Judith Pennywell’s curiosity and interest in learning about world cultures and international languages began in grade school.

Now in her second week as the new director of the University of Michigan’s International Center, she feels she’s in the right place at the right time.

Judith Pennywell

Pennywell is described by colleagues, supervisors and leaders in the field as a “legend in the work,” a smart, strong, confident and passionate leader with a student development lens and robust international education grounding, says Simone Himbeault Taylor, associate vice president for Student Life.

Pennywell says she looks forward to implementing the International Center’s new strategic plan, developed in the past year. The plan’s goal is to expand and enhance the International Center’s role in engaging students in global education.

“It is exciting to come in at a time when both the center and the university are thinking about diversity and inclusion. I believe it is imperative that U-M’s international community is both considered in and a part of that conversation,” Pennywell says.

Student Life’s International Center in July completed a yearlong strategic planning process. The center’s team, along with stakeholders across campus, articulated its core values and redefined its core work as 1) serving the international population, 2) facilitating intercultural and international education, and 3) fostering a global campus community.

Jennifer Schrage, former director of the International Center and a longtime Student Life colleague, headed the director search committee. The group was asked to identify a leader with similar core values and support for the center’s strategic direction. It was also asked to find a courageous change agent and collaborator, and a leader in international education with deep experience as a senior administrator.

“This important work was well-timed as it is associated with the president’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Planning Initiative. With this momentum of support and a five-year strategic plan in place, the IC was well situated to bring onboard a strong leader to begin the next phase of work,” Schrage says.

Pennywell’s contributions as a senior administrative leader in international education include executive roles at University of Miami, Purdue University Calumet and the University of Houston, Taylor says. Pennywell also served as a director at Vanderbilt University and associate director at Texas Christian University.

Pennywell earned a Doctor of Education in higher education leadership and policy at Vanderbilt University. She earned a Master of Arts in education and Bachelor of Arts in Spanish at Indiana University.

“Being able to engage with students and scholars from around the world, introducing them to U.S. and campus culture, and helping them to become successful in their adopted home drives me,” Pennywell says.

She anticipates spending the next few weeks getting to know the IC team, its partners across the university, the international community and the university in general. Pennywell says reviewing, validating and tweaking the IC strategic plan and getting a better sense of the university’s larger conversation about inclusion are also high on her to-do list.

“In a year, I hope that we have made progress on the IC strategic plan, developed new ways of engaging U-M’s student body, and that we become an even better International Center,” she says.