Mines News

Release Date Monday, October 28, 2019

ISI House Celebrates 20 Years of Making SD Mines International Students Feel at Home

The International House hosted an Open House on Oct. 27, to share information about how the house helps international students acclimate to the community and South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. 

For Aditi David, the International House near South Dakota School of Mines & Technology has been a blessing.  

“I just love the house,” says David, who grew up in northern India. “When I came here, I was taken care of. I had never left home before. But when I came into a place that looked like a house … it made me feel very welcome.”

David, 27, enrolled at Mines in 2015 as a doctoral student in chemical and biological engineering. It was her first airplane ride and her first experience away from her family and her home. Today, David lives in the International House as a host, one of two women on the main floor. Two men live on the lower level as hosts to male international students.

“Now I try to make sure that new students who come in feel at home just the way I did,” she says.

In the past 20 years, approximately 4,000 international students from 112 countries have crossed the threshold of the International House, which is home to the International Students Inc. ministry, run by Heather and Kevin Fannin.

A non-descript tan house located just blocks from campus, the International House provides a comfy home where international students gather to eat, play games, talk, study, ask for advice and connect with others who are facing similar experiences in a foreign country. Each Friday night, the house hosts a meal, often donated and served by local churches and community partners.

While students are not required to participate, the house is also a place where students can be connected with religious organizations in the community. But most importantly, it’s a home-away-from-home for these students, says Heather. “It’s a place where they can relax and feel supported, safe and connected.”

On Oct. 26, the Fannins and the International House Inc. board celebrated the 20th anniversary of the ISI House. The celebration gathered faculty and staff from SD Mines as well as community members who have supported the house’s mission over the years. The gathering had a dual purpose – celebration and fundraising.

While the Fannins plan to remain an integral part of the ISI House for years to come, they are ready to sell the house to International House Inc., a nonprofit created to ensure that the house will remain a permanent home for international students. Heather Fannin and International House Inc. board member Katie Howard describe the sale as a technicality – a legal necessity to make sure the house remains regardless of the Fannin’s situation.

“This just makes sure that the future of the house is safe. It will always be here for the students, no matter what happens to Kevin and me down the road,” Heather says. “We hope the community will continue its amazing support to help make this happen. These international students have made such a fantastic contribution to the school and to our community.”

Adds Howard, “Students have known the International House as home for the past 20 years, and we are looking forward to the decades to come and its continued impact. Though International House Inc. will be purchasing the home, we are committed to serving international students in our community. The legacy of the Fannins will live on as a gathering place for comradery and fellowship and a home away from home.”

History of the ISI House

The history of the ISI House started in 1995 when Heather and Kevin Fannin decided their holidays were going to be too small.

Recent transplants to Rapid City, Heather dreaded the nearing Thanksgiving. In Heather’s childhood, “holidays were big, with lots of people and activity.” She wanted the same for her own children – Christine, then age 7, and twins Brent and Brian, then ages 11.

The Fannins decided to host international students. “I think on that Thanksgiving, we hosted about 17 people. The more we worked with international students, the more we fell in love,” says Heather.

At that time, there wasn’t an international house for students in Rapid City, but the International Students Inc., a Christian friendship organization that assists international students, was interested in establishing one. Talks began between the Fannins and the organization. When the Akers family contacted the Fannins and offered to sell them the west wing of the former Rapid City Medical Center building – then located on Mount Rushmore Road and Columbus Street - for just $1, the Fannins took the leap. 

The couple moved the west wing down the street to its current Kansas City St. location and spent the next two years working with volunteers and contractors, most working for a discounted fee, turning the examining rooms into a home. “We were very reliant on the generosity of the community,” Heather says. 

They moved into the completed ISI House on Thanksgiving 1999, hosting a large international gathering of students.

Over the years, their family of five hosted and welcomed thousands of international students, sharing meals, life experiences and cultures. “Our kids loved it,” Heather says. “They have older ‘brothers and sisters’ all over the world.”

Early in the house’s existence, international students lived in the house with the Fannins. This meant late-night knocks on the bedroom door with requests for advice, rides and anything else imagined. While it was a wild ride, Heather says she wouldn’t have changed those years for anything. Eventually, the house became what it is today – a transitional living space for students when they first arrive in Rapid City, and then a meeting space the remainder of the year. Other than the hosts, international students no longer live at the house year-around.  

Heather and Kevin lived in the house until 2 ½ years ago when they moved out to live with her parents. Now, David and the three other international students serve as hosts in place of the Fannins. But the Fannins are there most days and their role hasn’t changed. They continue to be “Mom and Dad” to every international student who needs them. And that won’t change with the sale of the house to the International House Board.

“Heather and Kevin are like international parents to all the international students there,” David says. “They are very special people. And it’s just a very special house.” 

To make a donation to help the International House Inc. board purchase the house, visit http://internationalhouserc.org/.

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About SD Mines  

Founded in 1885, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is a science and engineering research university located in Rapid City, S.D., offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university enrolls 2,529 students with an average class size of 24. The SD School of Mines placement rate for graduates is 97 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $63,350. Find us online at sdsmt.edu and on  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Snapchat

Contact: Lynn Taylor Rick, 605.394.2554, Lynn.TaylorRick@sdsmt.edu

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