International students in these UMD masters programs can’t find on-campus jobs

A handful of students in the robotics master's program, housed in the Office of Advanced Engineering Education, have struggled to find jobs to support their studies. (Evan Kramer/The Diamondback)

Two months before Sanchit Gupta arrived at the University of Maryland in August, he started applying for on-campus jobs.

But with the end of the semester now in sight, the robotics master’s student is still looking. And as an international student on an F-1 visa, Gupta’s options for finding employment off-campus are limited: federal guidelines stipulate that he’d need special permission to do so.

“As soon as I graduate, I’ll have a huge debt on my head if I don’t get a job ASAP,” said Gupta, who is from India.

[Read more: Here’s how UMD is spending the money from its controversial international student fee]

Gupta is one of a handful of international students in the Office of Advanced Engineering Education who have been trying — and failing — to find work for months. Challenges in their search are compounded by the fact that OAEE, which houses the robotics program as well as 19 other professional master’s programs, doesn’t offer departmental assistantships or fellowships.

Not offering this kind of financial support is a common practice for professional master’s programs, which are geared toward students who are already working, graduate school spokesperson Mary Carroll-Mason wrote in an email.

And the OAEE clearly communicates this aspect of its programs on its website and “at each point in the application and admissions process,” George Syrmos, the office’s executive director, wrote in an email.

[Read more: UMD’s international students face unique mental health struggles, Counseling Center says]

Gupta said he remembers reading this when applying for the robotics program.

“That’s fine, I do have sufficient funding,” he said. “But I have that funding because I’ve taken a bank loan.”

In deciding to come to this university, Gupta was banking on finding a part-time job to take care of rent and groceries so he’d just have to worry about paying tuition.

Robotics master’s student Meghana Madarkal is in the same position. Despite starting her search over the summer, she has yet to find employment and has also taken out a loan to pay for her daily expenses.

“I didn’t expect it to be this difficult to find a job around here,” said Madarka, who has applied to assistantships across the campus — including at the Office of Diversity and Inclusion as well as the English, mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering departments.

Last month, Gupta and Madarka emailed Graduate Student Government President Annie Rappeport with a list of testimonials from eight other international students in OAEE who have been struggling to find work.

Miao Yu, director of the Maryland Robotics Center — which is not affiliated with OAEE but offers research opportunities for students in the robotics program — said the center hired nine part-time research assistants this year. She added that robotics graduate students also have the opportunity to land assistantships with one of the more than 40 faculty members who are associated with the center.

First-year students like Gupta and Madarkal might just not be aware of the resources available to them yet, Yu said.

“I won’t say that everybody can find a job, but if you, look, there are opportunities,” she said.

But Gupta has been looking for those opportunities since June. He’s applied for positions at Eppley Recreation Center, McKeldin Library and Xfinity Center and more than 10 assistantships over eJobs, a web portal supervised by this university’s human resources department that lists open positions across the campus.

“I’ve been everywhere,” he said.

And when he reached out to some of the departments after not receiving a reply, he was told that the position posted on eJobs had already been filled.

“All the positions on eJobs require you to write a cover letter, submit a resume, find references,” Gupta said. “And then we get to know that those positions are already filled up, and that’s a little heartbreaking.”

Hiring is decentralized on the campus, UHC Support Center manager Sherry Costello said, so the responsibility of notifying applicants when a position has been filled falls on the department that posted the job.

Still, she said she recognizes how Gupta’s experience with the site would be frustrating. And for now, his search for work continues.

“I thought that UMD is a very good school — which it is — but I also came here hoping I’d get a part-time position,” Gupta said. “That hasn’t worked out yet.”

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