Board of Directors
Jane Eckhardt McMullen, Board President
Board Member since 2014
Jane is a City High grad and an Iowa alumna, earning her BA, Masters and Ph.D. degrees in French. She taught French to UI undergrads, West Point cadets, and adults in Northern Virginia. Jane taught English in Poitiers, France and Rangoon, Burma and currently teaches in the International Women’s Club. Jane, husband Ron and their two sons had Foreign Service posts in the Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, Gabon, South Africa, Fiji, Burma and Eritrea.
Thirty years as a Foreign Service spouse prepared Jane to engage in citizen diplomacy in her hometown through CIVIC and thus maintain cross-cultural interactions in this chapter of her life.
"Getting involved with CIVIC rewards the volunteer with incredible opportunities to meet, engage, listen to, and learn from people from all over the world without ever leaving the 623 square miles of Johnson County! People-to-people exchanges can open our eyes and hearts and lay the groundwork for trust and understanding at a time when such notions are at a premium. What’s more, anyone of us can be a citizen diplomat provided we express respect, curiosity and openness."
Newman Abuissa, Treasurer
Resident Construction Engineer, Iowa Department of Transportation
Board Member since 2004
Newman was born in Damascus, Syria and immigrated to the United States 35 years ago. He received his BS and MS from South Dakota State University. Newman is also a board member of the UICHR and board chair for PEACE Iowa. He is one of the founders and Parish Council President at St. Raphael Orthodox Church. He is active in the Iowa Democratic Party and current chair of the International Affairs Subcommittee of the IDP Platform Committee. He was a national delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004 and a candidate for Iowa’s 2nd congressional district. Newman appears regularly via Skype on BBC Arabic radio and TV out of Cairo and London.
If you can’t travel the world, CIVIC will bring the world to you.
“In the process of introducing Iowa to our esteemed guests, I have learned more about what our state can offer in many different professions, from agricultural businesses to academics to media and political and administrative structures. I focus more on visitors from the Middle East and North Africa, but I also enjoy meeting visitors from other countries.”
Martha Kirby is an academic advisor at University of Iowa for undergraduate students in political science, international relations and finds that her interactions with the CIVIC visitors informs and enriches her work with students. As a native of Iowa City, Martha enjoys introducing international visitors to her hometown, and particularly enjoys hosting home hospitality dinners. She enjoys the outdoors, travel, gardening, cooking, and spending time with her family and friends.
Board Member since 2007
As a native Iowan, I attended UNI at several periods, where I received a degree in Political Science and Russian. I then attended the University of Iowa College of Law. My wife teaches English as a Second Language. I have an autistic adopted Korean son.
I served as a college student on the first Secretariat of the Iowa High School Model United Nations in 1965 and continued with the IHMUN until 1967. I was Secretary General of the Midwest Model UN in St. Louis in 1968 and 1969. In 1970, I joined the US military where I served for 22 years as a Soviet Analyst. I joined CIVIC in 1985.
I began as an interlocutor in law and prosecution for CIVIC and stayed to become more involved with our visitors.
"If you have an interest in foreign relations, CIVIC is the place to be. Improving international relations begins with personal contact. Many US citizens visit abroad, but that provides foreigners a limited view of who we are. Likewise, news and motion pictures give a distorted, one-sided view of life in the US. By greeting people and welcoming them into our homes, work, and communities, we improve our relationships and show them the better side of our people and culture. At the same time, we learn much about them—one handshake at a time."
Jennifer Blair, Communications Chair
Associate Director, Advising Services
Tippie College of Business, University of Iowa
Board Member since 2014
Jennifer is a graduate of the University of Iowa and studied law in Dublin, Ireland. She practiced law in Dublin for six years until her return to Iowa, where she initially led the international student services office at St. Ambrose University. She then joined the advising staff at the Tippie College of Business to promote greater connections between international and domestic students in the College.
Jennifer’s time abroad and work with international students drew her to the work of CIVIC, with its focus on people-to-people exchange as a way to bridge cultural barriers.
“There’s no such thing as understanding another human being on the macro level. You need to connect with an individual, listen to them, and reflect on your own perspective when learning about theirs. CIVIC creates these opportunities for everyone in the community. By volunteering and supporting CIVIC, you are contributing to a more compassionate community and world. And it’s a lot of fun as well!”
Amy Chastain, an English as a Second Language Programs faculty member at the University of Iowa, and her husband, Mohamad Hallak, a chef, relocated to Iowa from Abu Dhabi, UAE. Amy has also lived and taught in France and China, which she considers her second home. In addition to English language courses, she serves as a Program supervisor and enjoys working with graduate teaching assistants in Linguistics. Ms. Chastain has also been appointed to the UI Charter Council on Diversity (2017-2020) and serves as a founding board member of the Dragonfly Foundation for Research and Development. Upon finding CIVIC, Amy feels like she has found her niche in Iowa City and is currently serving as Chair of the Membership Committee.
Mazahir Salih is the vice president of CIVIC’s Board of Directors. Prior to joining board in the fall of 2018, she worked with many of CIVIC’s international delegations on community organizing and immigrant issues. Mazahir came to the United States 20 years ago with a degree in civil engineering from her native Sudan. She first settled in Virginia, where as an immigrant women she found she had to start over with her career and education. While in Virginia she became a citizen, married her husband, and started a family. She moved to Iowa City in 2011 to pursue a degree in Electroneurodiagnostic Technology, a program she finished about a 2 years ago at the top of her class. Mazahir also became very involved as a community activist, helping to found the Center for Worker Justice where she is currently a full-time community organizer. Working at CWJ, Mazahir works on behalf of labor and social justice issues. In 2017, she became the 1st Sudanese American to hold an office in the USA, when she was elected to the city council of Iowa City. She lives in Iowa City with her husband and five children.
Liz Bergeron, Board Secretary
Board Member since 2018
Liz is a graduate of Carleton College (BA Philosophy) and University of Colorado (MA Linguistics). Although now retired, her career included a wide range of positions. She taught ESL in Slovakia, Finland, and colleges in the U.S., and managed a global network for a local translation services group. Most recently, she directed a large-scale exchange program for non-elite students to attend U.S. community colleges and assisted community colleges in building capacity for campus-wide internationalization.
CIVIC has provided Liz a wonderful opportunity to continue her passion for global engagement, share Iowa culture, and learn more about the world from our visitors.
"We are so fortunate to have CIVIC in our community. Where else could we have such unique and easy opportunities to personally connect with the world? Our visitors offer new perspectives, expertise, and cultures that we might never know without CIVIC. CIVIC activities, whether they include visitors, fellow members, or both, always inspire. Anyone who believes in promoting cross cultural understanding and mutual respect can feel the joy of being a citizen diplomat. Please join us!"
Chief Technology Officer, Retino Technology Solutions
Board Member since 2019
Tracy Jon has been a technology professional and enthusiast for 25 years which has created opportunities to work with international businesses in dozens of countries. As an avid supporter of STEM and an advocate for bridging the digital divide, Tracy Jon has worked with local communities and foreign governments to help improve access to technology regardless of socioeconomic status, race, or gender. He is currently working with community leaders in Barbados to establish a maker space for continued education programs focused on STEM.
Tracy Jon’s father is from Barbados and he has seen firsthand how international exchange can help foreign relations. He believes that organizations like CIVIC are critical to this effort and without it we miss opportunities to learn from other cultures and share our own.
“My father benefited from international exchange as a young man growing up in Barbados. Family members traveled to the US and England for people-to-people exchanges and returned home to implement or improve programs that would help agriculture and education. Without this type of program, it is very likely that my father would not have migrated to the US, and I may not be here today. It doesn’t get any more personal than that.”