International students taking pride in volunteering

Community work, part of scholarship, includes service clubs, nonprofits, assisted living, church
Helping the Rotary Club of Menomonie deliver roses to raise money for service projects are Fedi Soltani, second from left; Nilu Omarova, fourth from left; and Sulaiman Alharbi, right.
Abbey Goers | February 27, 2020

Going to college in another country is a big step and takes a lot of planning.

Another worry for international students and their families may be the expense. The International Student Tuition Scholarship eases students’ minds by helping them earn up to $5,000 per year for undergraduates and $6,000 per year for graduates.

​​​​​​​Danielle Clarizio“Having this financial security is a big help and allows students to enjoy college without worrying about how they’re going to pay for tuition,” said Danielle Clarizio, assistant director of International Student and Scholar Services in the Office of International Education.

To qualify for the scholarship, students must complete 20 hours of global involvement per semester and maintain a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher.

“We know the importance of getting out into the community,” Clarizio said. “Global involvement encourages students to do so, to network and to see new people and new places. It helps students both with their academic and social success.”

Of the 50 students in the scholarship program, many volunteer more than 20 hours per semester. That’s more than 1,000 hours they give to the Menomonie community and at cultural events, such as UW-Stout’s International Night.

During their time at UW-Stout, Sulaiman Alharbi, Fedi Soltani and Nilu Umarova have gone above and beyond their global involvement requirements.

‘You’re paid in smiles’

Sulaiman Alharbi, from Saudi Arabia, vacuums in a community room at a UW-Stout residence hall.Alharbi, majoring in engineering technology, is at UW-Stout on a government-funded project that has brought hundreds of students from Saudi Arabia. A friend of Alharbi’s had been in the program and convinced him to come.

“All my life, I’ll be grateful for the scholarship,” Alharbi said. “My visa does not allow me to work while I’m here. I need the scholarship to pay for my schooling.”

Alharbi, a tourism volunteer in his hometown, is the social media marketer for UW-Stout’s International Club. He also volunteers at assisted living homes in Menomonie. He wants to provide social and emotional support to elderly community members who may have no one to visit them.

“We want them to know, ‘We do not forget you.’ To visit them once a week, to talk or play cards or draw, it adds something exciting to their routine. It’s good to appreciate our elders, to uplift them, to give them hope,” Alharbi said.

“Volunteer work is not paid in money,” he added. “You’re paid in smiles by other people and the value you give to other people.”

‘It is what you do that matters’

Fedi Soltani, from Tunisia, takes part in the International Night program at UW-Stout.Soltani, majoring in applied mathematics and computer science, is at UW-Stout with the Thomas Jefferson Scholarship Program's Tunisia Undergraduate Scholarship sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

The yearlong program encourages exploration of American culture, community service and professional internships. Participants develop a broader and nuanced understanding of U.S. values and become 21st-century global citizens prepared to contribute to the economic growth and development of Tunisia.

“The requirements of the scholarship help me to gain confidence in my social and communication skills. It helps me to build the best network by meeting people in the community and to meet with community leaders. It’s a nice thing to do,” Soltani said.

Soltani, who volunteered in multiple ways in his hometown, helps in Menomonie with the Rotary Club and at a church.

His most memorable experience happened two weeks into his time at UW-Stout. He was biking back from a trip to Devil’s Punchbowl, a Menomonie landmark. He saw a woman in her tomato garden and remembered his family garden back home.

“I stopped to talk to her. From her I learned about Tuesday’s Table at St. Joe’s Catholic Church,” Soltani said.

He began volunteering at Tuesday’s Table, a free community meal, and then at the church’s Wednesday night children’s program.

As a Muslim, working at a Catholic school is a unique experience. “It’s good to know we can live together and learn how people co-exist,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who you are. It is what you do that matters.”

Nilu Umarova, front row right, helps build a home in North Carolina in 2019 with UW-Stout’s student chapter of Habitat for Humanity.


‘Volunteering is my superpower’

Umarova is a hotel, restaurant and tourism management major from Tajikistan. Three years ago, she was an exchange student at Menomonie High School through the World Heritage program. After being in the U.S. for a year, Umarova liked the educational opportunities open to her and wanted to pursue her degree at UW-Stout.

“I want to get a good education and a good job. It’s very important to me. I knew Stout was a leader in innovative education with hands-on experiences,” Umarova said.

In Tajikistan, Umarova was a youth activist, visiting schools and encouraging other young adults to volunteer around the country. At UW-Stout she serves on Menomonie’s Downtown Board and won a community award for helping with the 2019 Winter Daze parade. She also volunteers at Bridge to Hope shelter, Stepping Stones food pantry, Lions Club, Rotary Club and the public library.

She also is president of UW-Stout’s International Club and helps at new student orientation, Career Services and the Habitat for Humanity student chapter.

“Volunteering is my superpower,” she said.

The Office of International Education is seeking community-based volunteer opportunities for students. Contact OIE at



Danielle Clarizio

Sulaiman Alharbi, from Saudi Arabia, vacuums in a community room at a UW-Stout residence hall.

Fedi Soltani, from Tunisia, takes part in the International Night program at UW-Stout.

Nilu Umarova, front row right, helps build a home in North Carolina in 2019 with UW-Stout’s student chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

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