By Lindsey Feingold
When Mani Vedma, a second- year telecommunications graduate student, arrived at Dulles Airport in January of 2015 to see snow everywhere, he had no way to get to the university and no idea what to do.
After this experience, as the director of Student Affairs for Develop Empower and Synergize India, Vedma volunteered to help coordinate with the Graduate Student Government to expand the free shuttle service from the airport to the university for students. Before the expansion, the GSG operated its shuttle service on fewer days, and DESI provided a smaller shuttle service of its own.
The 40-person shuttle will pick up students from Dulles International Airport three times a day — 10:15 a.m., 2:15 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. — on seven days in August, and it will transport students to their choice of Stamp Student Union, Seven Springs Apartments, Graduate Hills, Graduate Gardens and Parkside, according to the GSG website.
"I was literally in tears when I arrived last year," Vedma said. "New students shouldn't be in that situation. By having this bigger shuttle service, when students arrive, someone will be there to welcome them and show them how to get to the university, which will hopefully make international students feel more welcomed in this country."
When students arrive at Dulles, all they have to do is look for a volunteer with a black University of Maryland T-shirt and a sign for the University of Maryland in a specific area of the international passengers waiting area, according to the GSG website. Water and snacks will be provided on each shuttle ride.
Xu Han, a representative of the public policy school for GSG, said in an email the service is open to all students, but due to budget constraints, GSG could only afford to provide the service at one airport.
GSG sent out a survey to undergraduate and graduate students in July to determine which dates to provide the shuttle and which airport it would go to, Han, a third-year doctoral student studying public management and finance, said. Almost 80 percent of the students who completed the survey picked Dulles as their inbound destination, he said.
"We would like to offer it at other airports in the future and also offer more shuttles," said GSG Vice President of Graduate Student Affairs Rianna Murray. "In the initial survey, there were people who indicated that they are arriving on different days other than the ones we are offering, but we can't afford to do each day someone is arriving -— people are coming every day in August."
DESI isn't the only student or university-sponsored group to coordinate with GSG for this service. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the graduate school, the Office of Student Affairs and the Office of the Provost are among the groups that have helped sponsor the program, Murray said. In total, GSG has received $2,700 in donations so far from sponsor groups to help fund the shuttle service, which costs $3,850 at the reduced rate the Department of Transportation Services charged GSG.
"It's nice after getting off a long international flight for someone to pick you up and take you where you need to go," Murray said. "If we can save some students from having to endure figuring out their transportation, I think that's great."