On March 3, 2022, NAFSA Vice President for Public Policy and Practice, Dr. Joanna Regulska presented Alexis M. Akagawa of Columbia University with the 2022 Advocate of the Year Award at NAFSA’s virtual Day of Action. Below is an edited version of Dr. Regulska's remarks:
Our 2022 Advocate of the Year embodies international education and U.S. immigration policy at its best. Her path to this moment spans several generations, languages, continents, and coasts. Alexis has a true gift for adding a human dimension to her advocacy work, by being able to articulate, for example, how visa processing issues are directly impacting international students and scholars, and effectively moving Congressional audiences to take note and take action. Her passion for advocacy is infectious. She has consistently informed and inspired colleagues at her university, at the regional level, and at NAFSA annual conferences and advocacy convenings, helping to grow the movement.
Alexis' advocacy practice includes little things, like taking the time to customize NAFSA’s Connecting Our World messages to Congress, to bigger investments, like traveling to Washington, DC for a special “fly-in” to meet with key members of her congressional delegation.
Her journey began as the state whip in a largely rural upper Midwestern state where she was instrumental in helping enact an international education resolution for the state. She then brought her energy and passion to a new position at a large urban university in the northeast where she could have deferred to others but she only intensified her advocacy practice.
Alexis' preparation for congressional meetings and attention to detail is impressive. She knows which members or staffers have studied abroad themselves, or who has a college student who has.
One NAFSA staff person recollected that she carried herself with complete composure when face to face with a particularly direct and some might say intimidating, congressional staffer in the office of a very influential senator. That senator has become an important champion of our issues.
Alexis has been described as a “shining light to all those around her,” whose “keen wit, enthusiasm, intelligence and deep love of international education has helped create a wave [of advocacy] that keeps growing and expanding.”
That seems to me the perfect embodiment of an Advocate of the Year. Without further ado, it is my honor and privilege to present the 2022 Advocate of the Year award to Alexis Akagawa.