The Bechtel International Center

A history of service to international students and scholars at Stanford University

Bechtel International Center was constructed inside the walls of an old fraternity house, Zeta Psi. Stephen D. Bechtel, then senior director of the Bechtel Corporation, and a former Stanford University trustee, donated major funds for the renovation of the building. Guy Post was a pioneer of the first fund raising effort to convert his former fraternity residence to an International Center. The original building had stood on the site since 1919. During the spring and summer of 1963, major remodeling was completed and the Center, then named the Bechtel International Center, was ready to receive new students in September of that year.

However, the Bechtel International Center did not mark the beginning of Stanford's involvement with international students. In a small way, Stanford began as an international university. When the University's doors opened in 1891, students from fourteen nations were among the registrants. In the years following, homes of local families became gathering places for international visitors and Americans.

It was after 1945 that the trickle of international students studying in the US became a flood. In 1954, there were 324 international students (including graduate, undergraduate and post-doctoral students) at Stanford, in 1967 – 1,013, in 1976 - 1,634 in 1982 – 2,052, in 1989 – 2,477 from 102 countries and in 1993 - 3,227 from 103 countries.

While the statistics above included permanent residents, the number of non-immigrant international students at Stanford remains significant and has steadily grown over the years.  In 2007-2008, there were 3,399 non-immigrant international students at Stanford representing on average over 20% of the total student population on campus, in addition to over 2,000 non-immigrant international visiting scholars. (Note: The percentage of international students to the total University population does vary depending on the breakdown of student type. For example, international graduate students make up over 33% of all graduate students at Stanford.)

Indeed students and scholars from all around the world left their homes for research and study abroad. Those that came to Stanford needed transitional help with English, immigration paperwork, living arrangements and cultural opportunities outside the classroom. To help meet these, and other needs, Stanford appointed a special officer, the Foreign Student Advisor, who for some years could be found in a small office on the Quad.

Also coming to Stanford were an increasing number of short term visitors, here to meet fellow scholars and professionals. Stanford established the Office for Foreign Visitors to provide courtesy service for such visitors.

These efforts did not fully suffice, and in 1953 Werner Warmbrunn, then Foreign Student Advisor, asked a group of friends in the community to help with reception and hospitality for new international students and scholars. Thus was born the Community Committee for International Students (CCIS), an organization that has since become respected and envied by campuses throughout the U.S..

Original Stanford International CenterIn the Palo Alto/Stanford community there was an increasing interest in international exchange. It was soon more than just wishful thinking that there be a central place for many international service activities. A search began for a "center of our own." This search culminated in a modest old faculty home on Lasuen Street (near the present post office) where international programs and administration could be coordinated. The University purchased the house and students, staff and volunteers cleaned, painted and furnished the house, planted the garden and had everything ready to open in November 1957.

With its central location, the Center soon became a well known feature of campus. Students and scholars who came to the Center on business found themselves coming back again for discussions, cultural events and social life. The sidewalk cafe and five-cent coffee attracted a regular "drop in" trade, and many students began to make the I-Center their "home away from home."

But not for long! In November 1961, in a nighttime fire, the Center was completely destroyed. I-Center staff were given office space by various generous departments and the lounge of the Women's Clubhouse was made available for programs. But international activities were broken up, and everyone felt the loss.

Almost at once friends began a campaign to find a new home. Soon, the old fraternity house was settled on as the most desirable choice for a Center, and, when the large, generous Bechtel gift was pledged, the future was assured.

Everybody interested became involved in the planning. Architects from the University planning office patiently met week after week with I-Center groups, listening and incorporating into their plans the ideas of people who would use the building. Landscapers discussed uses of the grounds for games and parties and student and community members joined forces to present a fund-raising bazaar and international festival, an artistic and financial success. A CCIS member and professional decorator donated her services. Construction was still going on when students began to arrive for the first reception program in the new building and, indeed, a further gift from Stephen Bechtel allowed further changes to the front entrance and central courtyard.

In 1978 a new wing was added to the existing building and the outdoor area beyond the patio was extensively redesigned and developed. These changes were made possible by additional gifts from the Bechtel family and from the Lane family, and provided a multi-purpose assembly room (with overhead VCR projection equipment), a conference room and expanded office facilities, as well as better areas for outdoor programming. In the early 80s the Japanese Student Association presented the I-Center with a clock showing times in various cities around the world and in 1990 Mitsubishi donated a large screen TV, and VCR, to the I-Center which, when connected to the University cable system allowed international news shows to be seen at the Center as well as providing another facility for the use of video programming.

Indeed the functions of the Center were changing. From the late 1960s on, through the enthusiasm of the Director, Lee Zeigler, the Overseas Resource Center developed, offering advice to American students interested in an overseas experience outside those available through Overseas Studies. In addition, the International Center took on the administration of certain scholarship opportunities such as the Fulbright, Rhodes, Marshall, Churchill and German Academic Exchange awards. Before too long the resources available to American students made the ORC one of the most highly regarded of such offices in the US.

Services were also expanded to assist international scholars and foreign born faculty with immigration and adjustment issues. Advice and programming was available for families of international students and scholars and a live-in host couple helped to maintain the building and contribute to the programming. Given this diversity of activity, and not forgetting the continuation of earlier activities such as foreign student advising, programming of international visitors, and the work of CCIS, the Bechtel International Student Center became the Bechtel International Center, a name change that reflected its increasing involvement in the many areas of international educational exchange. Soon the building became known by one of the two abbreviations "Bechtel" or "I-Center".

Today through a variety of social, cultural, and educational programs, the I-Center facilities are utilized to involve both domestic and foreign students and scholars in the life of the University and the community, and to bring them together in activities of mutual interest. The I-Center emphasizes the international and multicultural dimensions of the University through its counseling and programmatic services, as well as through the contributions to campus life by the many nationalities represented.

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