Over the past three years, Mercer University has expanded its recruitment of students throughout the world and this fall welcomed its first international student to receive the prestigious Stamps Scholarship.
Assistant Vice President for Global Engagement Felix Jelen is one of the staff members working to advance Mercer’s status as a global university. This includes improving study abroad offerings and international student recruitment initiatives for the Macon and Atlanta campuses.
“Historically, Mercer hasn’t had a ton of inbound internationalization,” Jelen said. “But it’s been very good at offering outbound programs like Mercer On Mission and study abroad.”
Since Jelen joined Mercer’s Office of Global Engagement in 2020, the University has expanded its geographic footprint. It currently enrolls 283 international students from 63 countries across its campuses, up from 203 students and 32 countries. Including 210 recently enrolled immigrant and green card students, the number of represented countries increases to 85, Jelen said.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Mercer’s international student numbers continued to rise, he said.
“For an institution of our size, this is very impressive and speaks to our primary vision of a global university that is a diverse community of like-minded scholars,” said Jelen, who worked for 16 years in international education before coming to Mercer.
One of the largest incentives for international students to come to the University is the scholarship opportunities Mercer provides, including the Presidential Scholars, Heritage Scholars and Stamps Scholars programs.
“These scholarships have been pivotal in expanding global access and diversity,” Jelen said.
The Stamps scholarship covers the full cost of tuition, fees, and room and board, and it funds enrichment activities like research, study abroad and leadership opportunities. It’s a big reason why freshman Rajwol Chapagain is at Mercer.
Chapagain, a computer science major from Kathmandu, Nepal, was named a Stamps Scholar in the fall of 2022.
“Nepal is a developing country,” Chapagain said. “So most of the people there have economic hardships that they’re going through, and my family is no different. One of the things that was a deciding factor in my college decision was whether or not a university would allow international students who have scholarships, and Mercer was one of those universities.”
The Stamps Scholars Program is highly competitive, Jelen said. No more than 10 students at Mercer are awarded the scholarship annually.
Being named a Stamps Scholar “was surreal because I knew the chances were extremely slim and that it was a really coveted scholarship,” Chapagain said. “It seemed like all the odds were against me, but I’m really glad I was awarded. It is what has made my education here possible. Otherwise, I would not have been able to come to the U.S.”
He became interested in Mercer after creating a spreadsheet of about 400 universities in the U.S. that offered a degree in computer science.
One by one, he went through each, seeing which would offer international scholarships. He narrowed it down to about 10 to 20 schools, reaching out to each university’s admissions counselors to make his decision.
“Mercer’s environment really attracted me because of my admissions counselor, Beth Gonzalez,” Chapagain said. “She guided me throughout the whole process like she was my own aunt. That made me realize that she might be the microcosm of the entire University community. She gave me a good glimpse of how I would be treated here. It was kind of a leap of faith.”
Prior to enrolling at Mercer, Chapagain had never flown in a plane, let alone left the country. Everything from the culture, education system and time zones were different. Once he arrived in Georgia, however, his transition was smooth.
“From the time I landed in the airport, my admissions counselor was there to pick me up,” Chapagain said. “She showed me my room and took care of me, along with the other faculty members here. I slowly became accustomed to the food and classes from there.”
Chapagain hopes to remain at Mercer, focusing on his academics and building strong relationships along the way. He plans to use his computer science degree to pursue video game development in the future.
“About two or three years ago, I first got interested in programming,” he said. “I started looking for ways to apply that, and game development seemed like a nice overlap between the logical side of programming and the creative aspects.”
In his spare time, Chapagain said he loves to play his favorite video game, Valve’s “Team Fortress 2,” and learn about Tibetan meditation and practices that originated around Buddhism and other Eastern cultures.
Jelen sees the value international students can provide when given the right resources at Mercer.
“Imagine recruiting a biomedical engineering student through our Mercer On Mission project in Vietnam and then having that student go back to their country after graduation and be able to take what they have learned forward,” said Jelen, referring to the program that provides prosthetics to amputees. “That is a game-changing vision when you think about the total impact we can make in changing the world for the better.”