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Recent Remarks from the New President & CEO of American Councils


Ms. Lisa Choate, President and CEO
On Thursday, February 29, American Councils for International Education gathered partners and stakeholders to welcome Ms. Lisa Choate as the organization's new President and CEO. The following are remarks made by Ms. Choate to the event attendees.

Thank you all for gathering here today to mark the beginning of my presidency at American Councils. After 36 years at American Councils, I am happy to serve the organization in this capacity and look forward to all that is ahead. 

I would like to start my remarks in a different place, though. As I stand here today, February 29, on the eve of Women’s History Month, I am prompted to remember my maternal lineage. The women who led me here. 

My grandmother, who was born in Indian Territory, more than a decade before it became the State of Oklahoma. She raised 12 children during the Great Depression. Truly an achievement. 

My mother, who was born in the Cherokee Nation and moved her family to Texas to escape the poverty of that place at that time. A woman who didn’t go to college, but instilled in me and my sister a deep love of reading that fed the desire for education. Who got her first passport at the age of 70. Who always believed in me and supported me as I left home to travel almost 2000 miles to Bryn Mawr College as an undergraduate. 

I stand on the shoulders of those women. 

Dr. Dan E Davidson Socializing
Trustee Ms. Kristin Hayden and Dr. Dan Davidson


I also stand on the shoulders of the teachers who supported me in high school and the professors, like Dan Davidson, who taught me and expanded my world in college and beyond. Julie Christensen, my Resident Director on my study abroad year, and friends like David Patton, Masha Lekic, and Tom Garza, among others. I also draw so much support from my husband Sergey Kazmin and daughter Katya. They have always shared me with my work at American Councils. 

As a first generation college student with only modest resources, scholarships and opportunities like American Councils programs made all the difference. Now, I must confess that I was not an ideal student during my study abroad experience in the Soviet Union. For those of you who know our rubric, I sometimes lacked sense of self. I was flexible and generally had a sense of humor. But sometimes I was not a good communicator.

Nevertheless, the program was transformative. Even for those of us who are not perfect participants. And my experience is one reason I believe so deeply in the programs that American Councils administers. They offer unique opportunity. And why I am so proud to lead our organization. 

In some respects, I was not an obvious candidate to be American Councils’ next president. Maybe you haven’t noticed. Yes, I’m a woman. That made me different. But I’m also the wrong size. I’m almost one foot shorter than my predecessors. This means that I could not possibly fill their “big shoes.” And I would look tiny behind a podium – or in the office. Perhaps you’ve read that research about how people see tall people as leaders. I didn’t fit. 

Ms. Lisa Choate and Mr. Mark Taplin
Ms. Lisa Choate with Trustee Mr. Mark Taplin

Fortunately our Board members decided to interview me on Zoom. It’s a great equalizer – I could look (and act!) tall. Now true, our Board members had met me previously and likely remembered that I am petite. Still, I think Zoom really gave me that competitive advantage! I’m grateful! 

So here we are! What’s ahead? As we at American Councils complete our first 50 years, it’s only natural to think about the next 50. Where are we going? What will we do? 

Keep your eyes open for events throughout the year that will celebrate our achievements and build towards another 50 years of extraordinary programming. Last week we launched the 50 Alumni for 50 Years initiative. The program spotlights outstanding participants from among our over 100,000 alumni and portfolio of 250 programs spanning five decades. We are proud! Two of the 50 for 50 participants will be selected as the inaugural winners of the David P. Patton Distinguished Alumni Award

This fall we will host a conference to celebrate our history and discuss how to support the next 50 years of international education and public diplomacy programming.

And we are going to keep changing the world, offering individuals and institutions experiences that change their lives. And it already has. Among our international alumni, one alumna served as the Prime Minister of her country. Another alum is the Minister of Defense of Ukraine. A third was the Minister of Education of Uzbekistan Another received the International Women of Courage Award. Yet another is working with St. Jude’s on pediatric cancer in Ukraine. Our U.S. alumni are ambassadors, successful businesspeople, journalists, government officials, and employees of NGOS – like American Councils. Again, we are proud. 

Thank you for being here today and your support in our many activities, particularly those who have donated to the Diversity & Inclusion Scholarship Fund and the Dan E. Davidson Fellowships, which champion study abroad for all and the study of less commonly taught and critical languages and research. 

We look forward to our ongoing work with volunteers and partners, and as we look towards the future, we are encouraged by the possibility of creating new relationships that will allow American Councils to continue to thrive. 

Thank you for your support and thank you for being here today!