'I Feel Like I Can Conquer the World'
Walking down the streets of Manhattan, surrounded by 49 college students of diverse backgrounds, Kent State student Rafael Guedes Bonacin, ’23, felt at home, even though he was far from it.
A Brazilian international student and advertising major, Guedes Bonacin was in New York City for the American Advertising Federation’s “Most Promising Multicultural Students” multi-day workshop and immersion program, Feb. 13-16, 2023. He was one of 50 students from across the U.S. named to the program, now in its 26th year.
“For four days we visited different agencies and different businesses in the advertising and marketing industry,” Guedes Bonacin said. “We got to see how the sausage is made, in a way.”
While listening to Gabriel Schmitt, chief creative officer at the advertising agency Foote, Cone & Belding, Guedes Bonacin felt particularly moved.
“I couldn’t help but notice he had an accent very similar to mine,” Guedes Bonacin said. “… I talked with him, and he told me he’s Brazilian. In that moment, I understood the importance of diversity and inclusion.”
It felt “more real,” he said, to see someone like him doing what he wants to do.
“Seeing someone just like me, an immigrant from Brazil with a Brazilian accent, talking to a bunch of college seniors and graduates about how it is to work in the advertising industry, knowing that he made it, means that I can make it too,” Guedes Bonacin said.
Schmitt and leaders from other agencies and businesses gave Guedes Bonacin and his peers advertising/marketing career advice with a heavy focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
“Being an international student from Brazil, I’ve faced a few challenges that some people don’t face,” he said. “I thought I knew what diversity and inclusion meant, but seeing it firsthand was completely eye-opening.”
Guedes Bonacin also appreciated the opportunity to meet and network with peers from across the country.
“I feel like I can conquer the world,” he said. “I had a mindset closed to Cleveland and Northeast Ohio, mainly because I already know companies there, and those companies know me from reaching out to them, but now, companies from all over the country know who I am because of (the conference).”
Prior to the conference, Kent State had already given Guedes Bonacin an abundance of opportunities; he is creative director of Franklin Advertising and has held leadership positions in the Student Media advertising office. He came to Kent State in 2021 after deciding to leave law school behind and switch paths to advertising.
“Right when I got to campus, I knew that I wanted to be involved with as many activities as I could,” he said, adding, “Each semester I grew a little bit. Not only position-wise, but also with my understanding of how to work in a corporate environment, how to contact clients and how you have to understand your product before selling it.”
One of Guedes Bonacin’s mentors has been School of Media and Journalism Professional-in-Residence Mike Jackson, a Kent State alumnus whose own advertising career has included leadership roles at Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Coors Brewing and General Motors. Jackson is the faculty adviser for Franklin Advertising and worked with Guedes Bonacin to bring professionals from CrossCountry Mortgage to campus for an event last fall.
“Rafi is the leader of (Franklin Advertising), so he’s quote unquote the president,” Jackson said. “He led the student team, planning, developing and coordinating the event. My role was to identify the brand … and Rafi led the team that organized and produced the entire event.”
Jackson said Guedes Bonacin’s effort and work ethic makes him stand out.
“Rafi is an outstanding communicator,” Jackson said. “In addition to being a great student who’s highly motivated, he’s very inspired to get involved. Whether it’s his role with student media or role leading Franklin Advertising, I’d say that his communication skills and drive to be successful is something that he brings from his home country of Brazil.”