U.S. Capitol BuildingOnce again, I am inspired by the energy from our community of international education advocates. Last week nearly 100 of you from across the country came to Washington, D.C., for NAFSA’s Advocacy Day, and the excitement was contagious. We were particularly pleased to have with us this year a strong contingent of enthusiastic student advocates from Ramapo College of New Jersey.

Advocates had the great pleasure of hearing from Meredith McQuaid, Associate Vice President and Dean at the University of Minnesota and current NAFSA President and Chair of the Board of Directors. Meredith’s remarks energized participants for their meetings on “the Hill” and inspired everyone to stay involved in advocating for a more peaceful and just world once they get back home.

It is hard to match the energy and excitement of one particular advocate, Dr. David Wick of San Francisco State University. On the first day of advocacy training, we presented him with the Advocate of the Year Award. David has been an incredible advocate for international education at the state and federal levels of government over the years. He has gone above and beyond to act as a model advocate and share his talents and resources with NAFSA members. I am also thankful for his guidance in developing the Connecting Our World Grassroots Leadership Program.

We also presented the Congressional Staff Champion Award to Ur Jaddou, former Chief Counsel for the House Subcommittee on Immigration for Representative Lofgren (D-CA). Ur has been a tireless advocate on behalf of immigration reform that is welcoming to foreign students, scholars, scientists, and other talented individuals needed on our campuses and research centers.

Pennsylvania AdvocatesOn the second day, all of our volunteer advocates went to the Hill for meetings at over 125 congressional offices, where they discussed important issues facing international education such as the Simon Study Abroad Act, immigration reform, and the need to ensure that the Fiscal Year 2012 budget contains funding for international education programs.

When I heard the excitement in the advocates’ voices during our debriefing session after they returned from the Hill, and listened to stories of how they educated staffers on the importance of international education and exchange, I was once again reminded of the power of grassroots advocacy. For example, because of the efforts of our advocates, we expect strong congressional support when the Simon Study Abroad Act is introduced.

All of you who came to Washington for NAFSA’s Advocacy Day should be proud of what you accomplished, whether or not you received a positive response from the offices you visited. You should be proud that you made your voice heard on issues that are important to you. Thank you for your hard work and dedication.

But our work does not stop with Advocacy Day. I hope that all of you continue to develop relationships with the staffers you met, post your pictures and stories on the NAFSA Facebook page, and share your experiences with your colleagues, friends and family because we need more voices fighting for international education. And if you weren’t able to join us at Advocacy Day, you can visit www.ConnectingOurWorld.org and take action from where you are right now.