Past Event

Diplomatic Ties and Community Engagement: A Dialogue with U.S. Ambassadors

April 23, 2024
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
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School of International and Public Affairs, 420 West 118th Street, Room 1219, New York, NY 10027


Please use the main entrance (420 West 118 Street, corner of Amsterdam Ave.) to access the building.


The Honorable Edgard Kagan, U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia

The Honorable Marc E. Knapper, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam

The Honorable Heather Roach Variava, U.S. Ambassador to Laos


Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, Dorothy Borg Chair in the History of the United States and East Asia, Director of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University

Ann Marie Murphy, Adjunct Senior Research Scholar; Professor and Director, Center for Foreign Policy Studies, School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University

This engaging dialogue, hosted by the Weatherhead East Asia Institute at Columbia University, aims to bring together U.S. Ambassadors from Vietnam, Malaysia, and Laos, along with students, faculty, staff, and members of the local Southeast Asian communities, to discuss and explore the multifaceted diplomatic relationships between the U.S. and ASEAN. The engagement will provide a platform for an open conversation on the impacts of these ties, the shared challenges and opportunities, and how educational and cultural exchanges can further strengthen bilateral relations. Through this interaction, participants will gain deeper insights into the strategic importance of ASEAN-U.S. relations and the potential for future collaboration across various sectors, enhancing mutual understanding and fostering a community of shared interests.

Background: In the vibrant landscape of international education and cultural exchange, the connections between the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are more significant than ever. Notably, almost 50,000 students from ASEAN member states enrich U.S. campuses with their perspectives, contributing to a rich tapestry of international dialogue. Furthermore, travel and tourism statistics from 2022 highlight the deepening of people-to-people ties, with nearly 578,000 visitors from ASEAN countries to the U.S. and almost 1.8 million Americans exploring the diverse cultures of ASEAN. Additionally, the vibrant Asian American community, with more than one-third of the estimated 24 million identifying with ASEAN ethnicities, underscores these regions' profound connections.

Speakers' Bios:

Edgard D. Kagan, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, was most recently the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for East Asia and Oceania at the National Security Council.  Ambassador Kagan has previously served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. embassies in New Delhi, India and in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Consul General at the U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai, India, and Deputy Director of the Washington Office of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.

Earlier in his career, he was Director of Korean Affairs and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.  Other overseas assignments include Economic and then Political/Economic Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Canberra, Australia, and Political Officer and then Political External Unit Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, PRC.  He has also served abroad in Israel, Hungary, and Cote d’Ivoire. 

A recipient of the Presidential Meritorious Award and numerous other State Department performance awards, Ambassador Kagan speaks French, Mandarin Chinese, Hungarian, and some Spanish.  He is a cum laude graduate of Yale University. 

Marc E. Knapper is a member of the Senior Foreign Service of the U.S. Department of State and the Ambassador to Vietnam.  He most recently served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Korea and Japan from August 2018 to July 2021.  Prior to assuming this position, Marc was Chargé d’Affaires ad interim in Seoul from 2017 to 2018 and Deputy Chief of Mission from 2015 to 2016.  Earlier assignments include Director for India Affairs, Director for Japan Affairs, and Seoul, Baghdad, Tokyo, and Hanoi.

Marc is a recipient of the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award, the nation’s highest diplomatic honor.  Marc has also received a Presidential Meritorious Service Award and the Department of State’s Linguist of the Year Award.  He is a summa cum laude graduate of Princeton University, and also studied at the University of Tokyo, Middlebury College’s intensive Japanese program, the Army War College, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Seminar XXI program.  Marc speaks Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese.

Heather Variava was sworn in as the U.S. Ambassador to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic on January 19, 2024.  She is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister Counselor.  Previously, she served as Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines.  She also served as Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Mission to Indonesia, and as U.S. Consul General in Surabaya, Indonesia.

In Washington, Ambassador Variava was Director of the Office of Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives, and Bhutan in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State; she also worked at the State Department Operations Center and served as the country desk officer for Thailand in the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs.  A member of the U.S. Foreign Service since 1996, Ambassador Variava has also served overseas in India, Mauritius, Vietnam, and Bangladesh.

Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Ambassador Variava worked as a newspaper reporter in Waterville, Maine. Raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Ambassador Variava received an undergraduate degree in International Relations from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.  She holds master’s degrees from the University of Missouri and from the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom.  In 2012, Ambassador Variava received a master’s degree in National Security Strategy from the National War College in Washington, D.C., and in 2014 she completed a fellowship in executive leadership with the International Women’s Forum (IWF).  She is the recipient of numerous Meritorious and Superior Honor Awards, as well as a Presidential Rank Award.  She speaks Indonesian and has studied Vietnamese, French, and German.  

This event is hosted by the Weatherhead East Asian Institute and co-sponsored by the New York Southeast Asian Network (NYSEAN).

Refreshments will be provided.


  • To attend this event in-person, please register HERE.
  • To attend this event online, please register HERE.

Contact Information

Julie Kwan