The University of South Florida is connecting its worldwide network of alumni, students and international partners through an innovative approach that will showcase the university’s global reach and impact.
In what amounts to a next-level iteration of traditional alumni chapters, USF launched its first four Global Networks for Brazil, Colombia, India and Saudi Arabia during International Education Week in November.
The networks are designed to connect not just USF graduates from a specific country but a diverse array of allies that includes international students, study abroad participants, visiting scholars, Peace Corps volunteers, alumni living abroad and individuals such as faculty, staff and alumni who are internationally engaged in research, business and humanitarian efforts.
The aim is to bring together USF’s “global citizens” to share their experiences, networks, expertise and guidance with current students, and to support international programs, research, students and global engagement.
“We are taking a fresh look at how we engage with alumni around the world. These networks are dynamic and designed to provide opportunities to connect transnationally around global themes,” USF World Interim Vice President Kiki Caruson said. “We recognize that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to alumni outreach and see an opportunity to do something different. The Global Networks use a creative new approach designed to encourage meaningful engagement that is culturally relevant to their geographic locations and membership.”
Each of the networks is structured similarly – with a network director collaborating with groups of coordinators, members and alumni to support student engagement opportunities and recruitment efforts and hold at least two events per year. Examples of network events may include cultural festivals, professional mixers, beach days, Q&As with incoming students or new member welcome gatherings.
The networks will provide opportunities for members to expand personal and professional contacts, access industry talent, engage with other Global Networks leaders and take an active role in advocating with and for USF on a global scale.
“Our focus on global alumni showcases the international reach and impact that USF can have as a state university,” said Vanessa Martinez, USF World assistant director for international community relations, who is leading the Global Networks initiative. “We have highly successful alumni all over the world. By reconnecting them to the university, we create unique opportunities for global engagement, international business, research and internships and international mobility for students and faculty.”
The lineup of networks will eventually grow to include additional geographic regions. The launch was accomplished in a challenging environment complicated by the global pandemic, which limited options for mobility and meant much of the work had to be done virtually. The initial networks focused on four countries that represent some of USF’s strongest global connections.
India is by far the top country of origin of USF international students at all levels with more than 1,000 current students and more than 3,000 prospective alumni members worldwide. Brazil provides the most undergraduate students, with more than 250 current students and about 300 prospective alumni members around the world. Saudi Arabia has emerged as a source of one of USF’s fastest-growing international student populations, with more than 125 current students and some 500 prospective alumni members.
Meanwhile, Colombia is an example of a country with both an established pipeline of students who study at USF and a unique partnership among administrators and scholars who share common interests. The partnership has grown out of longstanding collaboration with Universidad del Norte, or Uninorte, a private university in Barranquilla that is the main academic center for higher education in northern Colombia.
Among Uninorte’s faculty are at least 15 members who received postgraduate degrees in residence at USF through a faculty development program that has helped forge deep ties between the two institutions.
Humberto Gomez, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Uninorte, earned a doctorate from USF in 2011 and recalls that there were at least 40 other students from Barranquilla studying at all levels and living in Tampa at the time.
The tight-knit group often gathered on weekends for barbecues. Many remain close personally and professionally with one another and with graduates and colleagues from USF. USF’s new Global Networks take such relationships a step further by adding structure and broader reach to what had previously been more informal arrangements.
“This is an opportunity to connect at a different level,” Gomez said. “We can be very supportive and collaborative, regardless of where we are in terms of geography. We all have shared experiences, and this enables us to be like a big family with added value in terms of our professional expertise.”
Gomez was part of a group that includes leaders from USF and Uninorte who, in 2011, began developing initiatives to strengthen ties between the institutions for current students, alumni, faculty and other stakeholders. Among their early successes was the creation of a dual-degree program in engineering that has led to invaluable opportunities and cultivated lasting relationships.
“This kind of partnership enables us to be a force of support and mentorship across the generations,” said Jeannie Caicedo, Uninorte’s director of international cooperation and development. “This is an association built on years of collaboration, research and support around relationships based on trust.”
Martinez envisions similar bonds emerging from the Global Networks, which can help bridge a gap for graduates who have strong ties to another country but aren’t international students.
Yasmeen Armoush, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from USF in December, was born in Tampa, but her mother is from Barranquilla. Many members of her family still live in Colombia.
“I love the fact that this doesn’t exclude anyone,” Armoush said. “I think it will be a great way for alumni to network with other people who have ties with USF and increase our impact around the world.”
Martinez said as the networks grow and new countries and regions are added, it’s important to ensure they are inclusive while maintaining the unique identities of their members.
“Every network is different,” Martinez said. “Each one has its own flavor, its own interests and its own priorities. We want to celebrate that diversity.”
To learn more about USF’s Global Networks, contact Vanessa Martinez at email@example.com or 813-974-6579.