This week we go to Cincinnati to continue our blog series documenting the reflections of the inaugural cohort of the Connecting Our World Grassroots Leadership Program (GLP). Over the past year, Frank Merendino developed a new intercultural communication training program for faculty and staff at the University of Cincinnati. In his post, he shares the fun and hard work that became his advocacy story.

Frank MerendinoBy Frank Merendino

Being a part of the inaugural cohort of Connecting Our World’s Grassroots Leadership Program (GLP) was a lot of fun. I also learned quite a bit about how to advocate effectively for international education on a number of different fronts.

Being an advocate for international education can take on many different meanings. You can be an advocate by attending NAFSA’s Advocacy Day or writing a letter to your state representatives on the necessities of immigration reform. You can be an advocate in your community by developing a program that integrates international students with locals or shares your hometown traditions with students from across the world. You can be an advocate on your campus through policy development that affects the experience international students have at your institution. There are any number of ways that you can be an advocate for international education—and I strongly encourage you to do so even if you think it’s something small—do it! Be an advocate!

My most recent advocacy experience concluded with the development of an intercultural training program designed to orient faculty and staff to our growing international student population at the University of Cincinnati (UC). Technically, my advocacy efforts are still ongoing at my institution even though the GLP program has ended—our duty as advocates really only has a start date and not an end date.

I wanted to come up with a way to integrate international students to our campus to further UC’s comprehensive internationalization strategy. Many, if not all institutions orient incoming international students in some way, so I thought it might be a good idea to flip that idea around and develop a program to prepare our campus community to better serve the increasing international student population. I loosely modeled my idea on the LGBTQ Safe Zone Training that many of you may have on your respective campuses. The idea was to increase the intercultural understanding of faculty and staff from departments who interact with international students. I truly had to advocate at a grassroots level to spread this idea around campus. I had many hallway conversations and brought this idea up during various committee meetings. I’m pretty sure people got tired of me announcing this at the end of meetings when “new business” was given the floor—but hey, it worked. Close to 50 people from housing, academic advising, and many other departments across campus showed up for the first training session. I’ve since given a second training and there has been a request for a follow-up session that digs deeper into how to pronounce international students’ names.

This is my story about being an advocate for international education—what’s yours?

Frank Merendino is assistant director for international partnerships at the University of Cincinnati. In addition to being a NAFSA member and participant in the inaugural cohort of the Connecting Our World Grassroots Leadership Program, Frank is the regional team advocacy representative for NAFSA Region VI, a member of the NAFSA Leadership Development Committee (LDC), and serves as the chair of the LDC Database Subcommittee. Find him on Twitter at @Frankie_James.