The KAIST Herald met with Shakil Muhammad, current president and alumnus of International Students and Scholars Academic Council (ISSAC) KAIST to discuss their motives, vision, and the various possibilities that lie ahead.
Can you tell us why ISSAC was established?
The founding team of ISSAC KAIST, headed by Ms. Jauwairia Nasir and Mr. Aamir Malik, realized that the only channel of representation for the international community had been KAIST International Students Association (KISA), which, as you can tell from the name, leaves out the scholars and alumni who are as core to the international community as any student. Since the international students’ representation through KISA mostly included doing leisurely activities or events like sports festivals, food events, and so on, there was a lack of academic endeavors. The international community is in need of some programs that are academically beneficial, such as programming workshops, soft skills seminars, mini conferences, and a lot more. So then, ISSAC’s founders decided to come up with the proposal to launch ISSAC KAIST, which would fill the gap of academic needs and works for all the three elements including KAIST international students, researchers (scholars), and alumni, thus bringing them together on one platform.
So, what has ISSAC been up to so far?
We have organized three programming workshops: two Java and one Python. And we also had two trips up to now:one to Samsung this year, and another to Hyundai last year. This semester we have three events planned. The first is a homecoming, second is an industrial trip, and the last one is yet another workshop on basic Python programming. The homecoming is a gathering for alumni since ISSAC KAIST also encompasses international alumni members. In due time, we plan to appoint alumni representatives in various continents as well as countries because ISSAC’s plan is to create a global network. And to that end, we will be doing collaboration with the KAIST Alumni Association.
To prepare students for industry, we have plans to encourage students to join hackathons and job fairs at KAIST as well as all around Korea in collaboration with ISK, the KAIST Startup Team, and the National Information Promotion Agency (NIPA). Moreover, ISSAC KAIST will arrange English and Korean language classes for the next semester. We are unable to do it this semester because we have already finalized our budget for this semester before it kicked off.
In the new student council system, international students are paying the membership fee but the people representing them are not international. Do you plan to take the KISA route and arrange for a merger with USC and take the mantle?
There are separate undergraduate and graduate student councils. ISSAC KAIST includes all international students — graduate and undergraduate — in addition to scholars and alumni — scholars meaning researchers. Scholars were not part of any activities because, technically, they are not students and they have not been part of any student community even though they play important roles academically.
The second point is regarding the fees. ISSAC KAIST is not going to take that kind of route right now. Making an environment where people can learn and share their experience as volunteers is more important to us. And if some office in KAIST has funds, we can get the funds from it or we will generate our own funds.
Are you willing to create a petition or proposal to restructure or change KISA?
We don’t have any problems with KISA. We find that they are not fulfilling the academic requirements of international students, and the things they are doing are fun activities only. I hope they try to make it a serious place where people feel like they can contribute as well as learn new things. People who work under KISA should be able to say, “We are actually learning something here.”
Also, I think this question should be forwarded to KISA itself, if they are open for restructuring, because it’s their success or failure. As an international student, personally, I think that I am also part of KISA. In my opinion, they need to be a little more open to suggestions. We had offered collaborative work with them in the past. But unfortunately, they weren’t up for it. However, we are going to offer them more activities to work together to make KAIST students’ lives much better.
So what kind of activities do you mean?
We will ask them to organize a few activities together, such as homecomings, and make them more beneficial to students and KAIST. By collaboration, we may incorporate their best practices into our project and expect KISA can also learn from ISSAC KAIST.
So why do you think they didn’t want to be open when you approached them with these kinds of ideas?
They listened to an extent. During our last trip, their president joined us, and he was quite happy with how it went. Maybe in the past, ISSAC KAIST was new to them and they didn’t understand our role as another international students association so they didn’t feel like there ought to be a collaboration. However, we have kept engaging them. We also want to be in tune with their planning because we don’t want to replicate activities. It is our wish to work with them but we don’t want to repeat what they are doing.
Lastly, is there anything else you want to say to our readers?
ISSAC KAIST is open. It’s for you, and it is not only for the days you are here in school; it will be part of you after your schools days are over. We will prepare you to send you to the job market because we are looking forward to organizing soft skills seminars, job fairs, and hackathons for internationals together with recruiting companies. Another thing I want to emphasize is that we are international by name but we are absolutely open to every KAIST community member. I want to say join us, join our events, and bring any innovative academic or startup ideas that we can do together. We are willing to work with you on your ideas as well.