GW: Tell us about what you are doing now and why it matters to you?
KF: I'm currently serving as the 10th President of Guilford College, a small liberal arts college in Greensboro, North Carolina. In my role, I am able to not only influence the lives of the college’s students, faculty, staff, and alumni, but also situate Guilford as an entity that can impact the greater community of Greensboro and the lives of people in communities around the world.
I think higher education institutions can have tremendous roles in societies. They can be places of innovation, social change, and economic enhancement. Being in this position as a college president has enabled me to reflect deeply on how my institution can build opportunities for Guilford students, faculty, and staff, as well as other people whose lives we touch.
GW: What drew you to GW and the Elliott School for college and later your graduate degrees?
KF: I was very interested in international development when I was a teenager. I had spent several years as a high school student volunteering for the U.S. Committee for UNICEF, and actually had an opportunity to visit UNICEF, CARE, OXFAM, and Save the Children projects during the summer between graduating high school and my first year at GW. At the time, a university in the middle of Washington that was a few blocks from the State Department, the World Bank, the White House, and scores of organizations engaged in international development policy seemed like a natural place to go to school.
After finishing my undergraduate studies in the Elliott School, I had an opportunity to remain at GW and participate in the Presidential Administrative Fellows program, created by then-President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. Through this program, I was able to complete my master’s degree at GW. I then decided to continue with my Ph.D. studies, again at GW.
GW: How did GW and the Elliott School influence your professional choices and successes? Who helped you on your career path?
KF: GW and the Elliott School provided me with mentors who helped me to envision all of the possibilities that life might hold for me. I will always be grateful to people such as Ambassador Ronald Palmer (who taught at the school for a number of years), then-Dean Mickey East, President Trachtenberg, and so many others who I encountered during my time as an Elliott School student, for providing me with guidance and insight at different stages during my time at GW.
The most beneficial thing was that I was able to learn about international policy first-hand – both in and out of the classroom. Many of the most impactful professors were those who were working closely with institutions making some form of difference in the world. They were professors who weren’t just studying international development, but were also engaged in international and broader policy-making activities. I also had the opportunity to be a part of the larger DC international studies community myself. Truly an #OnlyatGW experience, though we didn’t call it that back then.
GW: How has diversity and inclusion impacted or influenced your career? How can alumni promote DEI and DEI efforts?
KF: I firmly believe in finding ways to create opportunities for others – particularly when people are from communities where there have historically been limited opportunities. If we have enough people thinking strategically about how they can open doors, and in doing so, build toward institutions that reflect the demographics of the nation, then I think we will see the changes that we need for achieving a more equitable society. I really believe facilitating such equity should be part of everyone's aspirational goals.
GW: What would you say to current GW students who want to make a positive difference in the world?
KF: Just get started. Take advantage of the time you have in DC and at GW to make a difference and get involved. Study abroad. Get an amazing internship. Then get another amazing internship. Develop an innovative idea for addressing a major problem in the world, then find a way to implement that idea. GW provides so many opportunities for its students – far more than many other colleges and universities – to be part of the GW community, and the Elliott community is such an exciting opportunity. Appreciate every single moment that this opportunity presents you.