Dear AU Community,
It is with deep gratitude for her decades of exemplary and transformative service to the American University community that I announce Dr. Fanta Aw will embark on an exciting new professional opportunity later this spring. Beginning in March, Fanta will lead NAFSA: Association of International Educators as executive director and CEO. NAFSA is the largest and most comprehensive membership organization of international educators. I know that you join me in the pride and excitement that our fellow Eagle’s leadership and vision is recognized in this way. I am thrilled for Fanta.
A tireless advocate for the AU family, especially our students, Fanta has helped thousands of Eagles on their academic and personal journeys. She is a mentor, a friend, a confidant, and a colleague. Her impact on American University can be seen and felt in every part of our campus and our student experience. Whether it is family weekend, alumni gatherings, or just walking across the campus with Fanta, you see how she lives the AU spirit of community.
Fanta has worked closely with NAFSA for many years, including serving on its board of directors. She will be an outstanding leader at NAFSA, and it is heartening to see her join such an august organization dedicated to international education, a priority for AU. And while we will miss Fanta here, I am proud that when organizations need leadership for important things they turn to AU!
Fanta is a triple Eagle─Kogod/BS ’90, SPA/MA ’94, and CAS/PhD ’11─and has served in vital roles in nearly every aspect of student life at AU since 1992. She was named vice president of campus life in 2017, assumed responsibility for inclusive excellence in 2018, and added undergraduate enrollment to her portfolio in 2021. Her broad and diverse responsibilities connect her with students, staff, and faculty in so many ways, including her leadership of priority services and operations. Under her leadership across multiple Campus Life positions, she led the creation of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion; launched community-based learning programs in cooperation with the academic units; and expanded counseling and mental health support, including 24/7 services and the creation of the Center for Well-Being Programs and Psychological Services.
Throughout her service, Fanta has worked to enhance the student experience, including revisions to financial aid strategy when she co-chaired the University Enrollment and Marketing Committee, updated to on-campus residential facilities and communities, programs to engage students and their families throughout their time at AU, and unwavering support for the wide array of student engagement, including the establishment of the Bridge Café. She has always understood how we worked inside our community and still looked outside to make sure AU continued to better achieve mission.
During times of great challenge, Fanta is at the forefront of the university’s engagement, problem solving, and support for our community. She led the development and implementation of our inclusive excellence strategy and Fanta’s blueprint guides our ongoing effort in this critical area. She led the implementation of new systems to support community members designate their chosen names, pronouns, and gender identity and dramatically expanded inclusive training resources. Fanta and her team’s work was recognized with the 2022 Inclusive Excellence Award from the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education. While we have much work still to do on our inclusive excellence journey, our progress is a testament to Fanta’s commitment, innovation, and perseverance.
Beginning in the early days of 2020, Fanta coordinated our initial COVID-19 response and has led our integrated health and safety approach over the past three years. Fanta brought together stakeholders from DC-area institutions to launch the Shield T3 testing system, which made free COVID testing available to our community; other universities including Gallaudet, Catholic, and Marymount; and local K-12 schools.
As part of her focus on community, Fanta built a dedicated parent and family engagement effort that connects our students’ families to AU throughout the year. From orientation and family weekend to regular webinars and information resources, Fanta helped forge relationships that helped students thrive and gave parents and families support and peace of mind.
Fanta is also the School of International Service Hurst Senior Professorial Lecturer. She taught graduate courses related to immigration, internationalization of higher education, and international higher education policy. She received the 2013 University Award for Outstanding Teaching in an Adjunct Position and won the Outstanding Service Award three times (1996, 2001, 2005). She designed and delivered Center for Teaching, Research and Learning (CTRL) curricula for faculty development on inclusive pedagogy and co-facilitated the first faculty learning community on race.
As we prepare for Fanta’s departure, we are focused on a seamless transition. Fanta built a strong team in Campus Life and Undergraduate Enrollment, and students will continue to receive excellent services and support from these offices with no interruption. Our focus remains on student thriving, which has always been Fanta’s priority.
The search for Fanta’s successor will begin immediately, with community engagement a key priority throughout the process. The quality of our people and the success of our community helps us attract the next generation of leaders that will continue our momentum. As we have for other administrative leadership searches, we will be working with an external search firm that has experience with these kinds of positions. The search firm will obtain input from representatives of students, faculty, and staff about the critical qualities, competencies, and areas of focus for the next vice president, which will help guide the search. Once candidates are identified, they will meet with representatives of students, faculty, and staff who will provide input to the search firm and to me.
AU helps people grow personally and professionally, and Fanta’s legacy at American University and her impact on all of us is nearly immeasurable and will continue to be felt for years to come. While we are saddened to see Fanta depart, we are always proud when our colleagues go on to well-earned and fulfilling opportunities. While we will miss her always, we are grateful for everything she has done and will do (as she doesn’t leave until March 8th!) for the community and excited for her next chapter. Later this spring, we will gather to celebrate Fanta and thank her for her service to AU.
Please join me in heartfelt thanks and congratulations to Fanta.