Once a year, nearly 200 international education professionals head to Capitol Hill for NAFSA’s Advocacy Day, where they’re given the chance to educate Congress on the value of international education and the need for a more globally engaged and welcoming United States. This year, one of those professionals was our very own College Relations Manager Noelle Baldwin, who received a grant to participate in the event as a Virginia constituent.
Advocacy Day took place March 18-19 in Washington, D.C. Participants spent the first day prepping for the Congressional meetings held the next day, where Noelle and other participants received advocacy training to improve their presentation and rebuttal skills. They also heard updates from policy experts on such subjects as immigration reform, study abroad policy, and legislation that affects the international education profession; and reviewed data on international education's impact on economic growth in their respective states and districts.
Noelle and other participants brought the fruits of this training to the Congressional meetings, where they held conversations with elected officials and staff in both the Senate and House of Representatives, ultimately advocating that Congress support the Simon Bill and its four key goals, which are as follows:
- Boosting study abroad participation
- Expanding diversity of participants
- Increasing study abroad in non-traditional locations
- Ensuring greater commitment by institutions to expand study abroad opportunities
This was Noelle's first time participating in Advocacy Day, so we asked her some questions about her time on Capitol Hill and what she took away from the overall experience.
What motivated you to participate in Advocacy Day?
Living around the nation’s capital, the epicenter for a lot of what we read and see on the news, has really spurred my interest in politics. Not that I have any desire to run for local offices—I don’t think I have the stomach for it—but I do have the desire to make a difference and represent my communities. When I found out about NAFSA Advocacy Day, I saw an opportunity to learn about how advocacy works in the field of international education, grow professionally, and gain a deeper and first-hand view of our government at work.
During my graduate program, we focused on how to create sustainable change in a community, so I think I’ve always had this interest in how systems and communities change and, more specifically, I've had an interest in how we can impact this change. Advocacy is one of those tools that can be used here. I also wanted to do my part to represent my community. As a black, first-generation American woman, I felt it was important that my narrative be a part of the stories shared on how international education impacts lives.
Why do you think Advocacy Day is so important?
I think Advocacy Day is important because it reminds us that our work matters. Our work has direct implications to the global community we want to support and enhance. The day itself has built-in training and provides information based in data, research, and facts. It is so easy to get caught up in sound bites and headlines without understanding the facts, so this training really helps to ground conversations with our state representatives.
Advocacy Day also allows for our community to share impactful stories on how international education shapes the lives of our students and ourselves. Having the time to reflect on my career, my own life, and how international education has impacted those I’ve worked with was a really important exercise. Sometimes we can get caught up in the day to day and not take stock of the bigger picture, and I found that Advocacy Day created a space to reflect and remember why we do the work we do, and how we need to keep fighting for positive change and inclusion.
What knowledge or understanding did you walk away with that you didn’t have going in?
Less than 2% of college students study abroad in the United States! That was such a shocking data point for me, since I've worked within international education for almost 10 years. It's a shocking reminder that there is still work to be done, and we have to remain active in engaging stakeholders at all levels so that study abroad becomes an integral piece in development for all students, from all walks of life. I also walked away with a deeper understanding of what is taking place on Capitol Hill. So many decisions and agendas are created, and if your needs or community aren’t represented, that can make a monumental difference.
Could you wrap up your overall experience? Is it something you’d do again?
This experience was a reminder of the innate power that we all have as citizens, even though at times we may feel like the power is not in our hands. “Advocacy is not a sprint, it’s a marathon” is something that was repeated throughout the day. Advocating for legislation that supports our communities doesn’t happen overnight. Seeing that happen in person, here in my back yard, was incredibly impactful. I would do it again, and I would encourage other professionals to participate! Whether it be through NAFSA advocating for international education initiatives and support, or advocating on behalf of causes that speak to your own personal values, advocacy should be something that we all engage in so that we are all represented.
We’re proud that our students are as diverse as the countries where they study abroad.