We continue our blog series documenting the reflections of the inaugural cohort of the Connecting Our World Grassroots Leadership Program (GLP) today with a post from Jennifer Ellis Fritz, a study abroad advisor for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) students at Bucknell University. In her post, Jennifer offers insight into how her presentation at the 2012 NAFSA Annual Conference in Houston reenergized her to continue advocacy work throughout her career as an international educator.

I was nervous when I walked towards room 351 BC of the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston to present at the session, “Advocacy Snapshots: From Idea to Action.” Although I had presented at two regional conferences recently, I was still a bit apprehensive. Then I stepped in front of the room, looked at the audience and saw fellow advocates. I also saw friends…friends I had never met, that were all there for the same fundamental reason I was…to advocate.

Merriam-Webster defines an “advocate” as: one that pleads the cause of another; one that defends or maintains a cause or proposal; or one that supports or promotes the interests of another.

I joined the inaugural cohort (class of 2011-2012) of the NAFSA Grassroots Leadership Program (GLP) to advocate for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) students, which are an under-represented population of students that study abroad. As a study abroad advisor of STEM students, I have the opportunity everyday to view the impact a study abroad experience has on a student.

I am fundamentally committed to helping STEM students achieve their education abroad goals because I believe STEM students are literally the foundation builders of our society. As such, they not only have an opportunity, but a distinct obligation, to understand and address a multitude of social and environmental topics as they move towards graduation and conduct their work worldwide on a daily basis. Engineers face global grand challenges and need global skills to navigate and succeed. My lifelong goal is to increase the amount of STEM students that study abroad at my home university, regionally, and nationally.

As I shared each step in my advocacy journey and my GLP initiatives with the audience in our session at the annual conference in Houston, I could feel a shift in myself. I realized one year of targeted work and five years of working with STEM students had not only refueled me as a professional, but led me to believe I have only scratched the surface of this journey.

Panning back to the crowd and session as the other presenters told their stories, I saw an awakening, a recognition of sorts, that makes sense in quoting one of my colleagues, “If not you, who?” and “If not now, when?” These questions demonstrate the lifelong responsibility of each international educator to take up advocacy in any form on any topic that will improve the quality of the field of international education and the students, faculty, and staff that work toward this goal.

This experience reminded me of the privilege I have to work with STEM students every day. It served as a touchstone to continue work in this area and drive my interest in pursuing advocacy as a central component throughout my career in international education.

Jennifer Ellis Fritz is a NAFSA member, participant in the inaugural cohort of the Connecting Our World Grassroots Leadership Program, and a 2011 graduate of the NAFSA Academy. As assistant director of the Office of International Education at Bucknell University, she is the study abroad advisor for STEM students and coordinator for the Bucknell in London program.