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Leonardo A. Villalón

Chair of the Board of Directors

Leonardo A. Villalón currently serves as the Chair of the Board of CAORC. He is Dean of the International Center and Professor of Political Science and African Studies at the University of Florida.  From 2002-2011 he served as Director of UF’s Center for African Studies, a Title VI comprehensive National Resource Center.


As a Fulbright Senior Scholar he taught from 1998-1999 at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, Senegal. From 2001-05 Villalón served as president of the West African Research Association (WARA), the only sub-Saharan African member institution of CAORC. In 2007 he was named a Carnegie Scholar by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. He is co-director of the “Trans-Saharan Elections Project,”, providing information on electoral issues in the Sahel. He coordinates the University of Florida’s Sahel Research Group, and is also co-editor of the Journal of Modern African Studies.


Villalón has a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin (1992), as well as degrees from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris (1985), the School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University (1983), and Louisiana State University (1979).  His current research focuses comparatively on religion and the debates on democracy in Senegal, Mali and Niger, as well as religion and educational reform in those countries. He is also interested in social change and electoral dynamics across the Francophone Sahel.

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Richard Spees

Executive Director

Richard (Rick) Spees became Executive Director of CAORC in late 2017 in an advisory role after serving as General Counsel of CAORC for over 30 years. He has been a member of a number of Washington D.C. law firms, and currently is a partner in the Akerman LLP firm.  As General Counsel he advised the CAORC Board and staff on legal and legislative activities. He was instrumental in getting the annual appropriations for CAORC through Congress, and helped write the legislation that created the overseas centers program in Title VI at the Department of Education, as well as the CAORC language in the budget of the Smithsonian.  


At CAORC, Rick is currently responsible for working with legal counsel; handling federal relations and advocacy; and overseeing Executive Committee and Board meetings. He currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of the Alliance for International Exchange; the Board of the National Humanities Alliance; and the Board of the Hollings Center for International Dialogue.

Rick has a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center (1979) and a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Berkeley (1976).

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Heidi Wiederkehr

Heidi Wiederkehr has worked with CAORC since 1997. As Deputy Director, she is responsible for the overall operation of  CAORC and its programs. She oversees CAORC's administrative, programmatic, and financial management, including: managing day-to-day operations of CAORC; providing strategic direction and operational and fiscal guidance to the Overseas Research Centers; managing staff; and overseeing all grants and sub-grants.

Heidi also works to expand research opportunities for American and host-country scholars, develop collaborative programming among institutions, and establish centers in areas of the world where infrastructure to support research exchange is lacking. She has worked with American and host-country scholars and officials to establish new overseas research centers in Sri Lanka, Mexico, Cambodia, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Indonesia, Nepal, the South Caucasus, and Myanmar (Burma).


Heidi came to CAORC from Georgetown University with a B.S. from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service with a focus on Non-Western history and diplomacy, and eight years of experience in non-profit grants management.

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Katie Jost

Program Director

Katie Jost joined CAORC in 2016.  As Program Director, she oversees and administers CAORC programs including the U.S. Department of State Multi-Country Research Fellowship, the National Endowment for the Humanities Research Fellowship, and the Library of Congress West African Acquisitions Project as well as alumni activities.


Katie also manages CAORC’s social media, and works with CAORC’s network of Overseas Research Centers on a variety of initiatives and collaborative programs. She manages and continues to develop an online grants administration portal and also offers guidance on fellowship activities and reporting for the Overseas Research Centers.

Prior to CAORC, Katie received an M.Sc. in European Political Economy from the London School of Economics and a B.A. in International Studies and Spanish from Oglethorpe University. She joined CAORC with eight years of experience working with international programs at non-profits, including the British Academy in London and the Institute of International Education in Washington D.C. 

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Jeff Badger

Program Manager

Jeff Badger joined CAORC as a Program Manager in 2022. Before joining the CAORC team, he held the rank of Professor and Department Chair of Fine Arts at Southern Maine Community College where he worked since 2008. At SMCC he launched the Global Studies Center, leading on-campus internationalization efforts and building the Global Classroom study abroad program for students and faculty. He has also taught as adjunct faculty in graduate programs at Maine College of Art, Massachusetts College of Art & Design, and Lesley University. Outside of academics, Jeff served as President of Friends of Aomori, the nonprofit that supports the sister state relationship between Maine, USA and Aomori, Japan. As a curator, he has organized art exhibitions in the US, Japan, Spain, and Greece.

At CAORC, Jeff manages the Faculty Development Seminars, assisting faculty of community colleges and Minority Serving Institutions in gaining first-hand experience to develop and improve international curricula at their home institutions.

Jeff received his bachelor’s degree in Studio Art and English from Skidmore College, and his M.F.A. from the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University.

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Jullienne Kay

Program Assistant

Jullienne Kay joined CAORC in 2021. As Program Assistant, she provides programmatic support to the Multi-Country Research Fellowship, the National Endowment for the Humanities Senior Research Fellowship, the Faculty Development Seminars, and numerous other CAORC programs. She assists with maintaining an up-to-date social media presence for CAORC; managing the online grants administration system; and preparing program reports.


Jullienne provides assistance in managing CAORC's internal newsletter; distributing CAORC's external e-bulletin; and developing alumni programs. She also manages the administration of several activities for one of CAORC's Overseas Research Centers, the American Institute for Yemeni Studies (AIYS), including the AIYS fellowship program. 


Prior to joining CAORC, Jullienne received a B.A. in Political Science from McDaniel College, specializing in International Studies and Comparative Governments, with a minor in Arabic. Previously she worked for McDaniel College and the law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, and came to CAORC with over four years of office experience.

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Arcelia Jackson

Arcelia Jackson came to CAORC in 2014 with over eighteen years of experience in administrative and financial management. As the CAORC Administrator she is responsible for a wide range of duties including office management, finance and program support, fellowship program assistance, event planning, and everything between. Before coming to CAORC, Arcelia worked in the public school systems in the District of Columbia and Montgomery County, MD.