Exchange Matters / March 14, 2024

Warm Wishes and Thank You Michelle 

Michelle at the Global Ties U.S. 2024 National Meeting. Photo by Kristoffer Tripplaar.

Through people-to-people exchanges, the Global Ties Network is humanizing the world and building the relationships and networks that are the foundation for international diplomacy and cooperation. Driving this work are exemplary leaders like Michelle Wilson, Executive Director of Global Ties Akron, who has spent decades tirelessly championing international exchange programs, citizen diplomacy, and the power of people to make an impact. Michelle retires this year after more than three decades of service-leadership to her community, to our Network, and to the scores of international exchange alumni she has hosted.  

Michelle joined Global Ties Akron in 1989 and helped transform the organization to become a national leader in international exchange, not only through the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), but also through cultural exchanges, youth exchanges, collaborations with exchange alumni, and so many other globally-focused initiatives and programs. She has served Global Ties Akron as a volunteer, board member, program officer, and for the past 23 years as its executive director.  

Michelle (front left) with members of the Global Ties Network.

A passionate citizen diplomat, Michelle has welcomed thousands of international visitors to Akron and helped create lifetime connections that have inspired new collaborations. This includes building upon a formal city-to-city MOU between Akron, Ohio and Accra, Ghana, which is cultivating entrepreneurial resources and connections between the two cities; and a sports-for-development partnership with IVLP Gold Star Alumni Mohammed Amine Zariat, founder and president of TIBU Morocco, which is providing opportunities for youth and young leaders in both communities through sport.  

For her outstanding service, Michelle was awarded the Global Ties Network Lifetime Achievement Award at the Global Ties U.S. 2024 National Meeting. Michelle will be missed for her leadership, dedication, and passion for international exchange. Below, the Global Ties Network sends warm wishes and congratulations to Michelle on her retirement. 

Marian Reich, President, Global Ties Detroit 

New to the Global Network in 2004, my first Global Ties U.S. event was the regional meeting in Cincinnati where I encountered one of the most warm, welcoming, and dedicated professionals in the Network on the opening day: Michelle Wilson. Since our meeting 20 years ago, I cherish the opportunities to reconnect with Michelle at the annual Global Ties U.S. National Meeting, the regional Diplomacy Begins Here events, and on Zoom. Her creativity in international exchange and passion for citizen diplomacy is second to none.  Michelle is the real deal and will continue to inspire for decades to come! Congratulations on all your achievements, Michelle, and I look forward to keeping our connection! 

Deanna K. Douglas, Program Officer, Europe and Eurasia Branch, Office of International Visitors 

I don’t have a specific anecdote because any program Michelle took on was always excellent! I am so grateful that I could always, always count on her for my programs.  

With Michelle at the helm of IVLP projects for Global Ties Akron, I knew I could always send a group there for a substantial program that was utterly relevant and beneficial no matter the topic. I always knew our visitors would receive a wonderful welcome in the Midwest. This was so important because it provided our participants with a firsthand introduction, connection, and understanding of a mid-size city in the middle of the country, giving them a deeper, richer experience of the United States, and enriching Akron at the same time.   

I will miss Michelle’s effervescence and intellect and seeing her at the Global Ties U.S. National Meeting. As I write I am looking at two beautiful origami cranes, just a couple of the many Michelle has made to raise funds for another project for Global Ties Akron. Beneath these cranes a glass globe is suspended – Michelle’s creations are a symbol of her life’s work and tremendous contributions to global understanding and peace. 

With great admiration and gratitude, 


Mark Rebstock, Vice President, Deputy Director, Meridian Center for Global Leadership 

Michelle Wilson has been a force in the citizen diplomacy movement for over 30 years, and has put Akron, Ohio on the map for thousands of international visitors over the years.  I first met Michelle in the early 2000s when I was the Executive Director of the International Visitors Council of Greater Cincinnati (now the World Affairs Council of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky) and she was the Executive Director of Akron International Friendship (now Global Ties Akron).   

I can remember collectively going with Michelle to Capitol Hill to advocate with Ohio’s Senators for support of international exchange programs.   She was forceful and clear in her advocacy – strong in her conviction that the friendships forged between international guests and residents of Akron led to a more peaceful world and a more globally connected Northeast Ohio.  And I remember serving along with Michelle as co-rapporteurs at the inaugural National Summit on Citizen Diplomacy in 2006, reporting out on the need to mobilize citizen diplomats locally and nationally. 

Michelle leaves a lasting positive legacy in Akron, Ohio, on the field of citizen diplomacy and on the world.  Michelle, THANK YOU for your extraordinary contributions to our field in over 30 years! 

Michelle (right) at the National Museum of American Diplomacy. Photo by Kristoffer Tripplaar.

Sasha Gorev, IVLP Director, IIE 

I have had the great privilege and the pleasure of working with Michelle on many projects, both as an I/L and then as an IIE program manager. When I look back at those projects and a few visits to Akron with IVLP groups, I remember Michelle’s passion towards IVLP, her unparalleled pride in her city, and her creativity in programming. She was always looking to add a special “Akron touch” to every IVLP visit, trying to select the best resources and create synergies between Akron’s various international programs and the IVLP projects. In 2017 while hosting a group from Germany on an international trade project, she arranged a special city council meeting that highlighted the city’s and community’s deep commitment to global outreach and cooperation, including a 20-year-old sister city partnership with Chemnitz, Germany. The council’s meeting and a dinner with community leaders became the top highlight of the three-week program. 

Jodi Hope Michaels, Executive Director, Global Ties Kalamazoo 

Dearest Michelle, wishing you all the best on your retirement from Global Ties Akron. The CBM leadership circle will be much smaller without you in it! Your advice, example and abundant energy will be sorely missed. Hoping you take lots of time for yourself to do things you might not have had enough time for – with people you love. Looking forward to the exciting things you will do next and please come visit us in Kalamazoo!!  

Michelle at the Global Ties U.S. 2023 National Meeting. Photo by Kristoffer Tripplaar.

Nicolette Regis, World Learning 

Michelle, it’s been a pleasure to work with you, starting with the Communities Connecting Heritage Program, and then IVLP. Thank you for your work to build intercultural bridges and for your creativity, collaborative spirit, and cheerfulness. I wish you the best in this new phase of your life. Enjoy your retirement! 

Gina Cirino, Program Officer, International Visitor Leadership, U.S. Department of State 

Michelle, I am in awe of the way you have put your heart into your work. You have built bridges between Akron, Ohio and the world, and succeeded with flying colors. The positive impact you have made in Akron and Northeast Ohio cannot be understated and will resonate for many, many years to come. Ohio is lucky to have you as a citizen and as a citizen diplomat! Kudos to your many years of tireless service to Global Ties Akron and to IVLP. IVLP will miss you and the energy you bring to your projects and visitors. 

Meghan Howe, Senior Project Coordinator, IIE 

As a newer member of the IVLP network, I really appreciated hearing Michelle speak on different panels at the Global Ties Kansas City regional summit last September. Her years of experience, know-how, and warm humor came through in her panels and taught me a lot about how our Community-Based Members work. I could clearly understand the success of Global Ties Akron after hearing her speak, and I’m grateful I could work with them on my first project last summer. 

Ann Driscoll, Program Manager, World Learning 

Michelle, it’s been such a joy to know and work with you! You bring creativity and caring and a human touch to everything you do. I’ve loved sending groups to Akron, knowing the visitors would be in your good hands and benefit from your deep knowledge of your community and your ability to connect people and values and ideas. I’ll miss you! Wishing you all the best in your next chapter   

Jena Mélançon, Founder & Executive Director, Gulf Coast Diplomacy 

Some people have a job and leave it behind when they close the office door at the end of the day. Others have a calling, and their devotion to the vision extends beyond their timesheet. Each email is an opportunity to serve, and every new connection has the potential to blossom into something beautiful in service of the mission. From attentive programming to origami peace doves, Michelle Wilson has modeled devotion and kindness, showing us the joy of citizen diplomacy through her creativity and leadership. Thank you, Michelle, for sharing your talents with us.