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International student alumni in the U.S.: Making a difference at the community, state and national level

Current and former international students live and work across the entire U.S., in large cities as well as small towns. Here we share the stories of ten individuals whose daily work in key areas contributes to U.S. communities and society.


Mariam Assefa, former Executive Director, World Education Services, New York

Born in Ethiopia and educated at the University of Montpellier in France, Mariam Assefa subsequently came to the U.S. as an international student to attend the State University of New York at Buffalo. She eventually became an immigrant, following the same path as the thousands of students, immigrants, and refugees served by World Education Services (WES), the organization she led for 38 years. Mariam retired as the Executive Director and CEO of WES in 2019. Since 1974, WES has helped nearly three million individuals achieve their academic and career goals. In addition to the recognition of academic credentials WES helps immigrants and refugees navigate the employment market and through its Global Talent Bridge program.

Mariam spent her career in international credential evaluation and recognition. She is the author of a 1988 book on the system of education of France and has made frequent presentations on foreign educational systems and the recognition of international educational credentials in the United States and abroad. As a consultant for the US government, she was involved in discussions regarding the recognition of academic credentials in Africa, Asia and Europe. Mariam has held different NAFSA regional and national leadership roles, serving as President in 2006, and being awarded a Life Membership in 2020. She was also awarded One-to-World’s Fulbright Award for Contribution to International Educational Exchange in 2005.

Most notable is Mariam’s contribution to refugee issues in the U.S., an area that she championed tirelessly to bring into mainstream conversations and programming in international education and immigration. On her retirement, the WES Board of Trustees established and launched the $30 million WES Mariam Assefa Fund to support catalytic efforts that ensure the economic integration and advancement of immigrants and refugee workers in the US and Canada.