International Center Director Honored with President's Award for Distinguished Service in International Education

Curiosity. The will to serve. These desires define the paths taken by the 2022 recipients of the University of Michigan’s President’s Award for Distinguished Service in International Education.

For the first time, the University of Michigan recognizes both a faculty member and a staff member for outstanding efforts to advance international education and create an ideal environment in which all students thrive: Timothy R.B. Johnson, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and women’s and gender studies; and Judith Pennywell, director of U-M’s International Center.

“Timothy Johnson has given our students life-changing international experiences while elevating Michigan’s role as a welcoming partner in global collaborations, particularly through his work in Ghana,” said U-M President Mary Sue Coleman. “For Michigan’s international students, Judith Pennywell has been a tireless advocate, supporting them on their journeys to the United States and fostering their well-being when they join our community.

“Both recipients have advanced international education and outreach for our students while also strengthening Michigan’s global presence.”

Student Services

Judith Pennywell, who has led the International Center for the past eight years, said her career interests have always been driven by intense curiosity about other cultures, traditions and languages.

“I remember wanting to learn more about people in Latin America after attending my first Spanish classes in grade school,” she said. “I would talk to a kid with a different-sounding last name and want to know the origin of their name. My parents encouraged this curiosity with a great set of encyclopedias and regular trips to the library. I believe a curious mindset is a catalyst for learning and growth.”

For over 25 years, Pennywell has done everything from advising international students and creating global program partnerships to managing international student services and developing cultural programming. Through her work, she has created and facilitated opportunities for students, scholars and faculty to study in the U.S. or to pursue research, teaching and volunteerism overseas.

Her extensive experience in international education has played a vital role in creating a more inclusive campus climate for international students, said Simone Himbeault Taylor, former interim vice president and senior associate vice president for student life.

“Dr. Pennywell is a consummate professional with deep expertise in international student issues and strong administrative skills,” Himbeault Taylor said. “She demonstrates a laser-sharp ability to identify root issues and pursue creative solutions. As a seasoned administrator, she brings her head and heart to her systems-thinking approach, always thinking through enterprise solutions with students at the center of her decision-making.”

U-M International Center

Pennywell’s leadership of the International Center during the COVID-19 pandemic was fundamental to sustaining and advancing international education at Michigan. She advocated for more inclusive and compassionate institutional decision-making, and was able to provide uninterrupted support to students amid immigration issues and other crises, said Jennifer Meyer Schrage, former U-M interim associate vice president.

“Judith has worked closely with her team to ensure that the (International Center) was responsive to numerous emerging and unexpected challenges,” she said.

Pennywell’s office supports some 8,200 international students from 126 countries enrolled at U-M and has occasional engagement with about 1,700 others on optional practical training. Her team works with more than 1,500 scholars and employees on immigration matters and is involved with the recruitment of Peace Corps volunteers and manages the Peace Corps Prep Program.

Outside of U-M, Pennywell is active in NAFSA: Association of International Educators, having served as conference chair for the organization’s 2019 National Conference.

“Judith has been an extraordinary volunteer leader for more than 20 years,” said Dorothea Antonio, NAFSA’s deputy executive director. “Her dedicated service to the association has significantly impacted the field of international education.”

For Pennywell, international education is a powerful mechanism to advance an institution’s mission while helping students become global citizens.

“I’m privileged to work in the field that promotes international engagement, international understanding and global learning,” she said. “I’m fortunate to be on this career path and being recognized for what I do. It’s also a celebration of our team. Together, we work to advance international education around campus in many ways.”