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Meet OGA’s new Director of Global Engagement, Chrishon Blackwell

Chrishon Blackwell will lead key initiatives for the Office of Global Affairs focused on building community and broadening what it means to be global.

Chrishon Blackwell
Chrishon Blackwell

The Office of Global Affairs (OGA) welcomes Chrishon Blackwell, as our new Director of Global Engagement. Chrishon joins OGA at an important point in its history as it reimagines and reframes global engagement at UW. As Director of Global Engagement, Chrishon Blackwell manages new and existing international initiatives that support research, teaching, and global engagement among students, faculty, and staff.

Chrishon joins OGA from George Washington University (GW), where she oversaw summer at-large initiatives that supported the university’s broader strategic priorities of enhancing student success, retention, diversity, and internationalization.

Q: What background and perspective do you bring to this new role?
I have 20 years of professional experience working with international populations, 14 of which are in higher education administration. I am TESL/FL certified, hold two undergraduate degrees in Political Science and Business Management, a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership, and am currently pursuing a doctorate in Human and Organizational Learning in the Executive Leadership Program at GW’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

My professional experience includes international recruitment, teaching and curriculum design, operations, and program management. I think the variety of academic and professional experiences that I have will bring unique and creative ways of approaching global engagement.

Global Engagement Task Force Recommendations

Five key recommendations guide OGA forward, shaping our vision for global engagement at the UW.

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Q: What excites you about serving as our first Director of Global Engagement?
I am excited to leverage my professional background and academic experiences to cultivate relationships across culturally diverse backgrounds and create partnerships across local, national, and global spaces.

Over the past year, OGA’s Global Engagement Task Force met with 100+ stakeholders across our campuses and schools, and reimagined the role we could play in facilitating global engagement for the UW. As our new Director, I am thrilled to bring this vision to life, expanding our programming to support faculty and students of all different backgrounds.

Chrishon along the river in Kowloon, Hong Kong

Q: How does your research inform and connect to the work you plan to do as Director of Global Engagement?
I have spent the past several years exploring the connections between cultural competency, comprehensive internationalization, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Throughout my career, my work has often required close collaboration with faculty and the offices that support academic success and retention such as the registrar, student affairs, multicultural services, international students and scholars, health and wellness, and career services. As such, I recognize and appreciate the importance of each of these offices working together to support a diverse, equitable, and inclusive institution.

Q: How do your own experiences align with the mission and work of the Office of Global Affairs?
The Office of Global Affairs vision aligns with my personal and professional goal to create opportunities and spaces that support global research, teaching, and community engagement. I think that there are so many ways to contribute to student success through global engagement efforts whether that is through supporting campus-based initiatives aimed at increasing access and retention, facilitating cultural competency development among faculty, staff, and students, and/or promoting cross-border activities that advance pedagogy and research.

President Cauce meets with Finnish Ambassador and delegation on innovation and collaboration

Aerial photo of the UW Seattle Campus
Aerial photo of the UW Seattle campus and surrounding Puget Sound. The Finnish delegation met with the UW as part of a series of meetings with business, academic, and governmental leaders in Seattle and Washington state. University of Washington

On November 4, 2021, University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce welcomed a delegation from Finland, including Mikko Hautala, Ambassador of the Republic of Finland to the United States of America, and Timo Harakka, Minister of Transport and Communications, accompanied by a team of diplomatic officials. Sean Carr, incoming Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX), and Francois Baneyx, Director of CoMotion and Vice Provost for Innovation, joined the meeting to discuss areas of mutual interest for Finland and UW.

The delegation visited UW’s Seattle campus, as part of a tour of the Pacific Northwest, focused on building relationships with the region’s governmental officials, academic institutions, and business community. Washington state is home to an active and strongly-connected Finnish-American community, and the Finnish delegation had earlier signed an MOU with the state of Washington outlining future research and technological collaborations.

During a cordial exploratory meeting, President Cauce introduced the UW’s broad-based strengths in academic and applied research, emphasizing the expertise and experience of UW faculty and researchers in various areas such as the study of misinformation. In late 2019, the UW launched the Center for an Informed Public, an interdisciplinary and nonpartisan effort to translate and apply research on disinformation in policy, public engagement, technology, and education. Minister Harakka pointed to the importance of education in shaping the ability of citizens to resist misinformation and manipulation and the need for countries such as Finland to broadly build skills and increase literacy in areas such as artificial intelligence.

President Cauce noted the importance of ‘knowledge diplomacy’ between governments in a time of breakdown of many other forms of diplomacy. Communicating scientific research and information to the general public was seen by both groups as an important role for governance and academia, and an area of common interest and possible collaboration between Finnish institutions and UW.

GIX Bellevue

GIX’s headquarters in the Bellevue Steve Ballmer Building, hosts prototyping labs, event space, and three startups. GIX

Ambassador Hautala also underlined Finland’s focus on six US states for potential technological synergy and partnership. Helsinki and Seattle both host thriving start-up communities, and the University of Washington’s CoMotion and the Global Innovation Exchange create environments focused on experiential learning and technological innovation for students and faculty. As the incoming Executive Director, Carr highlighted the strong potential for collaboration in educational ventures with GIX for Finnish universities.

The meeting concluded with expressions of a shared sense of mission and collaboration among the Finnish delegation and UW representatives and optimism towards the many paths forward for collaboration between Finnish institutions and the UW.

Reframing Global Engagement at UW

Written by Anita Ramasastry, Henry M. Jackson Endowed Professor of Law, Director of the Sustainable International Development Graduate Program, and Faculty Director, International, Comparative and Transnational Programs

Anita RamasastryIn autumn of 2020, I was appointed as chair of the Global Engagement Strategy Task Force and charged with reimagining the role that the Office of Global Affairs (OGA) plays in informing and shaping the future of global engagement at the University of Washington.

Over the last year, I had the pleasure of not only diving deeply into discussion with seven peers from diverse units, but meeting with and learning from over 100 stakeholders from across the university.

This work took place at a time of inflection both for the UW broadly and for OGA. The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly transformed UW’s model for teaching and learning, it also put global travel including study abroad on hold. The pandemic also underscored the importance of UW providing administrative and social support structures for international students and researchers during a major global crisis. The Black Lives Matter movement and a renewed call to action for greater focus on anti-racist approaches to education prompted us to grapple with what it means for us to be globally engaged in a way that confronts issues of historica and contemporary racism and colonialism and is consistent with the UW’s overall approach to diversity, equity and inclusion. These challenges and opportunities shaped our process and our recommendations.

Five key recommendations emerged for the future work of OGA:

  1. Shift OGA’s focus from being a steward of policies and procedures to being a builder of global learning and research communities
  2. Serve as a portal and ambassador for stewarding and advancing institution-wide relationships with key global actors — from international organizations, such as the UN and the World Bank, to key foundations and think tanks
  3. Catalyze global teaching and education beyond study abroad, ensuring a global education for all through the use of technology
  4. Identify and work to eliminate the structural barriers that prevent many BIPOC faculty, staff, and students from leveraging OGA’s services and programs
  5. Continue to provide broad administrative support (travel security, MOUs, etc.) for the myriad global partnerships, but also invest more substantially in fewer, deeper, and bi-directional partnerships

Collectively, we are eager to see OGA build a richer ecosystem for global engagement at the UW. UW has a strong commitment to global citizenship. We now have the chance to expand and reframe our approach.

Download the full report

OGA would like to give a special thank you and acknowledgement of the tremendous service of the task force members: Anita Ramasastry (Chair), School of Law; Gayle Christensen, Office of Global Affairs; Leela Fernandes, Jackson School of International Studies; Debra Glassman, Foster School of Business; Stephanie Harrington, College of the Environment; Joe Lott, College of Education; Rebecca Neumann, College of Engineering; Judd Walson, Schools of Public Health & Medicine

Q&A with Ben Sommers, UW’s new Global Travel Security Manager

The UW Global Travel Security program was established to facilitate safe and successful global travel for UW students and employees.

Ben Sommers

The Office of Global Affairs (OGA) welcomes the program’s new manager, Ben Sommers, this October. As global travel slowly returns, vaccinations increase and new challenges arise, Ben’s leadership will be integral to informing and supporting our global travelers as they navigate a quickly-changing travel landscape.

Ben has almost a decade of experience managing international programs for students and global travelers. He joins us from 4-H International Exchange Programs where he was a Senior Program Manager. A husky undergraduate alum, Ben has dual Masters degrees: in International Communication from American University and Korean Studies from Korea University.

Q: What are you bringing to your new role here at UW?

I have been fortunate to have had a diversity of professional and personal experiences that have underlined the value of international travel. I think there is a great deal of truth in the adage that you never get to know your own cultures until you leave them behind. After a year plus of restricted travel, we are all eager to get back out and have the types of transformative travel experiences that we’ve put on hold. Apart from my professional and academic experiences, I think the most relevant piece I bring to the role is the firm belief in the transformative power of international travel and the importance of growing UW’s connections with the global community.

Q: What do you look forward to as you begin your new position?

Current International Travel Policy

Revised rules for official international travel have been issued for all travelers.

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I am very excited to be back at UW, especially at such a significant moment as the university community returns to campus. In a general sense, our world is also progressing towards reopening and it has been energizing to see limitations on travel being lifted and so many of our faculty, staff and students getting back out into the world. It has also been particularly inspiring to get a small glimpse into the various ways that the UW community is bringing their curiosity, adventurousness and expertise to their projects around the globe. I look forward to collaborating with university stakeholders in supporting and advocating for international travel as a critical form of global engagement.

Q: As you connect with students, faculty and staff here at UW, how can your own history of travel and studying abroad help you?

As I mentioned above, I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to see a sliver of the world. When reflecting on the trajectory of my life and career, I can definitively point to the undergraduate exchange program I participated in as a transformative moment in my life. I spent half a year at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. As a Korean adoptee, those six months deepened a feeling of curiosity I had in a place that I felt so inextricably connected to, but yet also incredibly uninformed about. I later built on that experience by doing a dual degree exchange program as graduate student at American University, jumping at the opportunity to complete a second degree program back in Seoul at Korea University.

Ben Sommers in Chiang Mai, Thailand in his last role before joining OGA. He is standing next to a taxicab
Ben Sommers in Chiang Mai, Thailand in his last role before joining OGA

Beyond studying abroad, my personal and professional travel have acted as sort of mile markers in my life. They have been experiences that have been sometimes humbling, sometimes thrilling, but always educational and informative. I think many students, faculty and staff at UW, regardless of the depth of their travel histories, have experienced the same range of impacts during their adventures abroad. Beyond feeling motivated to help enable more travelers have productive and meaningful experiences, I hope to be a resource that helps our traveling community feel supported by an on-campus office.

Q: What do you see as the key role of the UW’s Global Travel Security Program?

I think the Global Travel Security Program’s ultimate role is to help facilitate travel and to advocate for the university’s global engagement efforts. The presence of the university abroad on any given day is considerable so the Global Travel Security Program helps to ensure that those travelers are supported by being connected to the vast resources that they may need to access prior to, during or post-travel.

Global Travel Security Key Resources

There are highly regarded subject matter experts on just about everything and everywhere here at UW. The Global Travel Security Program and myself hope to be a collaborative partner in preparation for international travel. It goes without saying that the international travel landscape is particularly complex at this moment so hopefully we can help travelers to decode and untangle those complexities and ensure that the intersection between university policy and country or regional regulations does not pose challenges to the critical work being done around the world.

Q: How can UW global travelers connect with you as they plan their research, service, or study abroad?

I really do hope to connect with you all! My office is housed in the Office of Global Affairs in Gerberding Hall. Please feel free to reach out via email ( or by phone (206.616.7927). The general resources available on the Office of Global Affairs website is also a great starting point for travel planning. You can find information on travel registration, insurance and emergency assistance.

Vice Provost Jeffrey Riedinger on serving as NAFSA President and Chair of the Board of Directors

Vice Provost Jeffery Riedinger

Dr. Riedinger has leadership and administrative responsibility for the University’s diverse global programming including support for international research, study abroad, student and faculty exchanges, and overseas centers. He also serves on the faculty of the University of Washington School of Law and the Sustainable Development LL.M. program. He has served in multiple leadership roles for NAFSA: Association of International Educators over the last 10 years. He currently serves as the President of NAFSA and Chair of the NAFSA Board of Directors through calendar year 2022.

An expert on the political economy of land reform, sustainable agriculture and natural resource management, Vice Provost Riedinger has carried out research in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Central America and the Middle East. He has conducted briefings on foreign aid, land reform and other development issues for members of the White House staff, state department and USAID personnel, members of Congress, the World Bank, non-governmental organizations and private foundations. His publications include two books and numerous articles, chapters, reviews and monographs.

Tell us about this new role as President of NAFSA and Chair of the NAFSA Board of Directors. What will this involve?

NAFSA: Association of International Educators is the world’s largest non-profit association dedicated to international education and exchange. NAFSA serves the needs of more than 10,000 members and international educators at more than 3,500 institutions, in more than 150 countries.

My formal responsibilities as President of the association and Chair of the Board of Directors include:

  • ensuring the development of NAFSA’s organizational strategy, as well as policies, processes, plans and structures to support that strategy;
  • taking the lead in ensuring the long-term financial health of the association;
  • communicating the association’s direction, priorities, and positions to both internal and external audiences; and
  • ensuring excellent volunteer and staff leadership in the association.

Each of these responsibilities is daunting, the combination even more so. Fortunately, I am blessed to be working with remarkable colleagues on the Board of Directors, an extraordinary Executive Director and CEO, senior management team and professional staff, and experienced and talented volunteer member-leaders. I am doubly blessed to have an exceptional group of colleagues in the Office of Global Affairs. Their passion, professionalism and excellence make it possible for me to carve out time to serve in this volunteer member-leader role for NAFSA.

Q: What are the top three priorities for NAFSA in the upcoming year?

In 2020, as NAFSA’s Vice President for Scholarship and Institutional Strategy, I worked with the other members of the NAFSA Board of Directors to reimagine our Strategic Plan. We wanted to:

  • create a compelling and easy to remember set of strategic goals;
  • provide broad strategic direction while allowing greater flexibility for innovation and creativity by member-leaders and NAFSA professional staff;
  • signal the central importance of advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice within NAFSA, the home institutions of NAFSA members, and the field of international education; and
  • reinforce the crucial and positive role of international education in addressing some of the most pressing challenges of our time, from a global pandemic to climate change, from rising nationalism and political polarization to growing income inequality and legacies of centuries-old racial and social injustice.

We distilled NAFSA’s Strategic Plan into three priorities for 2021–2023:

  • Educate. NAFSA is dedicated to educating, informing and supporting international educators throughout their careers.
  • Advocate. NAFSA will continue to advocate for public policies that lead to a more globally informed, welcoming, and engaged United States.
  • Innovate. In all that it does, NAFSA will emphasize innovation, cooperation, and effective organization.

Q: During your tenure, what initiatives are you most passionate about advancing?

In my roles at the UW and NAFSA, I believe that it is only through cross-cultural and cross-continent collaborations that we can address the world’s most pressing challenges and most promising opportunities. International educators and the field of International Education can and must help advance the cross-cultural competencies and understandings that are essential to forming such collaborations.

As part of this work, it is imperative that we work to address systemic racism and social inequities, in this country and around the world. I am extremely pleased that NAFSA added an emphasis on equity and social justice to its new Strategic Plan, building upon its ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion. We are working to unleash the experience, insights, passion and compassion of our leadership and members in advancing these priorities within NAFSA, in the home institutions of NAFSA members, and in the field of international education.

Q: What do you anticipate to be one of the most challenging aspects of this new role?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly harmful to the field of international education, here at the UW and around the world. International educators are not unique in having lost family, friends, and colleagues. However, the pandemic-related restrictions on travel and events have placed a special strain on our field. In turn, international education professionals have lost jobs as campus and company offices downsized staff. Many of our colleagues who are still employed have fewer resources for professional development.

The pandemic’s impact on international education also deeply affects the association. NAFSA is operating with extremely constrained resources. The Annual Conference and Expo is NAFSA’s largest source of revenue. NAFSA finances have been seriously affected by not having an in-person Annual Conference in 2020 or 2021. The reductions in international education professionals and in resources for professional development also put NAFSA membership and membership revenues under strain.

However, NAFSA and the field of international education have faced crises before. NAFSA has risen to past challenges and will do so again. I am working closely with the extraordinary people on our Board, in our volunteer member-leadership, on the Management team and professional staff, and in our membership. I am confident that together we will be able to ensure that NAFSA continues to be a vibrant leader in the field of international education when it celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2048.

Q: What will the future of global engagement look like? Give us a glimpse into the conversations at NAFSA about the future.

It is imperative that NAFSA and the field of international education are partners in the efforts to address systemic racism and social inequalities, in this country and around the world. For NAFSA this work is central to our Strategic Plan which emphasizes diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice. A key element of our work will be to decolonize the field of international education.

This work will extend to offices like Global Affairs. Too many senior international professionals, particularly in the U.S., look like me: white, gray-haired, and male. We need to promote access. Specifically, we need to be more intentional and much more successful in creating welcoming pathways for under-represented students, faculty and professional staff to engage in, and to lead, international education.

This work will also extend to the content and location of study abroad programs. U.S. students have typically studied abroad in “traditional” locations such as the United Kingdom and Europe. Relatively few U.S. students have opportunities or choose to study in “non-traditional” locations, particularly low-income countries. Few of the programs in the traditional locations have explored the colonial legacies of the countries in which they are situated. It will be similarly important to build such content into programs in non-traditional locations, particularly countries that are former colonies.

NAFSA has long had a set of ethical principles. With my background in international research, I look forward to extending these principles to better reflect the ethical conduct guidelines of scholarly organizations such as the African Studies Association. In this vein, I am proud that the Advisory Council for the UW’s Office of Global Affairs has long articulated and recently updated a robust set of guidelines for global engagement.

The other domain of exciting, and overdue, work relates to sustainability. In the field of international education and in NAFSA, we have opportunities, and are challenged, to do much more to promote sustainability and address climate change. In the past, much of our focus was on international mobility of students and scholars. This will remain a core element of our work because in-person experiences can be uniquely impactful in building cross-cultural competence and understanding. Yet we know that many of the students, faculty and professional staff we serve are unable to travel across geographic borders, whether for reasons of finances, curricular barriers, or family commitments. We also know that international travel can involve a significant carbon footprint.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted significant technological improvements that make it easier to imagine and to implement international education in a remote learning environment. The pandemic has accelerated initiatives in Cooperative Online International Learning and demonstrated the power and practicality of virtual international education, research, internships and community engagement. And technology has made it possible to significantly increase access, connecting students, faculty, guest speakers, and members of distant communities and doing so with less impact on our climate and natural resources.

We can also expand cross-cultural learning opportunities for our students (and our faculty and staff) by creating more “study away” programming, engaging local international heritage communities and indigenous communities in more intentional, respectful, and mutually beneficial ways.

In short, despite the many challenges, I am excited about the many opportunities for enhancing the field of international education and better serving NAFSA members and the students, faculty and professional staff we serve.

Boosting global health partnerships for Chinese universities

Supported by the Global Innovation Fund, a landmark symposium hosted by the UW last week brought together leaders and faculty from five Chinese universities, across the UW campus and the Seattle community. “Collaborating with Chinese colleagues is a tremendously high priority, both personally for faculty and institutionally here at UW,” said Judy Wasserheit, chair of the Department of Global Health and symposium co-chair.

Read more from the Department of Global Health…

Husky Presidential Ambassadors Leadership Institute facilitates inclusive engagement

Universities across the nation are working to further connect international students and create a globally engaged campus environment for all students. Increasing globalization also raises the demand for graduates with increased competencies in cross-cultural communication and practice. Engaging together in cross-cultural leadership studies, undergraduates learn to think and connect across boundaries, enhancing all students’ Husky Experience.

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