In the spring of 2002, NAFSA issued a call to all colleges and universities in the United States. The objective was to develop a report that would profile institutions “where international education has been broadly infused across the fabric of the institution.” The call asked for institutions of various sizes and types to document cases of where “internationalizing the campus” is a part of the culture. The goal was to recognize practices, structures, philosophies, and policies that represent outstanding achievement in international education and provide a model for other institutions.

In September 2002, the advisory panel met in Washington, D.C., and selected the 16 institutions profiled in the first Internationalizing the Campus report in 2003. Initially made possible by generous support from the Educational Testing Service (ETS), a NAFSA Global Partner, and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, the report profiled the international education initiatives of the awarded institutions focusing on their impact on students, schools, and communities nationwide.

Since its creation, NAFSA has received a total of 726 nominations from over 430 U.S. institutions and presented a total of 93 Comprehensive Awards and 71 Spotlight Awards. The Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization continues to recognize U.S. colleges and universities that are making significant, well - planned, well - executed, and well - documented progress toward comprehensive internationalization — especially those using innovative and creative approaches. There are two categories in which an institution can receive a Simon Award: Comprehensive and Spotlight. In 2022, NAFSA celebrates the 20th anniversary of the awards as examples of excellence that demonstrate the progress that has been made and the work that remains to be done.

"If we want to improve our nation and the world, we must be willing to sacrifice a little. This major national initiative and the recommendations of [NAFSA's] Strategic Taskforce on Education Abroad can lift our vision and responsiveness to the rest of the world."
– Paul Simon, in his forward for In America's Interest: Welcoming International Students, NAFSA's 2003 task force report on education abroad.

Senator Paul Simon

Senator Paul Simon
Senator Paul Simon (1928-2003)

The Simon Award for Campus Internationalization also honors the career of an outstanding statesman. The late Senator Paul Simon of Illinois (1928 - 2003) served his state and the nation as a strong voice for civil rights, prison literacy, peace initiatives, and international education. He advocated for international education throughout his career, using his positions on various committees in the Senate to advocate for exchange. His leadership in this area was especially evident in his robust support, along with Senator David Boren, for the creation of the National Security Education Program, which addresses critical national security deficiencies in language and cultural expertise.

Later in life, Senator Simon worked diligently to persuade the federal government to support a new initiative that would create education abroad fellowships for U.S. students. Simon's vision for this program was ambitious, with a goal of sending 500,000 U.S. students to study abroad each year for a semester or summer term. NAFSA continues to support the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act, which would create a program to incentivize institutional change to make study abroad an integral part of higher education. In recognition of his legacy, the award was named after the late Senator Paul Simon in 2004.

Dr Richard A Jensen and Sen Paul Simon
Then-U.S. Representative Paul Simon and Richard A. Jensen, 1975