Danielle Guichard-Ashbrook, associate dean for international students and director of MIT’s International Students Office (ISO), passed away Wednesday at her home in Newton, Mass., surrounded by family. She was 60.
Her death was announced by her husband’s employer, radio station WBUR, which said the cause was cancer.
An immigrant of French and German descent, Guichard-Ashbrook received her BA in 1977 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and married her high-school sweetheart, Tom Ashbrook, now the host of the nationally syndicated NPR program “On Point.” She received a master's degree in education from Harvard University in 1982. Her early career included positions as an academic coordinator for a Japan-based U.S. educational company, and as a program supervisor for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Guichard-Ashbrook joined MIT in 1988 as a staff assistant for international students in the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education, and was promoted to staff associate in 1990 and to assistant dean in Student Assistance Services in 1993. In 1995, the organization moved under the oversight of the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education and was renamed as the International Students Office. In 2000, Guichard-Ashbrook was appointed interim director of the ISO; she was named director and associate dean for international students in 2001.
“Danielle was a dear colleague, as well as a nationally recognized expert in international student issues and global education,” says Christine Ortiz, MIT’s dean for graduate education. “She led one of the most complex and critically important organizations at the Institute with grace, passion, excellence, dedication, and warmth — her contributions to our students, to our office, and to MIT were immense. Danielle was a steadfast champion for the well-being of our students, and continually strived to create a welcoming and inclusive climate for all. She was a cherished member of our team, and of our community, and we will miss her greatly.”
Robert Randolph, now chaplain to the Institute, worked with Guichard-Ashbrook throughout her time at MIT. He praises her as “extremely knowledgeable in her area of expertise. She and Tom had travelled widely before they settled here in Boston, and she had good instincts about what it meant to be a stranger in a strange land.”
As ISO director, Guichard-Ashbrook oversaw an extensive array of services associated with maintaining the legal immigration status of all of MIT’s international students, their dependents, and the approximately 650 international alumni each year who have recently graduated and are working in the United States on work authorization.
She led the ISO through a period of extraordinary change: Not only did the Institute’s international student population nearly double during her tenure, but after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the scale and complexity of immigration regulations in the United States increased dramatically. The ISO now interfaces with three times as many government agencies as it did when Guichard-Ashbrook became its director; reporting requirements have increased greatly; and the Institute’s students travel internationally more often.
“She was able to hold steady in changing times while keeping up with what students needed,” Randolph says. “Never drawing attention to herself, she served her students and MIT with grace and wisdom.”
Personal support became a focus of the ISO under Guichard-Ashbrook’s leadership. In 2013, the entire ISO staff was selected as a team recipient of an MIT Infinite Mile Award, having “continuously shown above-and-beyond dedication, expertise, commitment, effort, and excellence in their support and service to MIT students,” Ortiz said at the time.
ISO advisors note that many conversations initiated to address practical arrangements naturally grow to include other happenings in a student’s life. ISO staff members always make themselves available to provide caring and specialized support, advising, and mentoring to international students, as Guichard-Ashbrook had been doing since 1988.
Over the decades, as the immigration landscape changed, Guichard-Ashbrook shared her own knowledge and expertise as a regular presenter at regional gatherings of the Association of International Educators. The organization awarded her a Distinguished Service Award in 1997 for regularly bringing together the Boston-area community of international educators. In recent years, she had also served as a member of the Government Regulatory Advisory Committee, offering critical feedback and logistical advice as new regulations and policies were distributed from government agencies. Her advice shaped the way policy is executed not only at MIT, but at universities across the country.
Guichard-Ashbrook is survived by her husband, Tom Ashbrook, of Newton; her children, Dylan Ashbrook of San Francisco, Benjamin Ashbrook of Los Angeles, and Lauren Ashbrook of New Haven, Conn.; and her granddaughter, Evie Ashbrook. The daughter of Robert and Barbara Guichard, she is also survived by her sisters, Elisabeth Hiltabrand, Peg Watters, and Natalie Milby.
A memorial service will be held Saturday, Nov. 15, at 2 p.m. at Wilson Chapel on the campus of Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, Mass. Gifts may be made in Guichard-Ashbrook's memory to support the Pediatric Activity Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. For more information, contact Heather Konar, communications officer for the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education, at firstname.lastname@example.org.