, but neither appears to have finished their degrees.

Two interior pages from the 1901 student directory

This page from the 1901 student directory, the earliest one available, gives an idea of the type of information that can be gathered from these resources–provided the abbreviations can be deciphered! (Students’ Directory, LD2538 I58x)

The first international students outside of North America to receive degrees from Iowa State both earned them in 1907. Delfin Sanchez de Bustamante from Argentina received an advanced degree in agronomy and Alfred E. Parr of England graduated with an advanced degree in animal husbandry. We know nothing of what happened to Bustamante following his graduation, but from correspondence in an alumni file we know that after graduating from Iowa State, Parr went on to become the Director of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry in British India.

That same year, Iowa State students began organizing a campus chapter of the Cosmopolitan Club. Officially established on campus in 1908, the purpose of the club, as stated in its constitution, was to encourage friendship, respect, and understanding among men and women of all nationalities. The Cosmopolitan Club attracted students from all backgrounds, but became a home for international students especially.

Please stop by Special Collections and University Archives to view these materials for yourself. Who knows, maybe you will find references to early international students that I missed! If you have materials you would like to donate to the Special Collections and University Archives to help us continue to tell the story of student life on the Iowa State University campus, please contact us. We would be happy to hear from you!

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