Bringing together Dragons from around the world: Fumi Cheever's journey to MSUM

Fumi Cheever had the grit of a Dragon long before she joined Minnesota State University Moorhead. It was evident when her parents didn’t support their Japanese daughter studying abroad in the United States.

“I had a dream [to study abroad] and was determined. In a way, I wasn’t truthful with my parents,” says Fumi Cheever, director of Global Engagement at MSU Moorhead. “I told my parents I was going to community college for two years. It’s been 23!”

She didn’t deliberately mislead them. However, her experience as an international student inspired a career change from radio deejay to working with international students. With a degree in speech communication focusing on intercultural communications, she was challenged to find her first professional job because she didn’t have a permanent residency card.

“I applied to many jobs in this field, but nobody looked at me because of my visa status. I had experience as an international student advisor but no professional experience,” Cheever says.

She struggled, as many of her international students do. She worked at Delta Airlines and a children’s enrichment program, determined to forge a career path in higher education. She met her future husband when she was an undergraduate, and then they moved to Michigan, where she earned a master’s degree in higher education. She volunteered with multicultural organizations to gain relevant credentials, demonstrating her commitment to the field. She worked with underrepresented populations and immigrants as well as international students at a local college and community members hosting multicultural events. Cheever’s persistence paid off when she finally landed her first professional job working with international students at Eastern Kentucky University.

L to R: Alhaji Amadu Bah (Sierra Leone) Wuraola Abike Olaitan (Nigeria), Fumi Cheever, Onyedika Anthonia Okoye (Nigeria), Kanako Imamura (Japan), and Teriha Hakata (Japan).

Connecting students and the community

“When students come to see me, I understand their challenges and excitement because I experienced the same 23 years ago,” Cheever says. “Yet, I feel like it was yesterday. That experience helps me make an instant connection with students.”

International student enrollment on U.S. college campuses has declined in recent years. The pandemic, visa delays, rising tuition and restrictive immigration policies have driven new international student enrollment down by 72 percent. (APM reports)

Before 2018, MSUM had 415 international students from 52 countries; today, it’s 153 students from 45 countries. Cheever says the numbers are slowly increasing, attributing the gain to word of mouth and strong and unique programs at MSUM, such as nursing, film and animation.

“Our students and faculty are promoting MSUM to their family and friends. I’m truly thankful for their efforts.”

MSUM’s size helps students adjust, and that is why Cheever chose MSUM. Her work entails international admission and recruitment, immigration advising, student support and programming, education abroad programs, and internationalization on campus.

“The number of students at MSUM is very comfortable and lets me get to know students personally. That's where my heart is – building connections with our students and the community,” she says.

For example, MSUM’s Career Development Center and the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce hosted a business panel discussion sharing information on how to hire international students as interns, with local business leaders sharing their experiences adding international students to their teams.

The top three majors international students study at MSUM include Nursing, Computer Science and Business Administration. Pictured L to R: Sabrina Qian (China), Fumi Cheever, and Alhaji Amadu Bah (Sierra Leone).

“We hope to continue collaboration to educate the community on how our students can fill the gaps, Cheever said.

International students enrich the MSUM student experience and Moorhead-Fargo. “They bring color and vibrancy to the community,” Cheever says. “They can learn from us, and we can learn from them.”

MSUM sponsors annual community events such as Celebration of Nations, where international students share information about their home countries through food, art and entertainment; cultural events such as African and Asian nights; or Tri-College University networking opportunities.

“It’s rewarding to meet students from around the world,” Cheever says. “Even though I’ve not been to many countries, I have experienced much of the world through our students’ eyes.”

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