Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, Ph.D.

Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, the 2020 Eleanor Dodson Tragen Award recipient, served as the elected President of the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW)
from August 2016 to August 2020. She has also been appointed the AAFSW Fun for Funds
Fundraising Events Chair since December 2016 and the AAFSW Public Relations and Publicity
Chair since August 2020. In its 60-year presence (1960-2020), AAFSW has been responsible for initiating the creation of the Family Liaison Office (FLO), the Overseas Briefing Center (OBC), the Foreign Service Youth Foundation (FSYF) as well as advocating with Congress for benefits for the Foreign Service Families and Community.

During her postings abroad as a Foreign Service Officer’s spouse, Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos
Owen volunteered her expertise as a trained geophysicist and environmental management consultant, by leading numerous geology field trips and lecturing on the posts’ geology and environmental management status, providing unique hands-on experience and advanced education to many of the U.S. missions’ international students and their families (Argentina, Sri Lanka, Venezuela.) As the 2016-2020 elected AAFSW President, Joanna advocated tirelessly for family member rights, benefits, and services. Particularly, in 2017, Joanna successfully advocated for a sound solution to safeguard EFM and EPAP positions, resulting in most positions becoming once again available to AAFSW members and Foreign Service EFMs by late 2018. Thanks to the fundraising success of the annual AAFSW Art and Book Fair (every October – Exhibit Hall – Dept. of State), Joanna led AAFSW to increase the number and grant amounts of the AAFSW academic scholarships offered annually to Foreign Service Youth (High School Seniors and College Freshmen). Additionally, inspired by her multiyear academic career, in January 2018, Joanna conceived and implemented AAFSW’s “Twice Exceptional” Merit Scholarship, designed to reward academic excellence annually to two students who have overcome adversity due to special needs (IEP / 504 Plan).

In February 2018, Joanna initiated AAFSW’s successful application to be recognized as a DOS Employee Organization, expanding AAFSW’s membership to include all Foreign Affairs Civil Service Employees, maintaining AAFSW’ use of State Department facilities, and establishing invaluable liaisons with all the DOS Employee Organizations and Affinity Groups.  Throughout her volunteer service, when needed, together with other AAFSW Volunteers, Joanna helps with Foreign Service Families facing evacuation, sudden transition, or domestic crisis. Strongly believing in diversity and inclusivity, with the approval of the AAFSW Board and the vote of the AAFSW Membership, Joanna spearheaded the AAFSW Standing Committees’ number increase from seven voting Chairs in July 2016 to eleven voting Chairs in July 2020.  Continuing to serve AAFSW as the Fundraising Chair since 2016, and in her current volunteer capacity as the AAFSW Public Relations and Publicity Chair, in September 2020, Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen secured a $5,000 grant from the Delavan Foundation commemorating AAFSW’s 60 th Anniversary since its inception (1960-2020). For her efforts as an AAFSW Volunteer, Joanna has been honored with the 2020 Eleanor Dodson Tragen Award.

Joanna is a consulting geophysicist and gemologist leading expeditions in countries such as Myanmar, Morocco, New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Peru, Costa Rica, Iceland, etc., and places such as the Galapagos, Easter Island, Amazon, Tahiti, Hawaii, and Alaska, etc. She participates in the annual American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the Washington D.C. Conference of the National Council for Science and Environment (NCSE), which brings together scientists and policy makers to discuss the integration of Science, Business, Education, and Regulations. In March 2017, Joanna was invited to the “Our Task’s Earth 2100” Conference, which addressed the future of soil and food through regenerative agriculture and ecosystem restoration solutions.

Born in California and raised in Athens, Greece, Joanna speaks five languages and has a Bachelor of Science in Physics from the University of Greece. Continuing her studies in her native California as a NATO Fellow and a University of California President’s Fellow, Joanna earned a Master of Science in Geophysics and her PhD in Geological Sciences while she was awarded the “Outstanding Teaching Award”. Funded by NSF and LLNL, she also earned an additional Master’s in Environmental Science and Management studying the decommissioning
of offshore oil platforms for which she also held a three-day conference involving all stakeholders. Joanna has further received her Gemology Diploma (FGA / GIA) and consults on gemstone appraising while currently working on her Virginia Teaching Licensure.

Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen has been associated with the Department of State since 2001, living in Argentina, Sri Lanka, and Venezuela. Her involvement with the Department of State allows her to explore how education, population size, and geo-cultural politics affect environmental international policy and strategies, development projects worldwide, and practices implemented around the world regarding energy resources, the climate, and waste management.


AAFSW Functions and Events Photo Slider: 2016-2020 

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Congratulations to Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, AAFSW President Emerita: Recipient of the 2020 Eleanor Dodson Tragen Award

Congratulations to all the nominees and especially to Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, AAFSW President Emerita, for receiving the 2020 Eleanor Dodson Tragen Award. Joanna is an exemplary AAFSW volunteer that throughout her service as an EFM and, later, as the President of the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (2016-2020) has effectively advocated, and promoted rights, programs, services and benefits for Foreign Service families in the tradition of the AAFSW and its members. 

In her State Magazine article, entitled: “Giving Back: AAFSW honors exceptional volunteers for worldwide service”, published in January 2018, Joanna wrote: “By knowing one’s preference in a volunteer project, you can identify one’s true passion.” Lending her expertise (gratis), during her postings abroad as a Foreign Service Officer’s spouse, Joanna led various geology field trips, which provided unique hands-on experience and advanced education, to many of the U.S. missions’ international students and their families. She also gave several series of lectures on the posts’ geology and environmental management status and offered (and still offers) her gemological consulting services to FS Members. 

When Joanna returned to the USA for a posting, she immediately volunteered as PTA President in the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) system. Joanna was elected AAFSW President in August 2016 and, as required by the AAFSW Bylaws, she completed her second 2-year term in August 2020. Over the last four years serving as AAFSW President, Joanna initiated many groundbreaking, beneficial, and long-lasting changes for our Foreign Service Families and AAFSW. Here are some of her outstanding contributions: 

In September 2016, as soon as Joanna started her volunteer duties as AAFSW President, she met and forged strong relationships with all the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) sister-organizations and the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) administrators. With AFSA, Joanna strived to complete the “Code of Ethics” (which was already in the works for some time) concerning the Foreign Service Families in Transition while with ADST, Joanna sought volunteer work for the AAFSW members which could have possibly led to a $1,000 stipend upon completion of each “Oral History” interview. Soon after the 2017 DOS change in administration and by the Spring of 2017, the main focus of AAFSW became the indefinite uncertainty of the employment of the Eligible Family Members (EFMs). Joanna sprang into action and formed the AAFSW – EFM Employment Working Group, which during the summer of 2017, sent a letter to Congress on behalf of AAFSW and the EFMs of the American Foreign Service Community, requesting a sound solution to the hiring freeze of the Eligible Family Members. Success came soon after this effort as the new State Department administration took over in April 2018. Most EFM and Expanded Professional Associates Program (EPAP) positions became once again available to our AAFSW members and Foreign Service EFMs. 

Although the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) had been successfully representing and lobbying Congress on behalf of Foreign Service spouses, employees, and retirees since 1960, as a result of the 2017 restructuring of the Department of State, AAFSW was threatened with not being able to continue its volunteer operations in the Department of State because it was never recognized as an official entity of the DOS before. Once again, Joanna acted immediately. After consulting with the FAC members, and especially the FSYF President, as well as with the AAFSW Board of Directors, in February 2018, Joanna applied to the DOS Human Resources / Office of Policy / Chief Management Negotiator on behalf of AAFSW, for AAFSW to be considered a recognized Employee Organization by the Department of State. AAFSW’s Employee Organization status with the DOS was granted on April 11, 2018. This was a great step forward for AAFSW as not only was it permitted to continue using State Department facilities (Book Store and the annual Art and Book Fair to raise funds for the AAFSW scholarships, Housing Office, Evacuee and Families in Transition Support, International Cultural “Soft Diplomacy” Events, etc.), but it also expanded its membership to include all Civil Service Employees of the Foreign Affairs Agencies. As a result, since May 2018, Joanna has spearheaded invaluable liaisons for AAFSW with all the Employee Organizations and Affinity Groups of the Department of State which are vital to AAFSW and Joanna’s new volunteer work as the 2020-2022 AAFSW Public Relations and Publicity Chair. 

Identifying all the issues that the 2017 reorganization of the DOS brought about, including the possible modification of the Special Needs Educational Allowance (SNEA), which greatly affected the Foreign Service Families with children with special needs and disabilities, and having gained knowledge and experience while serving as PTA President in FCPS (and winning an award for her exceptional service in 2017 from FCPS), in January 2018, Joanna conceived and proposed a new kind of AAFSW Merit Scholarship, called “Twice Exceptional” Merit Scholarship, to the AAFSW Board. Since then, AAFSW awards two such scholarships each year, especially designed to reward academic excellence, to high school seniors, gap year, and/or college freshmen and sophomores (that have an Individualized Education Program {IEP} or equivalent plan set in place), who have shown resilience and have academically overcome adversity due to special needs. As AAFSW is the only DOS organization which grants such scholarships, the AAFSW “Twice Exceptional” Merit Scholarship has been drawing many applications from the Foreign Affairs Community every year since it was created and established by Joanna in January 2018. 

Valuing all AAFSW members, past and current, soon after the new DOS Secretary sworn in on April 26, 2018, thanks to Joanna’s request to the Secretary’s Office, for the first time, during the May 2018 Foreign Affairs Day and immediately after the annual AFSA Memorial, the DOS Secretary honored AAFSW and the Foreign Service Family Members fallen abroad by spending a few moments reflecting and paying respects beside the AAFSW remembrance wreath and AAFSW dedicated plaque in the DOS, while meeting with the AAFSW members present as well. Later in May 2018, during the DOS Secretary’s first Town Hall meeting, Joanna publicly invited the Secretary’s spouse to become AAFSW’s Honorary President. This invitation was accepted in September 2018 and a great collaboration among the AAFSW Honorary President, AAFSW, and Joanna has since emerged. 

Although difficult, with Joanna’s initiative and with the help of the Family Liaison Office (FLO), for the first time in November 2018 and then, repeated again in November 2019, the DOS Secretary granted an one hour “meet and greet” session to get to know and personally congratulate all the AAFSW awardees the day prior to the annual AAFSW Awards’ Ceremony. Also, after Joanna’s invitation, the AAFSW Honorary President accepted to speak during both the 2018 and 2019 AAFSW Awards’ Ceremonies while, during the Fall 2019 FAC meeting at DACOR, Under Secretary Bulatao accepted Joanna’s invitation to “open” the 59th Art and BookFair at the DOS later in 2019. 

Joanna has been remarkably supportive of all AAFSW members: she is the first AAFSW President that gave awards to all commendable AAFSW volunteers directly during the annual AAFSW Volunteer Appreciation Lunch and the annual Awards’ Ceremony, established the Fun For Funds Committee (2016) to help raise funds for AAFSW’s worthy causes, and eagerly advanced all EFM efforts such as for Cox Fellowship recommendations, new businesses, and job-training workshops. During her tenure as the elected 2016-2020 AAFSW President, Joanna increased the number of the AAFSW Standing Committees, with AAFSW Board Member Chairs who can vote during the AAFSW Board meetings, from seven in 2016 to eleven in 2020, delivering a bigger, stronger, and more inclusive AAFSW to the next elected AAFSW President who succeeded her. Further, Joanna teamed up with FSYF and DACOR to promote joint events with AAFSW, designed the very successful 2017 Art and Book Fair advertisement seeking volunteers plus the new AAFSW stand-up posters and AAFSW Membership forms, contributed improvements to the monthly AAFSW Global Link Newsletter and AAFSW Website, helped judge the 2017 Avis Bohlen Award plus many of the SOSA entries, annual FS Scholarships and CCE-EFM grants, championed all AAFSW efforts for the support of evacuees such as from Russia, Venezuela, China, etc., and successfully chaired the first virtual AAFSW Board Meetings via Zoom in April 2020 and June 2020. 

All of us at AAFSW are extremely proud of the noteworthy accomplishments of Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen. She highly deserves the recognition of being the 2020 Eleanor Dodson Tragen Award recipient. Thanks to Joanna, our Foreign Service Community, EFMs, and AAFSW have undeniably excelled. All of us at AAFSW are looking forward to celebrating Joanna’s achievements in her new volunteer positions as the 2020-2022 AAFSW Public Relations and Publicity Chair and the 2020-2022 AAFSW Fun For Funds Fundraising Events Committee Chair. 

By Sheila Switzer