THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
ON EXEMPLARY PERFORMANCE & CONSTRUCTIVE DISSENT
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
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.