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ISSS Director Named President of NAFSA

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Dr. Fanta Aw (center) with colleagues at a reception held in honor of her new NAFSA post.
Dr. Fanta Aw (center) with colleagues at a reception held in honor of her new NAFSA post. Courtesy Jeff Watts.

On Monday, February 25th, AU students, staff, faculty, alumni, and colleagues from the international education community came to the School of International Service’s Abramson Family Founders Room to celebrate one of the university’s most important leaders – Dr. Fanta Aw.

The assistant vice president of Campus Life and director of International Student & Scholar Services has been lauded for her work in international education, developing a reputation that landed her as president and board chair of NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

An emotional Dr. Aw spoke to the Founders Room crowd gathered to honor her in her new post.

“Those to whom much is given, much is expected. I try in my daily actions to remember this very important maxim,” she said. “Words cannot begin to express my gratitude, for I am deeply touched by the event this evening and I have many people to thank for the journey thus far.”

NAFSA, the world’s leading professional association dedicated to international education, serves some 10,000 educator members at 3,000 higher education institutions worldwide. Its annual conference brings this group together to learn about global needs and trends in education from leaders such as former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan and two-time president of Costa Rice Oscar Arias.

At Monday’s reception, American University president Neil Kerwin explained Dr. Aw’s success in being elected not only as NAFSA’s president but also as the chair of its board.

“Having the faith of an organization put in you for one of those positions is remarkable in itself. In both, it’s truly extraordinary,” he said. “It’s emblematic of the respect that Fanta has earned not only on this campus but throughout all of American higher education.”

Dean of the School of International Service James Goldgeier introduced Dr. Aw, noting the influence of her work as a faculty member within SIS.

“In the year and a half that I’ve been here, I’ve met a lot of great people, but this woman is truly remarkable. She’s done so much for the university and for the school,” he said. “She’s taught me so much about international education.”

Dr. Christine Chin, associate professor in SIS and director of its international communications program, spoke to the clear logic behind her colleague’s appointment.

“Fanta’s election tells us that NAFSA now knows and reaffirms what many of us on this campus have known for quite a while,” she said. “She is a skilled administrator and leader, visionary and integrative in her initiatives, collaborative in her relationships, and generous in sharing her knowledge.”

After hearing the praise for her work, Dr. Aw took a moment to thank her father in attendance for enrolling her in French international schools at a young age, setting the path that would point toward her professional field.

“I owe a debt of gratitude to my parents for opening up the world of international education to me at such a young age,” she said. “My parents understood then what many families have come to understand today. That we live in an interdependent world and that our world is connected by stories, histories, geographies and most importantly a universal need for freedom, dignity, and the pursuit of happiness.”

She went on to note her twenty-one years at AU so far, as she pursued her undergraduate and graduate work here while starting in work-study positions that eventually led her into Campus Life administration. In her role as an assistant vice president in the division, she has helped grow a thriving international community on campus and establish the university’s new Center for Diversity & Inclusion.

In closing her remarks, she stressed gratitude for all her support and achievements before laying out three pillars for the future of international education – imagination, integration, and inclusion.

Dr. Gail Short Hanson, vice president of Campus Life, stated during the evening that the AU community is not the least bit surprised by Dr. Aw’s success; in placing her at AU, it was only a matter of time before the world recognized her work and talents.

“When you place a person like Fanta with her skills and abilities on a platform like Washington, DC, what you get is what we’ve got, an extraordinary international leader,” Dr. Hanson said. “We couldn’t be prouder of that. As she distinguishes herself, she also distinguishes her colleagues, Campus Life, and American University.”