PhD candidate helps strengthen diversity and amplify international student voices

Omar Dumdum speaks at a conference

World-class education, cultural exposure and new experiences are all reasons students choose the University of Wisconsin–Madison. For PhD candidate Omar Dumdum, his reasoning wasn’t as simple as that. Rather than stay in a country facing political turmoil, he chose to leave and continue his education in the United States.

Dumdum received his undergraduate degree in mass communication from the University of the Philippines (UP) in his home city of Cebu and his graduate degree from UP–Diliman. Upon graduation, he began working in public relations and policy work for government agencies, including the Office of the Philippine President, then doing communications consulting for international organizations and lecturing for his alma mater in UP–Diliman. He enjoyed the work, but Dumdum was alarmed by the outcome of the 2016 election in the Philippines which resulted in a populist leader who was known for “extrajudicial” killings and other human rights violations.

While Dumdum didn’t initially plan to pursue a PhD, he saw doctoral studies as a pathway to leave his country and the new political climate it was about to face – something he acknowledges not everyone has the privilege, resources, or the prior educational foundation to do so.

Because of his communication background and previous work with international organizations, he decided to pursue a PhD in mass communication while also double minoring in political science and global studies. Specifically, he studies the dynamics between the news media and international organizations (United Nations, World Bank, World Health Organization, etc.), and how this relationship affects countries around the world.

“I’m in the field of political communication, but not a lot of political communication researchers study international organizations because they usually focus on one country or compare one with another,” Dumdum said. “Although I also study Philippine media and political culture, I want to focus on international organizations because it’s still an understudied topic in our field.”

Bringing an international background of his own to the program in Madison, Dumdum joined the university as a project assistant for the Institute for Regional and International Studies (IRIS). Here, he assisted with the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, the Middle East Studies Program, and the IRIS­–National Resource Center.

After two years with IRIS, he transitioned to a teaching assistant (TA) role for the International Studies (IS) Major program. This position then led him to be a TA for his home department in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where he is currently its Lead TA while finishing his dissertation. Though he is now a TA in the “J-School,” as it is affectionately known, his work in IRIS was what inspired him to pursue studying international organizations.

Dumdum also joined the International Student Advisory Board (ISAB), a program of International Student Services from 2021–2022. In that role, he was able to provide what he describes as “community service” for international students and get to know some of the policy nuances related to international student issues.

2021 International Student Welcome & Information Fair (ISWIF)

A highlight of his ISAB tenure was the board’s response to the 2021 Campus Climate Survey. The student board found what Dumdum described as “erroneous racial/ethnic categories used in the survey that impacted the self-identification of some international students.” Survey officials were compelled to meet with ISAB to apologize and find ways to be more mindful and inclusive in future surveys. As a result of his involvement, Dumdum was invited to be on the university-wide Campus Climate Survey Task Force, which analyzed the survey results. In that role, he represented the views of international students during the summer task force meetings.

While he is no longer a member of ISAB, he is still a mentor and resource for current members.

“ISAB has been instrumental in shaping my understanding of the international student community,” said Dumdum. “There’s a lot of challenges we face that need to be addressed in a less segregated way. And ISAB has been pushing for our issues to be more integrated into the realm of diversity, equity, and inclusion, which largely still focuses on domestic issues.”

His involvement with ISAB and the Climate Survey led him to be part of UW–Madison’s annual Diversity Forum. He participated as a speaker for the panel on “Using Data to Inform Our Decisions: The 2021 Campus Climate Survey Task Force.”

After finishing his PhD, Dumdum hopes to remain in academia. “I love teaching. It gives me a different sense of fulfillment every time you help students learn something new,” said Dumdum.

He hopes his teaching skills, academic and managerial background will steer him toward a career in academic administration, but acknowledges that life always has its own plans. “I didn’t even think that I would be doing PhD studies, even more so abroad! So, I don’t know where life will take me, but hopefully it takes me to that direction.”


Story by: Jaya Larsen