LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 22, 2020) — The University of Kentucky Center for Graduate and Professional Diversity Initiatives and The Graduate School's Office of Diversity and Inclusion have named Melissa Molho-Medina the 2020 Dr. Benjamin Nero Student Inclusive Excellence Award winner. The award recognizes an outstanding graduate or professional student who demonstrates a strong commitment to creating a culture of inclusion at the university.
Molho-Medina is a doctoral student in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment’s Department of Plant Pathology where she is studying host virus interactions in plants. She has been an officer in her department’s graduate student organization for four years and has served as an advocate for international graduate students in the UK Graduate Student Congress (GSC) since 2018.
Originally from Mexico, Molho-Medina understands the specific struggles and barriers international graduate students face.
"Living in a country which is far from home with a different language and culture can make us feel isolated and alone, and building our support group, which is very important for graduate students, can be difficult,” Molho-Medina said. “I decided to join the GSC and National Association of Graduate-Professional Students (NAGPS) to learn more about the concerns of international students and how to address those concerns. My focus is to advocate for international graduate students and build a more inclusive community where international students feel welcome and supported."
Molho-Medina was nominated for the award by Rick Bennett, professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Plant Pathology.
“In the Department of Plant Pathology, we have international students from all over the world with many different cultures and languages,” Bennett said. “Melissa has been a strong advocate for cross-cultural experiences and always has a friendly demeanor and kind personality. There is great value in making people feel welcome and included in college and department activities and being involved in helping people be successful and reach their potential.”
As a result of her enthusiasm to advocate for graduate students’ needs, in 2019 Molho-Medina was selected as the director of international graduate students’ concerns in the midwest region by the NAGPS. As a local and regional advocate, she has focused on empowering international graduate students and educating domestic students about the importance of international students in the U.S. She organizes events for students to promote cross-cultural experiences and creates a collaborative environment at UK.
“We have to embrace diversity and promote inclusion,” Molho-Medina said. “Everyone can build an inclusive environment — be a good listener and open to new ideas.”
The award’s namesake, Benjamin W. Nero, was born in Greenwood, Mississippi and was the first African American to graduate from the UK College of Dentistry in 1967. He is an orthodontist. Prior to attending UK, Nero attended Kentucky State College (now Kentucky State University) and was the starting quarterback on the football team.
The Center for Graduate and Professional Diversity Initiatives, housed in UK's Office for Institutional Diversity, focuses on recruiting diverse graduate and professional students in UK's six health colleges and retaining diverse graduate and professional students in all UK's colleges, contributing to an inclusive campus environment where all students can fully engage and succeed.
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers." We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.