Thursday, June 8, 2017

2017 Lois Roth Awards for Excellence in Cultural and Education Diplomacy

via LJB by email

On May 31, the 2017 Lois Roth Endowment Awards for excellence in cultural diplomacy were presented at the State Department in partnership with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).  The awardees, all but one of who were present, traveled from all over the world to attend in person.  Two left off in mid-vacation and one traveled 24 hours to join the ceremony.

The presentation opened with remarks by Dr. Skyler Arndt-Briggs, professor of German Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who in 2014, became the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Lois Roth Endowment, taking the mantle from her father, the distinguished cultural diplomat, Dr. Richard T. Arndt, who founded the Endowment to honor his late wife. 
Dr. Arndt-Briggs:  Lois Roth was a path-breaking leader in cultural diplomacy, as well as in mentoring others and serving the wider Foreign Service. Today we present a series of awards recognizing people who personify her legacy of creativity, humanity, energy and service.  These awards encompass the three pillars of cultural and educational diplomacy: Foreign Service Officers, Locally Engaged Staff and ECA staff.  I would like to thank the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for partnering with us for these awards, and the home Bureaus and Posts of the winners for making it possible for our overseas winners to be present today.  Rick, will you please announce the winners?

Rick Ruth (Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of ECA):  The 2017 Lois Roth Award for excellence in cultural diplomacy goes to Priscilla Hernandez, Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela.  Priscilla’s fourteen-year career has exemplified mentoring new colleagues; maximizing American Spaces, English-language programs and Alumni networks to reach new audiences; serving in challenging public diplomacy environments; and utilizing technology to achieve U.S. foreign policy goals.  These attributes, combined with her extreme dedication to cross-cultural understanding, her warmth towards people of all backgrounds, and her encouragement of women to overcome all obstacles that lie in their way, make Priscilla Hernandez the perfect recipient of the 2017 Lois Roth Award.

RR: Among several other outstanding candidates, the committee selected Damian Wampler, Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia for an Honorable Mention for the Lois Roth Award. Using his deep cultural sensitivity, foreign language skills and compassion for others, Damian has created new yet sustainable programs on interfaith dialogue, refugee integration and women’s empowerment especially using music, film, sports and technology and reaching into overcrowded refugee camps and out to secluded and remote areas of Georgia.  The emotional resonance Damian achieves with his audiences has earned this Honorable Mention Lois Roth Award.

RR:  The Lois Roth Endowment award for a Locally Engaged Staff member is named for former South African Cultural Affairs Specialist Gill-Jacot Guillarmod.  Gill exemplified the long-serving, hard-working, creative, generous, and committed team member that no embassy can do without. Ms. Basma Amawi, Senior Cultural Assistant of the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan, has been following that path for the past 32 years.  She is recognized for, among many other notable achievements, her unsurpassed networks of exchange program grantees, from grassroots organizations to the Royal Court, and particularly her ability to rearrange programs on the fly to maximize impact when circumstances suddenly change.  2017 Gill-Jacot Guillarmod Award goes to Basma Amawi for the thousands of programs she has created and enriched.
RR This year, the candidate pool was of such outstanding caliber that the selection panel opted to award an unprecedented two Honorable Mention awards for the Gill-Jacot Guillarmod Award

RR: The first Honorable Mention, in alphabetical ordergoes to Marcia Mizuno, Cultural Specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia, Brazil.  Marcia is recognized for 29 years of unusually effective work on Education and Cultural programming in schools, at all academic levels and country-wide, as well as with the Brazilian network of 40 Bi-national Centers.  Among many other ground-breaking achievements, Marcia is the creator of the Youth Ambassador program, a model that has since been replicated worldwide.  Her passion for improving relations between the U.S. and Brazil and her success in supporting our mutual goals has earned Marcia Mizuno this Honorable Mention award for the Gill Jacot-Guillarmod Award.
RR: Our second Honorable Mention award for the Gill-Jacot Guillarmod Award goes to Mr. Quynh Ngo, Cultural Specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam.  Twenty-one years ago, when Quynh Ngo joined USIS, he was accused by peers of “working for the enemy” and “selling his soul.”  Despite having to request Ministry permission for every program, Quynh’s relationships with key officials and regional leaders have allowed outreach to even “sensitive” areas and “sensitive” audiences, work that has deepened people-to-people ties, particularly through education. The U.S.-Vietnam relationship is better today, thanks Quynh; in fact, his countrymen now give the U.S. a 97% favorability rating!

RR: Our final Lois Roth Endowment Award, the Ilchman-Richardson Award, honors an ECA staff member’s contributions to supporting cultural and educational programs.  It is named for two former ECA Assistant Secretaries, Alice Ilchman and John Richardson The 2017 winner is Senior Advisor for Policy, Academic Programs, David Plack. Over the past dozen years, no single individual has done more to create new international educational initiatives; to engage with Congress for funding of special academic exchanges; and to uphold the U.S. national interest in complex negotiations that ensure our higher education institutions’ ability to compete internationally.  David is renowned for his work ethic and intellect. He unfailingly shares his expertise and helps to educate colleagues about the values, premises and processes of ECA’s work.  He is richly deserving of recognition for his efforts through the Ilchman-Richardson award of the Lois Roth Endowment.

The Lois Roth Endowment, and these awards, are funded entirely donations made by friends of Lois Roth and others who wish to recognize the value of cultural and educational diplomacy to U.S. foreign policy.  For more information please visit


The Lois Roth Endowment Celebrating 30 Years of
Fostering International Cultural Dialogue

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