2018 SOSA Project Summaries and Winners

2018 SOSA winner Matt Ellsworth, 2018 CCE-EFM Awardee Laura Sheehan, 2018 Tragen Award Winner Patricia Linderman, AAFSW President Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert, 2018 SOSA winner Jessica McInerney, 2018 SOSA winner Dr. Abigail Hankin-Wei, 2018 SOSA winner Nicola Hil. Thursday, November 15, 2018, John Quincy Adams Reception Hall, Dept. of State. Photo: Courtesy of Ron Przysucha, Official Photographer, Office of Digital Engagement, Dept. of State.

Our 2018 SOSA Winners

Wednesday, November 14, 2018, Dept. of State. Photo: Courtesy of Ron Przysucha, Official Photographer, Office of Digital Engagement, Dept. of State.

Abigail HANKIN-WEI, Maputo, Mozambique (AF)

Abigail Hankin-Wei is a Foreign Service spouse, mother of three, and a U.S. Emergency Medicine attending physician associated with Emory University. Abigail spends a significant amount of time volunteering as the only trained Emergency Medicine physician in the country, taking her skills.to the public hospital, in one of the poorest countries in the world. She constantly marvels at the needless pain and suffering that so many people experience from being treated by physicians who have limited knowledge of emergency medicine, and who are working with a lack of resources.

Photo: Courtesy of Jake Miller, Social Media Specialist, Dept. of State, Thursday, November 15, 2018, Benjamin Franklin Reception Hall, Dept. of State.

Volunteering in a public ER in Mozambique is a big commitment, but Abigail takes it a step further. She has partnered with a local medical school to start an Emergency Medicine residency program and is training the very first class of Emergency Medicine specialized physicians in the entire country. When she departs post, there will be the first six newly-minted Emergency Medicine physicians in Mozambique, all trained by her, and the visiting Emergency Medicine residents she hosts from Emory University. She has organized a six-month rotation for her Mozambican residents in Tanzania, a trip to the United States, multiple guest speakers, conducts their classes, oversees their clinical work, directs the university as they build this new program, and solicits donated training materials from her colleagues back home. She also meets with representatives from the Ministry of Health to help plan improvements to emergency care. Abigail isn’t saving one Mozambican life at a time. She is changing the entire structure of the Mozambican medical system. Because this specialty has been brought to Mozambique, in ten years’ time these doctors will have saved countless lives and will be engaged in training the next generation of Emergency Medicine physicians.

Abigail’s work has an immediate and direct benefit on Mozambique, and will likely serve mission members in the future. Her efforts – which mean long hours away from her family, potential health risk to herself, and dealing with the emotional anguish that follows losing a patient – deserve to be recognized at the highest levels.


Nicola Hil, Guangzhou, China (EAP)

Nicola spent her two-year tour as an EFM in Guangzhou making invaluable contributions to Mission efforts to promote women’s and gender issues through public outreach events. From October 2016 – June 2018, Nicola managed and improved the Consulate’s “Women in Society” group responsible for putting on these events.

Working carefully in a sensitive environment, Nicola organized 14 events including raising awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault; a networking event to promote Chinese women entrepreneurs; a presentation on the intersection of LGBTI movements and feminism; and a panel on the role of men in ending gender inequality. Audience responses to these events were overwhelmingly positive as evidenced by attendees often returning with friends and colleagues at subsequent events. Nicola and the Women in Society team were successful in their efforts to give attendees a safe space to learn about and discuss issues affecting women in the United States and the world.

Photo: Courtesy of Jake Miller, Social Media Specialist, Dept. of State, Thursday, November 15, 2018, Benjamin Franklin Reception Hall, Dept. of State.

Nicola also took the lead in organizing a joint event between the Consulate General and WeConnect, a U.S. nonprofit focused on championing women entrepreneurs. The event connected Chinese women entrepreneurs with multinational businesses, thus providing important professional opportunities in what is still a male-dominated sector.

Behind the scenes, Nicola worked with U.S. Consulate Guangzhou’s Political and Public Affairs sections to strengthen coordination on these issues, leading the development of a strategic plan, chairing meetings, delegating responsibilities, and creating a record of best practices that will serve the Consulate well even after her departure.

Given Nicola’s tireless efforts, it is no wonder that the Women in Society group was the most consistently active of several issue-focused public diplomacy groups at the U.S. Consulate during her tour.



Matt A. Ellsworth, Nicosia, Cyprus (EUR)

An accomplished genealogist, Matt Ellsworth arrived in Cyprus in 2015 expecting to help Cypriots discover their ancestry through easy access to well-developed resources. He soon discovered that while records were plentiful, access to them was limited and that the political division of the country made access even more difficult. Matt began compiling a database of Cypriots named in published and online resources, most of whom were born more than 100 years ago. He became familiar with cemeteries, libraries, and archives on both sides of the island and made initial contacts to learn if easier access to records could be obtained. He also started to compile an impressive personal library of published village histories and other biographical resources. Matt believes he has access to resources that will provide the names of at least 50,000 Cypriots and offer helpful data for every village and family in Cyprus. There are now more than 25,000 names in his ever-growing database.

Photo: Courtesy of Jake Miller, Social Media Specialist, Dept. of State, Thursday, November 15, 2018, Benjamin Franklin Reception Hall, Dept. of State.

The Public Affairs office approached Matt about contributing the database to a major university in Cyprus, and he agreed. Until it is posted online, he has let interested Cypriots know about it by creating a not-for-profit Facebook page for Cypriot genealogy (www.facebook.com/CyprusFHP/) and offering to look up names.

During a presentation at a local institute, Matt recommended that in order for a Cypriot to learn about his or her ancestors, cooperation would be needed from both sides of the island. He invited the audience to gather and share biographical data from all available sources, and he laid out a “road map” to increased access.

At a personal level, Matt has shown concern for the Cypriot people on both sides of the divide and has created a valuable gift that will endure and serve the Cypriot people for generations to come, not only in Cyprus but in the large Cypriot diaspora. His work is likely to serve as the seed and basis for an era of increased interest, activity, and access for Cypriots seeking their ancestry.


Jessica McInerney, Ciudad Juarez (WHA)

After Jessica McInerney and her family arrived in Ciudad Juarez in July 2015, she enrolled her three young children in the best school the city offered. While the school seemed the right fit, its library was disappointing; there were few books and there was no culture of reading. Over the course of three years, Jessica built a library from scratch that contained over 2,000 books (in English and Spanish) in a school that now has a legitimate library class where children of all grades can check out books. Jessica also helped raise over $6,000 for the purchase of new books and created a community of school parents and administrators who now understand the value of reading and a strong library program. Additionally, Jessica formed a corps of volunteers whom she trained to continue expanding and improving the library long after Jessica and her family’s departure in July 2018.

Photo: Courtesy of Jake Miller, Social Media Specialist, Dept. of State, Thursday, November 15, 2018, Benjamin Franklin Reception Hall, Dept. of State.

Jessica worked with Scholastic Books to learn how to run a book fair. Once she had a plan, she presented it to the school administrators and explained how a book fair would allow children to purchase books themselves while providing funds for the school to purchase its own books. She developed an effective marketing plan that culminated in a massive success for Colegio Americano’s first annual book fair. Over the course of two weeks, they sold an average of two books per child and raised $3,340 for the school to purchase library books. Most importantly, the fair showed everyone how much enthusiasm the children had for reading.

Jessica attended librarian conferences in El Paso, sought advice from an Indiana State Library program director, and made contacts with El Paso librarians. Once Jessica had enough knowledge on how to get the library up and running, she found the best library software the school’s small budget could afford. She then organized her army of volunteers to categorize more than 2,000 new books.

Jessica worked with the school director to find the best teacher to serve as the librarian and then trained him to run the library administratively and to run library classes.

Jessica has contributed in a big way to make things better for current and future students in Ciudad Juarez, and her efforts will have a long and lasting benefit to the community she lived in.