Global Leaders Program encourages community outreach and new ideas among LAS students

CS + Linguistics major Junehyuk Yoo takes part in pilot project


The Global Leaders Program is designed to foster collaboration between international and domestic students to engage the local community.

The Global Leaders Program is designed to foster collaboration between international and domestic students to engage the local community.

One thing that makes a college campus so interesting is the new perspectives and attitudes brought by international students. A new Global Leaders Program in the College of LAS is helping to bring those ideas to light by uniting international students with domestic students at the University of Illinois for community outreach projects and developing solutions for societal issues.

Nikia Brown, associate director of intercultural and global learning, international student experience in the College of LAS, noted that U of I has a large number of international students—so much so that some are inclined to associate more closely with students of similar backgrounds rather than forming new friendships or engaging the local community. That circumstance has been magnified by the pandemic.

Additionally, research has shown that international and domestic students are less likely to interact because they fear stepping out of their comfort zone and being judged. The inaugural Global Leaders Program helps to remedy this by uniting domestic and international students through meaningful project-based learning, giving them an opportunity to connect while contributing to their community.

The work ultimately allows students to go beyond a surface-level connection and form a genuine bond, Brown said.

“You can’t just say, ‘Okay, I’m going to put you together and you are all going to be friends’: that doesn’t work,” Brown said. “We wanted the relationships to evolve organically, so we decided to give them a mission—a mission unifies everyone.’”

The program just successfully concluded its pilot year, which involved eight domestic and seven international LAS students, including Junehyuk Yoo, a computer science and linguistics major from Hong Kong. “We thought a simple solution that could be acquired more effectively would be to create a small daily exercise that teachers could easily implement in any class,” he said. “That way we don’t have to teach every teacher within the refugee program how to [utilize] trauma-informed education or pedagogy, but instead allow them to use this different medium to apply [best] practices."

Ultimately, added Brown, through teaching students how to successfully tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues, the Global Leaders Program helps students use their differences to their advantage and develop a plan to better their communities.

“There was a focus on how they can leverage their differences and diversity to affect change,” Brown said. “And through that, those relationships naturally formed, and friendships were born. They also learned how to appreciate each other’s unique cultural and ethnic backgrounds, perspectives, and lived experiences.”

The program will head into its second year in the fall. It will recruit new first-year students to join those who joined in fall 2020, and the first cohort will serve as peer mentors to the new members.

--Kimberly Wilson, LAS News