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Letter to the editor: Discrimination against mechanical engineering international students through co-op approval

The mechanical engineering department of Clemson University is on the brink of blatant discrimination against graduate students from other countries. They have began to limit access to invaluable internships by forcing international students to enroll in a thesis program. US-born students, in comparison, do not have this requirement, and so they are able to pursue an internship experience without issue. Holding international students’ access to internships hostage unless they pursue a time and work-intensive thesis is harmful and discriminatory against some of the best graduates Clemson has to offer.
The issue arises from the approval process for Curricular Practical Training (CPT). All international students on F1-Visas must have special approval from their academic advisor on this CPT form in order to get an internship. The system is meant to make sure that foreign individuals on F1 Student Visas remain focused on the purpose of their visa — being a student. The form states that the student’s internship relates to their major and that the student is not gaming the system and getting a job under the cover of an F1 Visa.
In Clemson, the mechanical engineering department regularly used to approve half a dozen such internships a semester in respected mechanically-related companies across the upstate and the country. However, they have now added a huge stipulation: in order for the department to approve their CPT request for an internship, the students must enroll in a thesis course. Since domestic students do not need any CPT approval requirements, the department cannot force them to complete a thesis, making the current system discriminatory against the international students who must get CPT approval.
Thesis is an extremely difficult task to complete, and it demands major investments of time and effort. Requiring a mechanical graduate student to complete a thesis on top of working 30+ hours per week at a co-op is an incredibly difficult task, and it is completely unjustified. Most damningly, however, the double-standard between this burdensome requirement for international students when compared to no such requirement for domestic students is blatantly discriminatory.
The mechanical engineering department must stop coercing international students using an unbalanced burden now and in the future. Even if the current batch of students is waived through using some exception, the department cannot apply differing requirements to internships on different students simply because of where they were born. This unfair treatment must cease now.

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