President Joanne Berger-Sweeney Joins the Board of AFS-USA

Organization promotes cross-cultural understanding through educational exchange programs

September 26, 2017 – Joanne Berger-Sweeney, Trinity College president and professor of neuroscience, has joined the board of directors of AFS-USA, a leading intercultural education organization headquartered in New York City.

Berger-Sweeney returns to the AFS-USA board after a three-year hiatus to focus on her new role as Trinity College president. Now, she says, she’s excited to continue her involvement with an organization that aims to bring people together.

“When you turn on the TV and everyone’s talking about divisiveness and differences … this is an organization that’s about the exact opposite; it’s about trying to listen with compassion and understanding.”

AFS-USA, formerly the American Field Service, has been working for more than 70 years to promote cross-cultural understanding through educational exchange programs. Its founders were former American Field Service ambulance drivers in WWI and WWII who came away from the wars with a new mission: to prevent conflicts and heal divisions through intercultural learning.

Berger-Sweeney is an alumna of the AFS Program, having spent the summer after her senior year of high school in Malaysia with AFS. While there, she attended high school and lived with a local host family in the town of Seremban, approximately 40 miles southeast of Kuala Lumpur.

“Up to that point, I hardly knew anything about Islam,” says Berger-Sweeney. “And my first impression of Islam was this incredibly warm and generous family that took me in.”

Berger-Sweeney later sent her daughter on an AFS Program to Ghana during the summer after her sophomore year of high school.

“That’s an ideal time to learn the perspective of someone from another country,” says Berger-Sweeney. “Before a student goes off to college—they’re impressionable, their brains are absolute sponges for language and culture.”

Following her AFS Program, Berger-Sweeney attended Wellesley College, where she received a B.A. in psychobiology, and later the University of California, Berkeley, where she received an M.P.H. in environmental health sciences. She also has a Ph.D. in neurotoxicology from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and—again taking her studies abroad—she completed her postdoctoral training at the National Institute of Health (INSERM) in Paris, France.

Berger-Sweeney, who joined Trinity College in July 2014 as the college’s 22nd president, served previously at Tufts University as dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. Prior to Tufts, she was at Wellesley College for 19 years as a faculty member and associate dean.

“We are honored to have Joanne Berger-Sweeney return to our board,” says Jorge Castro, president of AFS-USA. “She has a great deal of insight to offer the organization—as an AFS Alumna, as an educator, as a life-long supporter of intercultural learning—and we are excited to once again work with her.”

Berger-Sweeney shares in the excitement surrounding her return. “AFS-USA is an organization that I believe so strongly in,” she says. “It was such an important influence in my life.”