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Among Amb. Powell’s unique contributions to American

diplomacy is her leadership role in the U.S. response to two high-

profile pandemic disease threats. From 2005 to 2006, she served

as the State Department’s special representative for avian influ-

enza, responsible for coordinating international preparations

and assistance to meet the threat under the U.S. National Avian

Influenza Strategy. As part of this effort, she designed and set

up a special interagency task force within the State Department

dedicated exclusively to coordinating all international aspects of

the U.S. preparation for and response to the pandemic. Following

her retirement in 2014, she was called back to the State Depart-

ment to lead the response to the Ebola outbreak.

In 2006, Amb. Powell

was named the National

Intelligence Council’s

first national intelligence

officer for South Asia. She

proceeded to lead the NIC’s

effort to expand cover-

age of this critical region.

The Partnership for Public

Service acknowledged her

pioneering public service

on the critical international

issues of pandemic disease threats and terrorism, awarding her

the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal for Homeland

Security and Law Enforcement in 2006. The Samuel J. Heyman

medals, known as “the Sammies,” are considered the “Oscars” of

U.S. government service.

In 2007 President George W. Bush appointed Ms. Powell U.S.

ambassador to Nepal, where she served until 2009, when she

was named Director General of the Foreign Service, a position

she held until 2012. President Barack Obama appointed her as

the first female U.S. ambassador to India in 2012, and she

retired with the rank of Career Ambassador fromNew

Delhi in May 2014.

Amb. Powell’s gift for identifying and developing

talent at all levels is well-known. In 2003 she received

the State Department’s Arnold Lewis Raphel Memo-

rial Award in recognition of her efforts to promote and

develop the people around her, especially entry-level

officers. In retirement, she has mentored ambassadorial

seminar classes.

Foreign Service Journal

Editor Shawn Dorman inter-

viewed Amb. Powell on July 11.


Foreign Service Journal:

Congratulations on the award! It is

an honor to have the chance to highlight your outstanding career

as a Foreign Service leader and mentor, and your contributions

to diplomacy.

Nancy J. Powell:

Thank you.


You were born and raised in Iowa. Did you meet any

diplomats or foreigners growing up there? Did you have a chance

to travel much during your youth?


I grew up in Cedar Falls and Le Mars, Iowa. Foreigners

were few and far between. There were only a few foreign students

in the colleges in the two

towns, plus our Danish

neighbors in Cedar Falls

and my Swedish-born

grandmother. My actual

travels as a young person

were limited to short family

vacations, primarily in the

Midwest, but I was an avid

reader of books about other

parts of the world, was

inspired by my high school

world history teacher to follow world events and even used my

baby-sitting money to purchase season tickets to the local Rotary

Club’s series of travelogue films. Later, my summer vacations as

a teacher included study programs on Long Island and in Hawaii

and Pakistan.


After graduating in 1970 with a B.A. in history and edu-

cation at the University of Northern Iowa, you stayed in the state

to teach high school social studies. Would you say that experi-

I didn’t know about the

Foreign Service until

I participated in a U.S.


program for secondary

teachers in Pakistan in 1975.

Ambassador Nancy J. Powell delivers remarks on receiving AFSA’s 2017

Award for Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy on June 20 in

the State Department’s Dean Acheson Auditorium.