Diversity and Democracy

Empowering Student Voice through Global Learning in the Curriculum and Cocurriculum

Today’s college campuses in the United States bring together a more diverse set of students than ever. As such, they offer an unparalleled opportunity for students to engage in discussion, experiencing other perspectives and developing their own points of view. At the same time, there is growing recognition of the importance of fostering student voice, empowering students to express their opinions and perspectives in and out of the classroom and giving students the tools to take an active part in their own learning (Toshalis and Nakkula 2012). Scholarship on student voice is grounded in the belief that students have substantial knowledge about their learning needs and that institutions must use and promote this knowledge by positioning students as active, critical, and positive contributors to all aspects of student life.

Student voice is a central tenet of the Global Learning for Global Citizenship initiative at Florida International University (FIU), a public urban research university and Hispanic-Serving Institution located in the global crossroads of Miami, with a population of more than fifty-seven thousand students. Global Learning for Global Citizenship requires all FIU undergraduates to take a minimum of two global learning courses and participate in multiple global learning cocurricular activities prior to graduation. We define global learning as the process of diverse people collaboratively analyzing and addressing complex issues that transcend borders of all kinds (Landorf, Doscher, and Hardrick 2018). Global learning courses and activities must meet three graduation-level student outcomes: global awareness, global perspective, and global engagement.

Student Voice and Global Learning for Global Citizenship

Global Learning for Global Citizenship began as our university’s quality enhancement plan (QEP), which is required by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) as a condition of reaccreditation. Students have played a crucial role in all areas of Global Learning for Global Citizenship since its development began in 2008. For example, when SACSCOC representatives cautioned against using the term “global citizenship” in the title of the initiative, students pushed back, insisting it was an appropriate moniker for their goals. In particular, they talked about developing global consciousness and an understanding that well-being transcends geographic borders (Landorf and Doscher 2013). Student voice has been fundamental to decisions about the initiative’s terms, reach, assessment, communication and improvement strategies, and expansion.

Since Global Learning for Global Citizenship was implemented in 2010, the Office of Global Learning Initiatives has overseen the development or revision of more than 225 courses and five hundred activities. Students have driven much of this expansion, asking for global learning when it has not been present in their courses and taking ownership of much of the global learning in the cocurriculum.

GlobeMed at FIU

A perfect example of the primacy and success of student voice in global learning is the FIU chapter of the student organization GlobeMed, which brings college students and local community organizations together to improve the health of people living in poverty around the world. For more than five years, the FIU GlobeMed chapter has partnered continuously with Escuela de La Calle (EDELAC), an organization that supports vulnerable children in the city of Quetzaltenango, known locally as Xela, in Guatemala. Members of FIU’s GlobeMed chapter have worked with community members to be part of the solutions to health problems, collaborating on projects ranging from installing water filtration systems to conducting workshops on reproductive education.

The founder of the FIU chapter, then undergraduate student Camila Uzcategui, tells her story here. She describes how GlobeMed empowered her to use her voice and passion for the benefit of the community. Her initial idea of becoming a doctor grew into a broader ambition to develop biomedical devices and biomaterials so she could have even more of an impact on health care delivery in developing countries.

Camila is not alone. Many of FIU’s GlobeMed alumni have been vocal about the organization’s transformative effects on their personal and professional lives. Of the twenty-two FIU alumni who have served as GlobeMed officers, more than half have gone on to study or work in professions directly related to social justice and equity issues.

For example, Niki Franco, FIU’s GlobeMed copresident in 2015–16, currently serves as the civic engagement community organizer for the PowerU Center for Social Change in Miami, working to empower the local community to have a say in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools budget process. In an email to Camila, Niki wrote,

During my time with GlobeMed at FIU, I developed key leadership skills, was transformed in the practice of the work we were doing, and began to sharpen the lens from which I understood the world. I didn’t know it then, but most of what I was doing with GlobeMed was a form of community organizing. . . . Thanks to my years with GlobeMed, I always try to relate to people in a collective way, seeking to build partnerships and collaboration.

And in an email to me, GlobeMed alumna Cortney Zamor wrote,

Having been born and raised in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, my eyes have been open to the vast inequality that exists. Nevertheless, GlobeMed exposed me to the numerous ways one can make a difference, and I set about to find ways to address the prodigious imbalance in the world. This year I am completing [a master of science degree] in Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the London School of Economics. Through this master’s degree, I seek to start my own social venture that will confront the challenges that impede the Haitian people from prospering. In essence, my involvement in GlobeMed shaped my outlook and has fostered my instinctive need to help those around me with whatever means I have.

FIU’s GlobeMed chapter has also provided a model for other FIU student organizations focused on global health such as Miami Medical Team and Medical Missions Abroad. Student-led organizations such as these challenge students both within the organizations and campus-wide to enact positive change by having the courage to raise their voices, the ability to listen to and collaborate with diverse teams, and the determination to follow through on their visions and goals.

FIU GlobeMed alumna Andrea Mirabel said it best:

My involvement in GlobeMed greatly influenced me. I was challenged to think differently and question everything. As chapter copresident, I gained the leadership experience to navigate future roles and lead a team of amazing students who are doing great things to get us to a better world.


Landorf, Hilary, and Stephanie Paul Doscher. 2013. “Global Learning for Global Citizenship.” In Human Development and Capabilities: Re-imagining the University of the Twenty-First Century, edited by Alejandra Boni and Melanie Walker, 162–77. New York: Routledge.

Landorf, Hilary, Stephanie Doscher, and Jaffus Hardrick. 2018. Making Global Learning Universal: Promoting Inclusion and Success for All Students. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Toshalis, Eric, and Michael J. Nakkula. 2012. Motivation, Engagement, and Student Voice. The Students at the Center Series. Washington, DC: Jobs for the Future. https://www.howyouthlearn.org/pdf/Motivation%20Engagement%20Student%20Voice_0.pdf.

Hilary Landorf is Associate Professor of International and Intercultural Education and Executive Director of the Office of Global Learning Initiatives at Florida International University.

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