By Nicholas Hodell
Juan Mundel, a researcher with deep connections in Latin America and Europe, brings university experience and a love of global travel to his new position as the Cronkite School’s director of Global Initiatives. He joins the Cronkite School from DePaul University in Chicago, where he served as an assistant professor of public relations and advertising, and as director of the university’s Latino Media and Communication Program. Here he shares his vision for Cronkite’s Global Initiatives program.
What brought you to this position and to the Cronkite School?
I’ve been working with international students since 2007, and I have a passion for introducing people to all cultures. This position combines my background in academia with the opportunity to work in international programs, especially within the area of mass communication. That’s one of the attractive things coming to the Cronkite School.
As you know, Cronkite is actually renowned for its journalism program and it’s seen as one of the best schools in mass communication, so it was a little bit of a unicorn position that I wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss out on.
What is your vision for Cronkite’s Global Initiatives program?
We need to go from transactional to transformational partnerships.
In the past, memorandums of understanding between schools were very restrictive because we needed to have somewhat of a balance in student mobility. If an American university would send one American student abroad, it was expected for the partner to send another student in return. However, one of the challenges in working with less affluent nations is that it’s really expensive to come to the U.S.
So, in many cases, it’s not that the schools don’t want to send you someone, it’s the fact that they can’t afford the price of living in the U.S. for a really long time. This new model of partnerships looks beyond these traditional one-to-one ratios and leverages the resources of both partners and the strengths to create new programs.
The vision that I have for Cronkite Global is actually a lot further reaching than the incoming programs that we have now. It will include virtual collaborations with other schools and more opportunities for international research for our Ph.D. students and faculty, and also both study abroad and study away programs that help us expose the students to multiculturalism, both in the U.S. and abroad.
What are you planning to do in your first 100 days?
We’re going to start planning the international programs for 2022, identify grant opportunities, and we’re going to start building new relationships and revitalizing the ones that we already have. We will also start global learning opportunities that take advantage of the internet to expose more students to international cultures as well.
What can current and prospective students look forward to under your Global Initiatives vision?
I envision the Global Initiatives program having a much wider impact on the curriculum than it already has. Students should expect to see new modules that deal with international and multicultural populations embedded into the courses that are already offered at Cronkite.
In addition to new exciting study abroad and study away programs, there are going to be short-term programs to take students to new countries. We will also work in further integrating our incoming fellows into the local culture. So, we’re also launching a new program called Cronkite Global Friends, in which Cronkite students can partner with the incoming fellows and serve as ambassadors.
In this program, the goal is for the fellows and the students to not do academic stuff but rather to have the local people from Phoenix introduce the fellows into everyday American culture. The program will include incentives for students to share fun experiences and will facilitate the flow between the two cultures and cultural exchange all at the same time.
What can faculty look forward to under your leadership?
Faculty should expect more opportunities for incorporating diversity, equity and inclusion as part of ongoing initiatives into their curriculum.
International students and international visitors are in themselves diverse. I think that until now, when we were talking about diversity, we were not capitalizing on how many different perspectives these people from different cultures can bring into Cronkite, so we want to make sure that we serve as a resource for faculty as well when they deal with international students so that they can come to us with questions regarding the student experience, any difficulties the students might have for adulteration and making sure that they’re part of the American culture.
In addition to our lesson plans, they can help toggle the international components into their curricula without relying necessarily on their personal experience to be able to do so.
Where does Cronkite need to have a presence internationally and why?
I think that we need to look into two markets. The first one is Latin America. Latin America is our closest neighbor, and it’s also the one that gets the most amount of immigration into the U.S. So, the U.S. culture wouldn’t be what it is today without the contributions made by people that immigrate from Latin America. The more that we understand how things work in their home countries, the more we’re going to understand how people that are here behave in the U.S.
I think that because of the different priorities in the government administration, Latin America was not a priority until now, in that we’re seeing that with the new national administration, there is a stronger focus on trying to solve some of the structural issues that Latin America faces, so that’s going to be one of our top priorities.
The second is China. China has a very different media system than the one that we have here, but it is the major economy that is going to continue growing into the next couple of years. So I see many opportunities for us to collaborate, since they have an amazing system of universities that are doing excellent research. I would like us to be more networked within China and within Latin America in the next couple of years.
What do you do for recreation/enjoyment?
I really like traveling. This position is actually the best of both worlds for me because I get to travel while working. I really do get happier and I smile a lot more when I’m abroad and seeing new things every day. I like to discover new things. I also like hiking and being outdoors, and that’s also one of the main reasons for coming to Arizona and I really look forward to exploring some of the natural beauty that the state has, so I’m really excited.
What are you passionate about?
I really care about diversity in terms of the LGBTQ+ population. I am very passionate about people being able to express themselves fully and be who they are without the fear of retaliation because of their identity. We are in a new exciting time where younger generations are able to express themselves at a much younger age without the negative stigma that used to come with it. I think we still have, however, a really long way to go, so I am passionate about trying to help change the perceptions that people have about the LGBTQ+ community and hopefully trying to create a more inclusive environment for the generations to come.
What do you consider your greatest achievement thus far?
I’ve been to more than 35 countries so far and I think that’s one of my biggest accomplishments, to be able to see so much of the world and it’s not only an accomplishment but also a goal that I want to continue seeing as many countries as possible to see how other people live and try to understand more about my fellow humans.
Following up on that, is there a favorite country that you’ve been to?
There are many countries that are on my ‘Favorite Countries’ list. The Netherlands is one of them. The architecture is beautiful. They have a very hedonic lifestyle. They love being outdoors, they love walking, they manage their personal time very well and they like to actually end the workday, and go out and have a coffee or have a beer. They really enjoy their open spaces and are very passionate about their culture and they’re very happy to share it with other people.
Another country I visited that was mind-blowing was Morocco. One of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life. When the sun is coming down, it touches the earth and everything turns orange and gold. It was absolutely magnificent.
Another of my favorite countries is Spain. My family has Spanish heritage, but when I go there I feel that I’m at home. Some of my favorite cities in Spain to visit are Madrid and Barcelona because of the museums, and the gastronomy, they are mind blowing.
What are you reading?
“El Bosque Sabe Tu Nombre” by Alaitz Leceaga
The translation in English is “The Forest Knows Your Name.” The reason why I’m so attracted to this book is, just as with my own personal life, each chapter takes place in a different country within Europe and North America. So I feel very different stories are told in the book.
What’s your favorite quote?
“…I had read, and frequently heard repeated, that of all the methods of adorning the mind and forming the judgment, travelling is the most efficacious.” – Comte de Volney
What else would you like to share with #CronkiteNation?
I have taken more than 200 American students abroad. I think that there’s nothing more rewarding than being able to share with students the first time that they land in another country, and seeing the smiles on their faces. They just are so fascinated by other cultures, and from my experience, many of the people that I’ve taken abroad go back abroad right away to be able to do more digging on foreign cultures. Having the opportunity to be part of someone’s development is unique so I think that’s a great story to tell as well.