Awardee Database


Maria Eugenia (‘Jenny’) Verdaguer

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.


Matthew McMahon

As Deputy Director of the Office of Citizen Exchanges, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Matthew McMahon uses his skills, experience, cross-cultural understanding and creativity, combined with his patience and wisdom, to lead teams to success. Throughout his career, Matt has worked extremely well with Posts and regional bureaus, modeling how ECA civil service managers contribute subject matter expertise, management experience, and broad regional awareness as well as knowledge of relevant domestic issues and constituencies, to support and collaborate with colleagues at Posts to achieve the Department’s foreign policy goals.

Toni Bowser, Director of IT at ECA, wins the Lois Roth Foundation’s 2021 Ilchman-Richardson Award

Antoinette Bowser

The 2021 Ilchman-Richardson Award went to Ms. Antoinette (Toni) Bowser, Director of Information Technology (IT) at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).Toni’s vision and tenacity have made ECA’s mission possible, especially during the pandemic shift to telework and virtual-programming, supporting posts, partners and participants. Her principled leadership resulted in Vision21, a multi-year project that enhanced the Bureau’s strategic and budget planning, outcomes assessment, and capability for reporting to Congress, the Executive branch leadership, regional bureau colleagues, and other stakeholders. Toni’s success exemplifies the legacy behind the Ilchman-Richardson award.

Charlotte Titus

An Honorable Mention was also awarded to the Branch Chief of Europe/Eurasia Branch (IVLP Division) at the Office of International Visitors, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Charlotte Titus. Over 30 years Charlotte improved program efficiency and the work environment for her colleagues. She led a steering committee of international security professionals and their U.S. counterparts, a working group that updates a SharePoint site with real-time guidance for exchanges stakeholders and advocated for telework to strengthen operations and work-life balance, among many other initiatives. Through her compassionate leadership Charlotte heads a team that is grateful for her leadership.

Mary Kirk

The 2020 Ilchman-Richardson Award went to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Director of Academic Exchange Programs, Mary Kirk. Mary and her team have extended the breadth of the Fulbright Program’s outreach and selection processes and reinforced their connection to foreign policy priorities, while ensuring the health, safety and productivity of the exchange experience for all Fulbrighters. Under her leadership, her team built alumni and partner networks and reinvigorated the Fulbright US scholar program, while strengthening financial accountability and management practices and expanding training and resource materials for ECA staff, Posts and Fulbright commissions. She is an undisputed master of meeting the daunting complexities and competing demands involved in the budgetary intricacies of extensive world travel for negotiations, mentoring and oversight.  When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Mary led her staff to quickly pivot to address the many unique issues that arose within exchange policies and procedures in a virtual environment. She embodies the Roth/Ilchman/Richardson legacy through her tireless dedication and creative, insightful approaches as a cultural diplomacy leader and manager.

David Levin

An Honorable Mention was also awarded to ECA’s Senior Program Manager for Diversity and Inclusion, David Levin.  During his 36 years with ECA, he has built Diversity and Inclusion into ECA’s ethos instilling his fervent belief that international exchange and its life-changing benefits should be available to everyone and that exchanges are stronger and more impactful when they truly represent the diversity of American society and of societies abroad. It was David who connected the Fulbright Teacher Exchange program and Youth Exchanges in the 1980s, pushing ECA to expand its focus to inner-cities and rural areas. And way back in 1994, David moved to increase exchange opportunities for persons with disabilities by designing a grant competition that became the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange. Today, American host families from small communities welcome diverse participants from countries around the world and American students from diverse places around the United States venture abroad. The diversification of ECA programs didn’t just happen overnight—it is due to David Levin’s efforts.

Yolanda Robinson

In over ten years of service as ECA’s Deputy Director and Director of Budget and Finance, Yolanda has ensured that the Department of State accomplishes its cultural diplomacy mission in the most cost-effective manner. With her all-encompassing knowledge of the Bureau’s operations, Yolanda informs important financial decisions that ensure the long-term success of ECA’s cultural and educational programs. Beyond her immense technical knowledge, she has the ability to translate policy and finances into genuine people-to-people connections. Serving as a leader and mentor to her colleagues, is what truly sets Yolanda apart and makes her indispensable to the Bureau and its mission.

Sana Abed-Kotob

With her cultural insights, inspiring leadership and deep compassion, Sana Abed-Kotob has significantly and substantially advanced US cultural diplomacy. As the chief of ECA’s largest division, the Office of International Visitors, Sana manages projects that impact thousands of people around the world each year. Despite the scope of her position, Sana does not lose sight of individual needs, as she guides, mentors and inspires ECA staff and partners. Sana’s efforts have made operations more efficient, improved inter-agency cooperation and expanded public-private contributions to advancing cultural and educational exchanges. It is no exaggeration to say that every US diplomatic post in the world has benefited from Sana’s expertise in cultural diplomacy programming.

Rick Ruth

Rick’s expertise and deep commitment to excellence in the conduct of cultural and public diplomacy have inspired countless ECA and State Department colleagues. Through a career spanning four decades, he has always focused on relationships with people—predicated on the respectful exchange of ideas and experiences, and reflecting the founding premise and highest aspirations of US cultural diplomacy.

Lorie Nierenberg

In recognition of contributions over a distinguished 23-year career with the United States Information Agency (USIA) and the Department of State as Attorney-Advisor for Public Diplomacy in the Office of the Legal Advisor, providing consistently valuable and insightful advice in a time when the number and complexity of issues are growing steadily, Lorie Nierenberg was awarded the Ilchman-Richardson award. Her own experience as an exchange student in Germany has informed her guidance and the insights essential to producing Fulbright agreements that support US policy goals and meet bilateral priorities. In the 1990s, she played a central role in resolving the legal ramifications of merging USIA into State; this was an achievement of immeasurable importance, as her efforts created the structure that supports all the work now done by ECA every day. In 2022, Lorie Nierenberg was named the winner of the U.S. State Department’s Edward R Murrow for excellence in Public Diplomacy, the highest award in public diplomacy.

Michael Weider

In recognition of 27 years of dedication to the goals of US cultural diplomacy. The grants process he oversees—as Division Chief of the Program Management Branch in the Executive Office of ECA/IIP—is the engine that powers ECA work and programs. He is honored for his intense commitment to the ECA mission, his mastery of complex management processes and his devotion to serving and helping his colleagues.

Julia Walters

In recognition of her work as a Senior Program Officer in the Office of English Language Programs of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. In particular, Walters won the award for invigorating and modernizing English language programs by recruiting and supporting top English Language Fellows and English Teaching Assistants who serve abroad, and for her cultural sensitivity, integrity and generosity. Walters died soon after receiving this award; in her memory, the Roth Foundation contributed her prize to her daughter’s education fund. (Julia Walters Obituary)

Chris Miner

In recognition of her career-long achievements in cultural diplomacy, including her efforts in support of the high-profile US-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission.

Patricia Ehrnman

In recognition of her work as the liaison between the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs and Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

*The Prix Coindreau Prize, The Jeanne Varnay Pleasants Prize for Language Teaching, and the CASVA-Henry & Judith Millon Award are currently inactive.