In recollection of Lois Roth’s efforts to promote cross‐cultural understanding and cooperation as a US Foreign Service Officer, the Roth Foundation partners with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) (US State Department), to provide the department’s four awards honoring excellence in the field of cultural and educational diplomacy.
We are thrilled to announce the 2023 winners of the Lois Roth Awards for excellence in cultural and educational diplomacy given in partnership with the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). Congratulations to Laurence (Larry) Socha, Christienne Carroll, Bernice Affotey, Sharon Hsieh, Irina Colin, Josita Ekouevi, Sami Saaied, László Vizsy, and Maria Eugenia (“Jenny”) Verdaguer. ECA Assistant Secretary Satterfield and the Lois Roth Foundation salute all the winners, nominees and their nominators for participating in this competition.
- The Lois Roth Award recognizes a Foreign Service Officer with the US State Department.
- The Ilchman‐Richardson Award recognizes an ECA administrator who has made significant contributions in the domestic management of US cultural diplomacy.
- The Gill Jacot‐Guillarmod Award and the Gill Jacot-Guillarmod Career Achievement Award recognize locally-employed specialists, working at an embassy or consulate overseas, who have made outstanding contributions to the mutual goals of the U.S. and host country in cultural and/or educational diplomacy.
- In 2018, the Roth Foundation introduced the Emeritus Award, designed to honor lifetime contributions to international cultural and educational relations. In addition to retired diplomats, eligible candidates may have a different background, including in but not restricted to government, universities, US non-profits, international NGOs, etc.
The types of qualities displayed by recipients of Roth Foundation cultural diplomacy awards include:
- Cross‐cultural sensitivity and understanding for all—regardless of age, race, religion, color, sex, national origin or disability—and the courage and intellectual integrity to bring alternate facts and opinions into open conversation
- Ingenuity and imagination in creating projects, programs and products to deepen the contact between foreign intellectuals, artists and professionals and their US counterparts
- Familiarity with global affairs and foreign languages, to deepen substantive discussion between US and foreign intellectuals, scholars and professionals
- Patience, wisdom and generosity in helping new colleagues, both international and US, develop their careers
- Special skill in promoting collaborations between US and foreign institutions and high‐quality exchange opportunities with the civil sector.
Lois Roth Award For Cultural Diplomacy
The Lois Roth Award is presented every year to a Foreign Service Officer who has made significant contributions to the field of US cultural and educational diplomacy. It honors those who exhibit cross-cultural sensitivity in all aspects of their work and show patience, wisdom and generosity in helping new colleagues—international and American—to pursue and develop their skills and careers. Displaying familiarity with different areas of the world, global affairs and foreign languages, winners of this award hold substantive discussion with US and foreign scholars, artists and professionals, while exemplifying Lois Roth’s personal legacy of superior creativity and human warmth in their work with others.
The 2023 Lois Roth Award for excellence in cultural diplomacy goes to Laurence (Larry) Socha, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy Mogadishu, Somalia. Three years after the restoration of U.S. diplomatic presence in Mogadishu after a nearly 30 year absence, Larry Socha is updating the U.S.-Somalia narrative popularized by Hollywood scripts now decades old to an authentic account of partnership with Somali institutions. Larry kickstarted programs for artists, exchange participants, English Teaching Fellows, a new American Corner and events like his “Family Room Film Series,” that have opened the doors of our Embassy to Somalis living outside the security barriers of the airport and achieved that “last three feet” of people-to-people diplomacy.
An honorable Mention for the 2023 Lois Roth Award went to Christienne Carroll, Public Diplomacy Officer for Public Engagement, U.S. Embassy Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Christienne has applied her vision of bringing disparate peoples together and improving their chances for success during a series of assignments in the toughest PD environments. In Iraq (twice), Tunis and her current post, Christienne uses her superior foreign language, programming and grants management skills to offer a broad swath of publics carefully-crafted civic and educational programs with lasting impact.
Instituted in 2007, the Ilchman‐Richardson Award recognizes an ECA employee in Washington who has made significant contributions to the management of US cultural diplomacy, while leading and mentoring others. It is named in appreciation of two former ECA Assistant Secretaries, Alice Ilchman and John Richardson. After her tenure at ECA, Alice Ilchman, formerly Dean of Wellesley College, became the Associate Director of USICA and USIA (1979‐81) and then the President of Sarah Lawrence College, before becoming chair of the board of the Rockefeller Foundation; she directed the Jeanette Watson Fellowships until her death in 2006. John Richardson became Assistant Secretary for State/ECA (1968‐77) after years in corporate law, investment banking and Radio Free Europe; after his tenure, he headed Youth for Understanding and chaired the boards of the US Endowment for Democracy and the US Institute of Peace.
The 2023 Ilchman-Richardson Award winner is Maria Eugenia (‘Jenny’) Verdaguer, Branch Chief, Western Hemisphere Programs Branch, Office of Academic Exchange Programs (ECA/A/E/WHA), Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), U.S. State Department, Washington, DC. Since 2007, Jenny has led a team of international exchange professionals supporting 1,700 participants per year from thirty countries. Jenny pioneered multi-country Fulbright collaborative research initiatives, including the Fulbright Regional Network for Applied Research (NEXUS) Program, and the new Fulbright Amazonia Initiative reflecting current multi-disciplinary and team-based research approaches to academic cooperation on climate change and conservation issues. In a further example of innovative leadership, Jenny introduced regional webinars for Fulbright Commissions and U.S. Embassy staff on mental health and cross-cultural adaptation strategies to strengthen structures of support and inclusion for diverse Fulbright participants. As a bicultural and bilingual Latin Americanist, herself the product of international exchange, Jenny understands first-hand the transformational power of international education, and strives to multiply and enhance Fulbright life-changing experiences across the Americas.
Gill Jacot‐Guillarmod Awards
Established in 2013, Gill Jacot-Guillarmod Awards recognize Locally Engaged Staff members at US embassies and consulates who have made outstanding contributions in educational and cultural diplomacy to missions shared by the U.S. and the host country. These awards are named in honor of Gillian (Gill) Jacot-Guillarmod who served for 35 years at the US Mission in South Africa and Embassy in Pretoria, spanning the apartheid period to the emergence of democracy.
Such staff members share their deep institutional memory, personal relationships in the community and knowledge of local culture, society and politics. They also maintain continuity at US embassies and missions worldwide, as US Foreign Service Officers rotate every few years, and play an important role as mentors to new colleagues and supervisors alike. As Bruce Wharton, then-Acting Under Secretary for Public Affairs, put it in reference to 2015 “Gill” recipient Monica Alcalde:
“The things she taught me—from process, to substance, to style—have guided me as I moved from job to job across Latin America, the U.S. and Africa. Without Monica’s patient teaching and friendship, I don’t think I would ever have made it beyond Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer.”
Gill Jacot-Guillarmod, whom this award honors, served for thirty-five years in South Africa, spanning a period from the dark days of apartheid through to the peaceful emergence of democracy. Although it ran counter to the American democratic mission, in the 1960s and 70s the U.S. was under intense pressure from the South African government to support its state-sponsored racial segregation. Within this tense environment, Gill programmed hundreds of Fulbright and other grantees; later, with great political sensitivity, she worked to assist in South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy. Lois Roth considered Gill to be one of the most remarkable locally-employed staff she had ever encountered. This is also true of the dozen of Gill’s colleagues at USIS Pretoria, many of whom worked with the Roth Foundation to get this prize instituted. This award in Gill’s name thus represents the respect and admiration of a great number of people. She is remembered as a consummate cross-cultural communicator and bridge-builder, serving on behalf of all as a mentor, counselor and committed senior colleague. Read an Interview with Gill Jacot-Guillarmod, conducted by Foreign Service Officer Dan Whitman and published in his book Outsmarting Apartheid (SUNY Press, 2014).
The 2023 Lois Roth Foundation’s Gill Jacot-Guillarmod Award for excellence in cultural diplomacy went to Bernice Affotey, Education Specialist, U.S. Embassy Accra, Ghana. Berenice Affotey has motivated and prepared thousands of students to follow their dreams of studying in the United States. In addition, Ms. Affotey generously serves as a trainer and mentor to institutional contacts, her fellow Sub-Saharan African Advisers and at many international education conferences. Every school break brings former students returning from the United States, who are the future civic and cultural leaders of Ghana, to pay a visit to “Auntie Bernice,” as she is affectionately known, to share their deep gratitude for her work, a sentiment shared by the entire Mission.
Honorable Mention for the 2023 Lois Roth Foundation’s Gill Jacot-Guillarmod Award for excellence in cultural diplomacy went to Sharon I-Hua Hsieh, Public Engagement Specialist for Education and Cultural Policy, American Institute in Taiwan (AIT). Sharon I-Hua Hsieh is recognized for greatly expanding people-to-people ties by spearheading the efforts to launch a new U.S.-Taiwan Education Initiative. By nurturing partnerships with several Taiwan ministries, she increased both U.S. and host-country funding for exchanges, making Taiwan’s Fulbright/Foundation for Scholarly Exchange program one of the largest in the region and its English Teaching Assistant Program one of the biggest in the world. She followed up with a strategic plan to make the initiative a sustainable pillar in our bilateral relationship.
Career Achievement Award
To honor the most accomplished and longest-serving Locally Engaged Staff members, in 2020 the ECA Awards Committee and Lois Roth Foundation introduced a Career Achievement category for Gill Jacot-Guillarmod Award nominees. This award recognizes those who are nearing the end of their careers for long-standing dedication to their work and their success in what Gill described as “helping the United States while helping your own country.” The 2023 Career Achievement Award went jointly to Irina Colin, Josita Ekouevi, Sami Saaied, and László Vizsy.
Irina Colin is an Established Opinion Leaders Specialist in the U.S. Embassy in Chisinau, Moldova. Over twenty-six years, mentoring dozens of new staff, Irina has built a culture of high achievers by her example. A strategic thinker, skillful implementer and trusted colleague, Irina deciphers complexities from Moldova’s culture to the PDSI process to make her section better. Across every segment of Moldovan society there are former USG exchange participants applying their knowledge to Moldova’s challenges thanks to Irina Colin’s years of dedicated service.
Josita Ekouevi is a Public Engagement Specialist for Established Opinion Leaders in the U.S. Embassy in Lomé, Togo. For twenty-five years, one thousand exchange alumni have considered “Auntie Josita” part of their family for her skill in guiding them to successful exchange experiences. Membership in the self-run Global Alumni Association of Togo is viewed as prestigious and an advantage in Togo’s difficult job market. Generously sharing her expertise with colleagues in other Bureaus and in DC, Josita’s work with participants and alumni represents the highest ideals of U.S. cultural and educational exchanges.
Sami Saaied is a Strategic Public Engagement Specialist in the U.S. Embassy in Tunis, Tunisia. Over more than twenty years managing PD outreach and speaker programs, Sami has used his expertise in grants management, his broad contact base and deep knowledge of the academic scene in Tunisia to bring U.S. perspectives to thought leaders and decision-makers across a wide spectrum of urgent and long-running issues, including PRC influence, business higher education, security cooperation, anti-trafficking, and DEIA. He is recognized for his lasting contributions throughout Mission Tunisia.
László Vizsy is an Emerging Voices Specialist in the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, Hungary. During László’s thirty-plus years of service, his innovative leadership in outreach to tens of thousands of students, management of five American Corners, interpretation skills, and supervisory skills have been instrumental in furthering cultural understanding and educational opportunities for both countries. Although the relationship has waxed and waned over the years, the overall positive impression of America in Hungary is largely the result of cultural programming led by László Vizsy.
Emeritus Award for Cultural Diplomacy
In contrast to the first three awards for excellence in cultural and educational diplomacy, which are restricted to actively employed individuals, the Roth Foundation’s Emeritus Award fills a longstanding need to recognize work in cultural diplomacy on the part of others. This occasional award recognizes lifetime contributions to deepening international educational and cultural dialogue and exchange. The selection panel candidates including, but not restricted to individuals with a background in government, universities, US non-profits, international NGOs, etc. It is guided by the attributes exemplified by Lois Roth: deep humanity, wisdom and generosity of spirit, as well as skill, ingenuity, cross-cultural insight, commitment to excellence and mentoring, and a conceptual grasp of the numerous interlinked components affecting education, culture and interpersonal communication.
Penny Egan received the 2019 Lois Roth Emeritus Award for her lifetime of contributions to the field of cultural diplomacy, with a focus on international education. During her twelve-year tenure as Executive Director of the US-UK Fulbright Commission, Penny forged stronger educational links between the US and UK, gaining increased funding for American pre- and post-doctoral scholars to study at the top research universities in the UK. She also took important steps towards making international education more accessible through her creation of the Social Mobility Program, which provides funding for underprivileged UK undergraduates to attend American universities. Penny’s dedication to cultural and educational diplomacy has provided opportunities for hundreds of students to enrich their educational experience, and in doing so has fostered continued cultural exchange between the US and UK.
Every spring, the Bureau for Educational and Cultural Affairs will internally circulate details regarding nominations for the Lois Roth Award, the Ilchman-Richardson Award and the Gill Jacot-Guillarmod Awards. Supervisors are invited to submit nominations in all three categories, which must include:
- Name and title of nominee;
- Name, title and email address of nominating supervisor;
- Work location of the nominee;
- Brief description of the role of the nominee at the overseas post or domestic ECA office;
- Narrative (not to exceed three pages) describing the achievement(s) of the nominee and justifying the nomination.
Nominations for the occasional Emeritus Award for Cultural Diplomacy may be submitted to the Roth Foundation via email at any time. Please include a c.v. for the individual and a narrative (not to exceed three pages) describing the achievement(s) of the nominee and justifying the nomination. The Foundation will assemble a committee to evaluate the nomination and reserves the right to: reject the nomination, should the committee so decide; or select the time and venue for bestowing the award, should the committee approve the nomination.