THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
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
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
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
Nancy J. Powell:
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
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.