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International student earns IU leadership award

Campus Life Feb 29, 2024
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KOKOMO, Ind. —As an international student, Rene Semple feels a responsibility to welcome other students from outside the United States to Indiana University Kokomo.

Her leadership in this area earned her IU’s Building Bridges Award, which recognizes individuals and organizations that demonstrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision, spirit, and leadership in ways both big and small at IU, and within communities across Indiana. One student and a community member or organization from each campus receive the award annually.

Semple, who moved to Lafayette from Guyana to attend high school, was surprised to be nominated.

“Then I felt really proud of myself knowing how involved I am on campus, and how involved I try to make other students on campus,” she said. “I was really happy and honored to receive the award.”

She is an active campus community member, serving on the Student Government Association. She is working to re-establish the International Student Association at IU Kokomo and is looking for opportunities to collaborate with other student organizations.

“Our goal is to help international students experience American culture outside the classroom,” said Semple, a junior majoring in communication. “We offer activities to be sure they are focusing on their studies, but also are becoming part of the community while they are here.”

She added that the group is not exclusively for international students, but invites American students to join for an opportunity to learn about the countries their classmates home countries.

“I get really excited to share my culture, and the culture of other students as well,” she said, adding that people are surprised to learn how Guyana, which is on South America’s north Atlantic coast, is “a melting pot of diversity,” with residents from all over the world.

“Diversity is something very important to me, because it’s something I grew up around,” she said. “It makes me comfortable to know everyone around me is not just like me.”

Semple said the group also provides support for international students, who understand the challenges they face.

“It makes me feel like I’m not the only international student here,” she said. “We miss home a lot. Being able to be part of a club with other students like us and building a community around me means a lot to me. I still get homesick sometimes, but I realize I’m not alone.”

Semple added that she’s fortunate to have family close. Her parents live in Lafayette and her sister, Heather, is also an IU Kokomo student.

She became involved quickly after enrolling, and found her second family on campus.

“I feel like I’ve made some great connections, and I feel like those connections can last after I graduate, too,” she said. She’s worked as a student ambassador for the Office of Admissions, serves as vice president of Student Union Board, and belongs to other clubs as well.

Semple also was chosen to represent IU Kokomo’s students at President Pamela Whitten’s inauguration in November 2021. She was excited to be part of the ceremony for IU’s first woman president.

“Being part of that made me proud,” she said. “Seeing her example told me this is something I could aspire to in the future, knowing that she led the way.”

IU Kokomo’s community recipient is Nikki Giovanni. Known for her poetry and civil rights activism, Giovanni has served as a visiting scholar at IU Kokomo. In 2023, she met with students and community members to provide a public performance of her poetry. She inspires others through her work to create opportunities that allow people to learn, improve their lives, and appreciate culture and community.

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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Erin Witt, director of media and marketing

Danielle Rush, communications specialist

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