The Yeworkwha Belachew (YB) Staff Award is given each year to an Oberlin College staff member who has gone “above and beyond” in service to the college. The award is named in honor of the extraordinary service of Yeworkwha Belachew, or YB, as she was known to the Oberlin community. The YB Staff Award was established to recognize a non-faculty, institutional employee of the college who demonstrates daily commitment and performance in advancing Oberlin’s strategic goals through exemplary service to the college.
In his role, Rainaldi supports Oberlin students in their pursuit of meaningful intercultural experiences. “Study away is an essential part of an Oberlin education,” says Rainaldi. “My role as director overlaps with all the various areas of the liberal arts experience in a study away context. That does, of course, involve academics, but it also involves advising, housing, cultural adjustment, visas, finances and scholarship, student life, and risk management.”
In addition to his typical work with students, Rainaldi recently navigated the difficult task of providing guidance to students studying abroad during a period of upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He explains that the past few months have been incredibly challenging, not only for him but for the students who were required to return home before the conclusion of their time abroad.
“Supporting the transition away from those experiences was immensely challenging on an emotional and professional level,” he says. “It was heartbreaking for me, and surely more so for our Oberlin students. Yet, it was also inspiring to see how well they managed this extraordinarily difficult time.”
For Rainaldi, the most enjoyable part of his role is when students share their experiences abroad. “So much of my work involves getting students off campus,” he says. “Any time I have the opportunity to learn about their experiences motivates me to continue supporting other Obies in their pursuit of study away.”
Receiving the YB Staff Award is meaningful for Rainaldi. He explains that Belachew embodied Oberlin’s commitment to overcoming challenges through education and dialogue. “Improving the world’s imperfections, including those in ourselves and here in the U.S., is one of the tenants of international education,” he says.
While reflecting on the experiences of the students who studied away in spring 2020, Rainaldi shares words of encouragement. “Returning home from study away is challenging enough, but to have done so under these circumstances takes immense courage and resolve. It might not feel like it right now, but all of you have become stronger and more resilient as a result. If you haven’t already recognized this growth in yourselves, you soon will. This semester will be remembered for a lot of reasons, and I encourage each of you to remember it with pride and dignity.”
Read what some of Rainaldi’s nominating colleagues had to say about him.
“Mike Rainaldi is richly deserving of the Yeworkwha Belachew Staff Award. His work exemplifies the best of YB’s dedication, commitment, and care. Mike truly loves travel and study abroad and is an enthusiastic advocate for it. He maintains a student-centered office and is highly responsive to students’ questions and concerns about international study.”
“As you know the health, safety, and well-being of our faculty, staff, and students is of paramount importance. Following the escalating tensions between the United States and Iran, Mike identified Oberlin students who were in the Middle East, checked in with them regarding their safety and documented a thorough emergency response protocol based on safety assessments from four different global threat assessment organizations. Mike's leadership is consistent with higher education industry standards for health, safety, and security protocol in international programs.”
“Students deeply appreciate Mike’s counsel and direction as they make decisions on whether, when, and where to study abroad.”
“COVID-19’s devastating impact on international travel has tested every member of the Oberlin community as well as our friends and neighbors around the world. Oberlin’s excellent response to this unprecedented public health emergency required Mike Rainaldi’s expertise and professional judgment to ensure our students’ safety. Mike has been a leader on campus in responding to this pandemic, providing ongoing detailed information about global conditions throughout the rapidly changing circumstances.”
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