A Fond Farewell

December 19, 2016

By Marlene M. Johnson

Marlene M. JohnsonAs I retire from my position as executive director and CEO of NAFSA, I wanted to take a moment to thank you so very much for allowing me the opportunity to lead such an outstanding organization. NAFSA has been and always will be committed to creating a more peaceful, secure, and prosperous world by ensuring that every student or scholar who wishes to find a global experience has the ability to do so, regardless of his or her socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or background.

As the largest association dedicated solely to international education, NAFSA continuously scans the social, economic, and political environment to anticipate and analyze trends and issues affecting the field. We use this information to create and disseminate knowledge and resources that are responsive to the needs of our members. I am proud of the array of professional development opportunities that are available to serve the full range of professionals in the field, and I know that these resources will evolve and improve with continued input from our stakeholders. It is also rewarding to see the significant progress we have made in integrating global and international perspectives throughout higher education institutions. This work has required all of us to be more strategic and collaborative as we build bridges across academic affairs and student affairs; curriculum and cocurriculum; and faculty and professional staff.

Over the last 18 years, we have responded to changes in the field and worked tirelessly to improve the policies affecting students around the world. Some of the key changes I’ve seen during my tenure include:

  • More than a decade ago, together with the Alliance for International Exchange, NAFSA was the first to call for a U.S. international education policy to ensure greater diversity in education here and abroad. We continue to push for a more coordinated strategy toward global education.
  • Today, foreign students are seen as assets to the United States, not as threats, in terms of the economy, foreign policy, and overall global competency. By consistently responding to incorrect reporting, NAFSA has shifted the narrative on foreign students.
  • Every major immigration bill that tries to address issues related to high-skilled immigration includes important provisions that NAFSA was first to seek.
  • NAFSA has played an active role in calling for the removal of education, trade, and travel barriers to Cuba. Earlier this fall, NAFSA and the Cuban Ministry of Higher Education signed a memorandum of understanding agreeing to cultivate higher education partnerships between our two nations and advocate for the end of the embargo.

I am proud of all that we have been able to accomplish and know that we will forge ahead with an agenda that raises the voice of international educators in a way that is valued by the higher education community and public policy leaders alike. It is now more important than ever before to bridge the divides. Moving forward into the next administration and Congress, NAFSA will continue to advocate for its long-held ideals and fight for those who feel as though they are voiceless. We will continue to advocate for policies that:

  • Advance diversity in our communities and on our campuses;
  • Make us a more welcoming and inclusive United States;
  • Ensure every U.S. college student benefits from global learning; and
  • Create a participatory democracy for all Americans.

The future is always uncertain, but America was founded on the idea that we can create it together. We believe that isolation and division diminishes us, and that nations are more secure when we find common cause and common ground with others. As an association of professionals advancing international higher education, we stand among those who see the United States as connected to, and strengthened by, the global community. We remain committed to creating a future in which students and scholars can freely exchange ideas, where the best thinking on our most difficult problems can be debated, where creative solutions can be sought, and where fear is driven out of all of our institutions.

I’m thrilled that the work that we have begun will continue. NAFSA’s new executive director and CEO Esther Brimmer’s rich experience in the broader field of international affairs will be a tremendous asset to NAFSA, and I know that she is fully committed to carrying on NAFSA’s important work. The deep involvement of all of our members in creating a supportive environment and promoting this important agenda makes NAFSA unique, and I wish to acknowledge all of the amazing NAFSA volunteers and leaders who have contributed to this effort throughout my tenure. Again, thank you for traveling with me on this great journey.


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