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Former UMD Exchange Student Returns to Champion International Student Inclusion

Rebeca Moreno, ISSS Assistant Director of Engagement & Inclusion, first came to UMD as an exchange student. Now, she’s drawing from her own experiences and professional background to support international students at her alma mater.

At the end of every exchange program, peers hang onto each other during the departure blues and swear it won’t be the last time they set foot on the ground of their host country. For the new Assistant Director of Engagement & Inclusion for International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS), Dr. Rebeca Moreno, her first experience at UMD as an exchange student in the fall of 1999 was transformative—and unknowingly laid the foundation for a career in international education and a passion for making international Terps feel at home.

A Puerto Rico native, Dr. Moreno came to our campus as a bright-eyed senior from the University of Puerto Rico, where she studied in the School of Public Communication. The widespread reputation of the Merrill College of Journalism made UMD her top destination for continuing her studies. With that, she left her island behind, hopped on a flight, and made her way to College Park. 

“From that moment on, I was immersed in the American higher education culture. I loved the immense campus and the diverse community,” Moreno said. 

While living in the now-demolished Old Leonardtown apartments, Dr. Moreno rallied around her fellow international students. They connected over feelings of excitement, isolation, and all the firsts of 90s college life at UMD—coordinating meal times at South Dining Hall, taking the metro to the capitol, and seeing the leaves change on the McKeldin Mall oak trees.

“We cherished everything. The Mall, all of the Smithsonian museums. It was also my first experience with winter, visiting the ice rink in downtown D.C. Everything was new to me, even the colors of the seasons changing outside my dorm window.” said Moreno. 

At the end of her semester, she returned to Puerto Rico—yet the memories she made at Maryland endured, along with the community she built for herself while on campus.

“It transformed me because it literally opened me a door to a world I did not know—it also gave me the great benefit of having friends from many different countries and cultures,” said Moreno. 

She made her return to College Park in 2001 for graduate school with the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Years later, thanks to the mentorship of her doctoral advisor, Dr. Eyda M. Merediz, Moreno became involved with the Education Abroad office, serving as a faculty-director for the department’s short-term programs—traveling to Spain, Cuba, and Chile with cohorts of passionate and globally oriented students. Upon graduating in 2013, she began her ten-year Spanish faculty career at Washington College, climbing the ranks in the Global Education Office and ultimately becoming the Associate Dean for International Education. 

In September 2023, Dr. Moreno once again returned to her alma mater, now with the ISSS office, working to help international students find a sense of belonging on campus as she did over 20 years ago. 

“In my work, I always refer to my experiences at the University of Maryland—and I’m able to identify gaps and collaborate with many campus units to find suitable solutions. I also have to say that the UMD I’m working at now is not the UMD I studied at…I’ve seen a transition and growth regarding DEI approaches at this institution,” said Moreno. 

Her goals for her position are cemented by her belief in the power of human connection. Inspired by the supportive guidance of her professors as a graduate student and grounded in recent data and research, she hopes to develop an official mentorship program for international graduate students in the coming months.

“I believe having the right mentorship will transform your future as an academic. So that's an example of drawing from personal experience. Now, as a professional, I can work on setting strategic goals and implementing projects to address some of the issues we’ve seen throughout the years,” said Moreno.

Dr. Moreno looks forward to working closely with international students and witnessing the power of multicultural communities coming together to tackle big issues that impact us all. She considers her role as a facilitator to strengthen diverse learning communities where students can obtain the necessary resources to excel in their work. 

“In ISSS, we work to improve access to campus-wide support systems and professional opportunities for students and scholars joining UMD from across the globe. In the process, we empower International Terps to become an integral part of our campus. We offer inclusive and culturally responsive programming to enrich the international student experience so they can easily transition to conducting amazing research, collaborations, teaching, and service,” said Moreno. 

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