Eight Exceptional International Educators Recognized

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During the 67th NAFSA Annual Conference and Expo, eight outstanding educators received international education awards. Read more.

BOSTON, Mass., May 28, 2015 – During the 67th NAFSA Annual Conference & Expo, eight outstanding educators received international education awards. This year’s award recipients included Scott Stevens, Ed.D., for the Cassandra Pyle Award; Sara Thurston-González, Ph.D., for the Homer Higbee Award; Seth Riker for the Rising Star Award; and Peter Briggs, Norman J. Peterson, Ph.D., Joy Stevenson, Ph.D., June Noronha, and Elizabeth Soppelsa for the NAFSA Life Membership Award. The Rising Star Young Leader Award, introduced this year, engages the chair stream of each of NAFSA’s eleven geographic regions in the national award process to identify young professionals in their first five years of service in international education.

The Cassandra Pyle Award for Leadership and Collaboration in International Education and Exchange was presented to Scott Stevens, Ed.D., Director of the English Language Institute at the University of Delaware, for fostering collaborative relationships within international education while establishing higher standards in the English second language (ESL) field. His article Chinese Students in Undergraduate Programs: Understanding and Overcoming the Challenges, published in the NAFSA IEM (International Enrollment Management) newsletter, has been used widely by English language program directors across the country. His noteworthy accomplishments include securing grants and funding to offer professional development opportunities and special programs to elementary, secondary, and university-level educators from around the world.

The Homer Higbee Award for Distinguished Service to NAFSA was presented to Sara Thurston-González, Ph.D., Director of International Student & Scholar Services at Kansas State University, for her continued service to NAFSA’s membership and her essential contribution to many NAFSA programs. Sara has served NAFSA and the field as a leader on the Membership Committee and Leadership Development Committee, as a presenter at the regional and national conferences, as an Academy coach, in Trainer Corps, and on the Annual Conference Committee for 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. She has been instrumental in identifying and cultivating diverse member-leaders and mentoring new international educators.

The Rising Star Young Leader Award was presented to Seth Riker, Assistant Director for Marketing at the Stuckert Career Center at the University of Kentucky, for his exceptional work to promote international education through several new and creative strategies. Riker previously served as the Promotion and Outreach Coordinator for Education Abroad at the university, after having served as Global Ambassador for International Studies Abroad while an undergraduate intern. Riker managed two study abroad fairs per year, and increased participation by more than 40% in three years. He transformed the social media presence for the International Studies Abroad center by using new tools to dramatically increase engagement. Riker joined NAFSA’s Region VI Leadership Team in 2014 and currently serves as the region’s communications coordinator.

NAFSA Life Membership is awarded to NAFSA members to honor their career achievements in advancing the goals of the Association and of international education and exchange. To be considered for Life Membership, a nominee must have been a NAFSA member for at least 20 years and have retired from professional responsibilities related to international education.

 Peter Briggs has been an integral part of the NAFSA community through numerous positions and committees: Region I Chair, Education Training Committee, Strategic Planning Committee, , Vice President of Regional Affairs, Board of Directors, Program Chair of National Conference Planning Committee, Chair of National Awards Committee, and Chair of Management Advisory Committee. His unique experience has evolved from positions as Foreign Student Advisor and Grants Administrator for the Institute of International Education and as Director of International Recruitment and Director of International Student/Scholar Programs at Michigan State University. He is a recipient of NAFSA’s Homer Higbee Award.

 Norman J. Peterson, Ph.D., has shown his commitment to NAFSA and the field of international education through his years of service and accomplishments. He pioneered the Arabic Distance Learning Network at Montana State University, where he served as Vice Provost of International Education. Prior to joining the university, Peterson founded the Alliance for International Educational and Cultural Exchange in Washington, D.C., an association of 90 nongovernmental organizations comprising the international educational and cultural exchange community in the United States. He has served in various NAFSA leadership positions, including Vice President for Public Affairs, member of the Executive Committee, Chair of the Leadership and Knowledge Community, and in the chair-stream of the International Education Leadership Knowledge Community.  He is a recipient of NAFSA’s Marita Houlihan Award.

For more than thirty years, Joy Stevenson, Ph.D., dedicated her career to advancing international education at the University of Central Missouri, most recently as the director of the International Center, while also contributing decades of service to NAFSA and the field of international education as a dedicated mentor. Among her many accomplishments, Stevenson served as President of Kansas City’s International Relations Council, on the NAFSA Board of Directors as Vice President of Member Relations and on the Membership and Leadership Development Committees. She was on NAFSA’s New Century Circle Advisory Board and Regional Council Liaison and is a recipient of the Homer Higbee Award.

June Noronha served as NAFSA’s President and Chair of the Board in 2001-2003. Following retirement from the College of Saint Catherine, she joined the Bush Foundation in 2005 as a strategic officer and now serves as senior manager with the Native Nations Team. Before joining the Foundation, she worked to build strategy and advance international and intercultural learning, indigenous and multicultural rights, and educational equity. She has worked in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. She presently serves on the board of trustees of World Education Services (U.S. and Canada), the Minnesota Council on Foundations, Project 515 in Minnesota and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy.

Before serving as one of NAFSA’s Deputy Executive Directors and overseeing the development and growth of the Annual Conference and Academic Programs, Elizabeth Soppelsa was a campus-based professional and member of NAFSA for 20 years, serving in various volunteer leadership positions including Regional Section Representative of the Administrators and Teachers of English as a Second Language (ATESL), Chair of ATESL, Regional Conference Chair, Chair of Region II, and on the Board as Vice President for Regional Relations. She served as director of the Applied English Center at the University of Kansas and participated in teacher preparation, international student recruitment, and campus internationalization. Soppelsa also consulted on international education and teacher preparation in several countries in Africa and Central Europe. Her first overseas assignment was teaching English in Côte d’Ivoire as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer.

For more information on the awards, visit www.nafsa.org/awards.


With more than 10,000 members, NAFSA: Association of International Educators is the world’s largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education. Visit us atwww.nafsa.org/press and follow #nafsa15 for conference information.


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