Barbara Stephenson is vice provost for global affairs and chief global officer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a distinguished diplomat, former U.S. ambassador, international leader and prior dean of the Leadership and Management School at the Foreign Service Institute. She leads UNC Global and advances a pan-university global strategy to enhance UNC-Chapel Hill’s global reach, impact and reputation.
Stephenson is a fierce advocate for the role of higher education in constructively addressing complex global challenges, and she has extensive experience in collaborating across societies and geographies.
Previously, Stephenson was president of the American Foreign Service Association from 2015-2019 and was a U.S. Foreign Service officer for over 30 years. She was a principal advocate for diplomacy, working closely with Congress, the media and globally engaged strategic partners.
At the Foreign Service Institute, Stephenson launched the Culture of Leadership Roundtable to improve leadership across the State Department and in U.S. embassies around the world. In 2008, she was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Panama and later became the first woman to serve as deputy ambassador and acting ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in London.
As deputy senior advisor to the secretary and deputy coordinator for Iraq (2006-2008), she was recognized with the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award for developing and implementing the civilian surge, the largest deployment of civilians to a war zone since the Vietnam War. She coordinated across federal agencies and the U.S. Congress to unite stakeholders behind a mission to reverse the spiral into sectarian violence by strengthening governance in Iraq.
From 2001-2004, as the American Consul General in Belfast, Northern Ireland, she helped renew support for the Good Friday Agreement that brought an end to decades of violence. As Consul General and Chief of Mission in Curaçao (1998-2001), she won support from local and Dutch officials to establish two U.S. Air Force bases to support Plan Colombia.
Earlier in her career, Stephenson served as special assistant to Under Secretary for Political Affairs Tom Pickering, covering European affairs, including the war-torn Balkans. Other assignments have included desk officer for the UK, political-military officer in South Africa, and political officer in The Hague, San Salvador, and Panama.
Stephenson holds a PhD, MA, and BA in English literature from the University of Florida.