International student was motivated to help others in his shoes

Nitin Agrawal visits his home country of Nepal. Photo courtesy of Agrawal.
By Janette Neuwahl Tannen

Nitin Agrawal visits his home country of Nepal. Photo courtesy of Agrawal.

International student was motivated to help others in his shoes

By Janette Neuwahl Tannen
Alumnus Nitin Agrawal started an educational technology company to assist students from abroad to stay and work in the United States.

When Nitin Agrawal came to the University of Miami, he was the first student to enroll from Nepal. Agrawal then had a steep learning curve ahead of him, from surviving his United States visa interview to navigating college classes in a new country with a drastically different culture.

But Agrawal was determined. And by his junior year, the finance major landed an internship with Citigroup in Miami that eventually turned into a full-time job in New York City.

Still, Agrawal counts himself as one of the few lucky international students. He was sponsored by his new employer and was among just 60,000 students in the nation’s lottery, which allowed him to stay and work in the United States on an H-1B visa. Yet, after a decade of working in finance, attending a master’s in business administration program at the University of California, Berkeley, and moving around the globe for jobs, he had to leave the U.S. because of visa restrictions.

Alumnus Nitin Agrawal with Miami Herbert School Assistant Dean of Programs Jeanne Batridge back in 2006. Photo courtesy of Agrawal.

“I had done all the right things, received a merit-based scholarship, worked at a large multinational bank, attended a top business school. I thought ‘what else could I have done?’ to stay in the U.S.,” Agrawal said.

From finding an employer who would sponsor his work permit to understanding the legal processes around immigration, everything was a huge challenge, he admitted.

“Once I was able to navigate my way out of that situation, I knew there was a void that needed to be filled,” Agrawal said.

The void: helping international students navigate the job market better and educating themselves about the U.S. immigration process. Solving this issue, Agrawal said, could attract more international students to the U.S.

Once Agrawal was able to move back to California, he spoke with Christian Eder, an Austrian friend from graduate school who had also struggled with his U.S. work authorization. The two explored the idea of starting a company to assist international students who hoped to work in the U.S. They compiled a list of employers who were willing to sponsor international graduates and began floating the idea to Bay Area college career centers.

Their idea was a hit. In 2017, Interstride went from a text messaging hotline, to a mobile application, to a website. The platform is now being used by more than 120 colleges across the country, including the University of Miami. The company is also starting other initiatives to support students with their visa and immigration processes.

“Our goal is to make sure students that are already in the U.S. are well-supported and have full transparency, so they don’t have to go through what we did,” Agrawal said.

Ginger Baxter, director of the Ziff Career Development Center in the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School, learned about Interstride at a conference and quickly shared it with the Toppel Career Center. Now, both centers offer University students access to Interstride.

“For international students, this is a really helpful tool—it provides great webinars and information, but students can also look strategically for opportunities at companies who have gone through the H-1B visa process,” said Carly Smith, Toppel Career Center’s director of career education. “This helps increase their odds of finding a job because they are applying to the right companies.”

In 2019, Agrawal left his job in financial services to lead Interstride.

“I always had the urge to start something on my own, and Interstride is something so closely related to my challenges,” Agrawal said. “If I can support students in the process, it’s very fulfilling.”

This fall, the University enrolled 2,333 international students, or 13 percent of the entire student body, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Strategic Analytics. Baxter, who has worked in career advising for many years, said that before she discovered Interstride, there were career resources for international students, but they were piecemeal. Interstride offers a host of information for foreign students in one place—and not just for international students, but for United States residents who want to work abroad too, she said. Last spring, Baxter had graduate students from 36 different countries, and the platform was a savior.

“Right now, the job market is very challenging, and this tool brings up some employers you wouldn’t have thought about,” Baxter said, adding that it operates as an application from a phone too. “Interstride gives structure to something that might not be so easy for an international student to navigate.”

Agrawal hopes that foreign students’ journey to employment in the United States, or elsewhere, will be a little bit easier because of his site. But without his positive experience at the University, made possible by a Bowman Foster Ashe merit scholarship, Agrawal is unsure he would even feel so passionate about staying in the United States.

“UM is where it all started,” he said. “If it wasn’t for that scholarship from the international admissions office, I wouldn’t have been in the U.S. and the education at UM has been instrumental for everything I’ve done so far in my life.”