You are here: American University School of International Service 60 Years of History

Celebrating a rich history

Even when the Cold War was most intense, US President Dwight Eisenhower was keenly aware that the United States and the world needed to prepare for a time when the US-Soviet rivalry no longer dominated foreign policy, and the world could focus on enhancing human dignity. With this in mind, he called together 13 university presidents, including AU's Hurst Anderson, to encourage them to incorporate human-focused international affairs into higher education.

Anderson and the Methodist Bishop of Washington, G. Bromley Oxnam, shared a similar vision and proposed that President Eisenhower support their idea: a school predicated on service to the global community. President Eisenhower embraced the idea and agreed to speak at the school's groundbreaking ceremony in 1957.

Capitalizing on the previous successes of the AU Department of International Relations, SIS opened its doors in 1958 to an inaugural class of 80 full-time students from 36 countries. It offered six innovative programs designed to combine a liberal arts foundation with a specialization in some aspect of the international community.

Present Day

Today, SIS is the largest school of international affairs in the United States, with almost 3,000 students from 130 countries. Its 20+ programs of study offer students a wide range of possibilities; its students draw upon resources in Washington, DC, and beyond to complete more than 500 internships a year.

While the school and its curriculum have grown and changed dramatically over the last 60 years, its core values remain true to the ideals established by Eisenhower, Anderson, and Oxnam.


SIS@60: Alumni Reflections


Alumni Sherry Mueller, SIS/BA '65, and Mark Overmann, SIS/MA '05, welcome the Class of 2018 to the SIS alumni community, reflect on their experiences at SIS--including Sherry's attending JFK's 1963 commencement address--and reflect on their experiences as co-authors of the book Working World.


First Dean of the School of International Service Ernest Griffith sits at his desk.

In 1957, Ernest S. Griffith was appointed the first dean of SIS. Prior to becoming dean, Griffith was a Rhodes Scholar and director of what is now the Congressional Research Service.

Learn more

Man removes dirt with a shovel at the ground breaking ceremony for the School of International Service.

SIS broke ground on June 9, 1957, with the help of President Eisenhower, AU President Anderson, and SIS Dean Ernest Griffith. Curious about what was involved in that ceremony?

Learn more

First students enroll

In 1959, the School of International Service enrolled its first full-time class, which consisted of 85 students representing 36 different countries.

Today the School of International Service enrolls roughly 3,000 students from more than 130 different countries.


Peace Corps

In 1961, the Peace Corps is established and SIS’s long-standing relationship with the organization begins. Today, American University is a top college for Peace Corps volunteers.

Learn more

Watch JFK Peace Speach 1963

International Communication program launches

In 1968, the International Communication (IC) master's program is founded in response to growing international engagement and tension. 50 years later, the program is the oldest of its kind in the US and continues to innovate in this dynamic and multidisciplinary field.



Students stop traffic in Ward Circle in protest of Vietnam War. One student holds a sign that reads "Honk your horns for peace."

In 1970, classes are disrupted and campus unrest ensues as students protest the Vietnam War. "There was a great deal of anxiety, fear, and courage," recalls Professor Abdul Aziz Said.

Learn More

SIS consolidates with public affairs

In 1973, SIS becomes part of the newly created College of Public Affairs, designed "to emphasize and coordinate the university's extensive undergraduate and graduate programs in public policy studies and public affairs."

SIS continues to grow and becomes a free-standing unit again in 1988, when the College of Public Affairs is disbanded.

International Development program launches

In 1974, the International Development (ID) program was established. For more than 40 years, students in the program have strived to improve opportunities for the world's poor and disenfranchised.

Explore ID


Students and faculty study at various tables and chairs in the Davenport Lounge in 1980

In 1980, the Davenport Lounge sells its first cup of coffee. Before being converted into a study space and coffee lounge, "the Dav," as it is commonly known, was a chapel.

Learn more

Dean Louis Goodman sits behind his desk on the phone

In 1986, Louis Goodman began his 25-year run as Dean of the School of International Service. "There seemed to be no end to the opportunities to develop SIS," he said of his time as dean.

Learn more

A partial section of the Berlin Wall stands, covered in graffiti.

In 1989, the Berlin Wall falls. At the time, SIS professor and Soviet expert Linda Lubrano was more surprised by President Bush's reaction than by the wall coming down.

Learn more


SIS responds to shift in Eastern Europe

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and other developments in Eastern Europe, SIS modifies its curriculum and participates in an exchange program with Russia. Alumnus and former White House Correspondent David Gregory, SIS/BA '90, reported on the topic for The Eagle.

Read more

Vice provost for university programs Bob Norris; Ritsumeikan University professor Asah Minoru; International Center director at Ritsumeikan Ono Ichiro and his wife Ono Michiko; and School of International Service dean Louis Goodman sign a document.

In 1992, SIS partners with Ritsumeikan University to offer the first-ever dual master's degree between the US and Japan. The partnership has grown and now offers a joint undergraduate degree.

Learn More

International Peace & Conflict Resolution program launches

In 1995, the International Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR) program is established in response to growing international arms race, environmental degradation, and global inequalities. Today, the program prepares graduates to serve the world's most vulnerable.

Explore IPCR


SIS focuses on the environment

In 2000, SIS establishes the Global Environmental Politics program, which features a dual-degree partnership with the UN University for Peace in Costa Rica via the Natural Resources and Sustainable Development (NRSD) degree. Graduates pursue careers to protect the natural world.

Explore NRSD

9/11 Terrorist Attacks

"9/11 altered the direction of my research. I realized these wars take a terrible toll on soldiers, civilians, and locals, yet without enough social scientists on the ground to study the problem. I found myself in many conflict zones, studying multiple sociocultural drivers of human volatility to help advance stabilization and peace."

-Professor Shalini Venturelli

Cover of "American Magazine," winter 2008 issue, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the school and featuring the shovel used to break ground on the school.


The exterior of School of International Service building on a sunny day.

In 2010, SIS  opens the doors to its new home. Designed by green architect William McDonough, the new SIS building was the first on campus to earn LEED-Gold certification.

Learn more

Watch Obama's 2015 Iran Deal speech. President Barack Obama stands at lecturn below American flags delivering speech