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The recipient of AFSA’s 2017 Lifetime Contributions to

American Diplomacy Award talks with the


about her journey

from Midwestern social studies teacher to diplomatic leader.

Leader, Mentor, Diplomat

AmbassadorNancy J. Powell


mbassador Nancy J. Powell received

the American Foreign Service Associa-

tion’s 2017 Lifetime Contributions to

American Diplomacy Award in rec-

ognition of her distinguished Foreign

Service career and enduring devotion

to diplomacy at a June 20 ceremony in

the State Department’s Dean Ache-

son Auditorium. (For coverage of the ceremony, see AFSA News, page 62.)

The 23rd recipient of this award and the fourth woman to be

honored, Amb. Powell was born in Cedar Falls, Iowa, in 1947.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in history and teaching from

the University of Northern Iowa in 1970, and taught high school

social studies in Dayton, Iowa, before joining the Foreign Service

in 1977.

Throughout her 37-year diplomatic career and into retirement,

Amb. Powell never stopped learning and taking on new chal-

lenges. A five-time ambassador and the first female U.S. ambas-

sador to India, she has served in a variety of high-level positions

both overseas and in Washington, D.C., and has also devoted a

significant amount of her time, talent and energy to mentoring

future leaders of the Foreign Service.

Amb. Powell’s career centered on South Asia and Africa. Her

early overseas assignments to Ottawa and then Kathmandu were

followed by a two-year stint (1982-1984) on the Nepal desk in

Washington, D.C. She also served as a refugee assistance officer

and political officer for internal politics and India-Pakistan rela-

tions in Lahore. Then followed assignments as deputy chief of

mission in Lomé (1990-1992), consul general in Kolkata (1992-

1993), political counselor in New Delhi (1993-1995) and deputy

chief of mission in Dhaka (1995-1997).

President William J. Clinton appointed her U.S. ambassador to

Uganda in 1997, and in 1999 she became principal deputy assis-

tant secretary of State (PDAS) for African affairs, rising to acting

assistant secretary of State for African affairs in 2001. President

George W. Bush named her U.S. ambassador to Ghana in July

2001 and to Pakistan in August 2002, where she served until 2004.

Amb. Powell then returned to Washington, D.C., as PDAS and

acting assistant secretary of State for legislative affairs (2004-

2005), becoming acting assistant secretary of State for the Bureau

of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs in 2005.