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.
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.
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 her 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.
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.
Sharon I-Hua Hsieh
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.
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.
For over 36 years, Cultural Specialist Dorothy Ngalombi has guided the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda through film festivals, concerts, women’s writing retreats and much more. Her upcoming event to commemorate the Fulbright program has a team of Fulbright alumni supporting her because of her dedication to these scholars over the years. The annual Fulbright Kajubi Lecture Series will be another lasting result of the connections Dorothy has fostered. To honor her, the Public Affairs Section in Kampala is creating a Lifetime Achievement Award for its alumni community in the name of Dorothy Ngalombi.
Alaa Mufleh, of the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan, received an Honorable Mention for her work as a dual-hatted Emerging Voices Specialist and Preventing/Countering Violent Extremism Specialist. Alaa’s programs engaged Jordan’s rising influencers, and empowered women and youth through experiential learning activities, designed not just to mitigate vulnerability to radicalization but ensure they are thriving across Jordan’s 12 governorates. A highlight was her programming of Jazz legend Herbie Hancock, culminating in a concert in a 2,000-year-old auditorium resulting in video products and prime-time news coverage that brought jazz into the homes of every Jordanian.
Jane Susi, Public Engagement Specialist, at the U.S. Embassy Tallinn, Estonia oversees the range of programs that engage universities, think tanks, and other policy-oriented non-governmental organizations. Over her 15 years of service, Jane increased Estonian financial support of the Fulbright Program, greatly expanded the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant program, fostered diversity and inclusion in programs and grants, and solidified the Embassy’s cultural outreach to communities outside of the capital city, all the while training and mentoring staff throughout the region. Her work has not only been instrumental to shaping Embassy outreach, but also in helping participants thrive in their programs.
Elina excels in shaping 12+ exchange programs from inception to program and into ongoing relationships to the benefit of Kazakhstan and the U.S. When COVID canceled the in-person event for the International Visitor Leadership Program’s 80th anniversary, Elina conceptualized, implemented, and moderated a Facebook Live program with Washington and Embassy officials and over 120 guests that has garnered close to 3,000 views, significantly increasing the embassy’s influence and reach.
For a dozen years, Elena Broszkowski, Cultural Affairs Specialist at U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, managed the Performing and Visual Arts Portfolio, comprising ECA cultural arts programs and nominations, and post-funded social transformation-through-the-arts programs incorporating exchanges alumni, Binational Centers, public and private universities, municipalities led by opposition party members, and many other Post allies. Using theater, music and practical training, Elena leaves a lasting legacy of young leaders able to bring the changes that Venezuelan society needs.
Dr. Gözde Doğan Yalçıner
Gözde’s Honorable Mention is for the bilateral Cultural Property Agreement (CPA) signed this year. Gözde created partnerships linking the Turkish government, NGOs, and arts institutions, resulting in a CPA that curbs smuggling, denies revenue to terrorist organizations, and protects cultural heritage. Gödze’s work is on the leading edge of a renewed emphasis on protecting cultural property and combating the smuggling of cultural artifacts.
Throughout her 22-year career, Fatma Souidi brought Algerians and Americans together – in spite of a civil war, a revolution, economic crisis, and a pandemic. Fatma engineered the region’s first Memorandum of Understanding on Cultural Property which led to updated cultural preservation legislation and training focused on preventing looting of cultural property. Her work in this and other fields is the bedrock of our relationship with an otherwise standoffish government, exemplifying the best of cultural diplomacy.
For nearly two decades, Vanessa has led the entire range of cultural programming. Most notably, she secured $2.5 million to conserve dozens of heritage sites and led U.S. repatriation of some 2,000 artifacts to Peru, raising the profile of the Mission throughout Peru. Vanessa’s humanity, care for contacts and workmates, advocacy for U.S. interests and help for Peruvians well represent the legacy of Gill Jacot-Guillarmod.
Since her arrival in 2003, Esti’s interpersonal skills and leadership has provided the foundation for the Consulate General in Surabaya’s public diplomacy programming and serves as an example of excellence for all Consulate employees. Her extensive knowledge and experience with Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM), women empowerment, disability rights, LGBTQ issues and trafficking in persons have driven Surabaya to create cutting-edge programming with broad impact. In just one example, Esti partnered with a local TEDx organization to amplify a speaker program on Astrophysics to reach thousands more across the Indonesian archipelago. Countless young women wrote to share how the event inspired them to pursue higher education in the United States as well as STEAM-oriented careers.
Ali Al Ghadban
Ali Al Ghadban, Cultural Assistant, U.S. Consulate General Jeddah, has supported the entire U.S. Mission to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with his stellar work in exchange and alumni programs over thirty-five years of service. His connections across Saudi Arabia run deep and he continually leverages his vast network of contacts to strengthen U.S.-Saudi ties through education and cultural exchange and deepen connections with the next generation of Saudi leaders.
Over a 40-year career, Felicity Aziz, Deputy Director of the American Center, Jerusalem,has managed Center operations and staff, while serving as the liaison to some 35 grantee organizations. The Mission relies on her advice regarding women’s empowerment and economic development, religious affairs, innovation and entrepreneurship, climate and environmental issues, rule of law, good governance and peripheral communities. Felicity has successfully informed and influenced generations of Israel’s future leaders, current influencers and professionals through her deep understanding of her community, her knowledge of how to use public diplomacy tools to their fullest extent and her determination to make a positive difference in the lives of her fellow citizens.
For most of the nearly three decades that Slovenia has been an independent nation, Ivanka Ponikvar, Education and Professional Exchanges Specialist, U.S. Embassy Slovenia, has been the Embassy’s most respected exchanges interlocutor. Known for her compassion, around-the-clock attentiveness to detail and commitment to participant satisfaction, she deftly navigated a changing political and economic landscape to recruit the nation’s most promising educational and professional exchange participants. Ivanka owes her success to creating and maintaining the Embassy’s most productive and mutually-beneficial relationships by discerning the right balance, qualifications and temperaments of successful participants. She has steadily increased the Embassy’s network of policy and opinion-makers who have advanced US interests in measurable ways.
Helena Vagnerova, Senior Member, Established Opinion Leader Team, U.S. Embassy Prague is a living legend within Embassy Prague and has mentored generations of Foreign Service Officers and local staff. She has mastered every aspect of public diplomacy, from brainstorming to carrying out policy-relevant, impactful programming. She can single-handedly draft Front Office memos and remarks for the Ambassador, while managing a panoply of logistical, budgetary and bureaucratic issues. In doing so, she personifies how cultural programs advance US security, economic, and policy objectives, as well as the critical role cultural outreach plays in strengthening the bonds between the two countries. During Secretary Pompeo’s historic speech at the Czech Senate in August 2020, he cited Helena’s work on the PKF Prague Philharmonia’s concert at the Ambassador’s Residence as an example of U.S.-Czech friendship and solidarity.
Marta Garcia de Bello
Marta’s leadership as a Cultural Affairs Specialist has been crucial to maintaining diplomatic relationships in Venezuela even after the official American presence there ended. Due to Marta’s resilience in the face of these difficult circumstances, outreach activities by EducationUSA and American Spaces continue guiding current and future leaders of Venezuela to become agents of positive change.
As Cultural Affairs Specialist at the U.S. Consulate General in Australia over the past 27 years, Helen has inspired hundreds of Australian students to study abroad in the United States by creating specialized outreach programs for EducationUSA and increasing media coverage to make opportunities more visible. Her unwavering dedication to educating students about study in the United States led to the U.S. becoming the first-choice destination for study abroad for Australian students. Helen has created long-lasting professional relationships that will continue to strengthen the greater U.S.-Australia partnership for years to come.
Louiza “Nadia” Ouhenia, who has worked with U.S. Embassy Algiers for 25 years, is the master of a portfolio that covers the gamut of cultural and educational engagement with Algeria, single handedly managing the Post’s entire professional exchange program. Even during the “Dark Decade,” when she faced real danger just coming to work, Nadia has been a trusted barometer for new initiatives and has proven that even seemingly impossible projects can be achieved through dedication and hard work. Her institutional memory and attention to each grantee and program partner have built bridges between embassy officials and program alumni who have opened doors and multiplied the entire Embassy’s effectiveness.
Felix Mbatalbaye, of U.S. Embassy N’Djamena in Chad, has utilized his interpersonal skills and judicious recruitment of program participants to build a powerful network of contacts in a variety of fields, and his procurement of essential resources and expertise has transformed the US Embassy into the partner of choice for Chadians over the course of his 29-year career. Always a steadfast and trusted leader, Felix ensured programs continued during the evacuation of American staff in 2008 and even drafted the Post’s first Public Diplomacy Implementation Plan during a gap between Public Affairs Officers. Approaching mandatory retirement, Felix Mbatalbaye leaves a profound legacy.
*The Prix Coindreau Prize, The Jeanne Varnay Pleasants Prize for Language Teaching, and the CASVA-Henry & Judith Millon Award are currently inactive.