Danielle Guichard-Ashbrook dies at 60

Associate dean and director of the International Students Office had worked at MIT since 1988.

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 konar@mit.edu. 

Topics: Obituaries, Staff, Community


Heather -- thank you for this wonderful piece about our friend and colleague Danielle. We will all miss her dearly. My heartfelt condolences go to Danielle's family.

R.I.P. Danielle. You were a great friend and mentor to all international students at MIT.

As an international student at MIT, I had the great opportunity to interact with Danielle. In general, it is difficult to adjust to a new environment on top of taking in the MIT experience, but warm interactions with people like Danielle are the glue that hold lives together. I did not know that she was sick, and I am heartbroken to hear that she has passed.

I was very saddened to hear this news. Please accept my sincere condolences...

So sorry to hear about Danielle's passing. Condolences to the International Students Office staff and students. She will be sorely missed.

This is a letter I sent Danielle in 2004. I saw the student again many months later and he hugged me and said he and his fiancé had since been married. The warmth you can see in the picture above is exactly how I remember Danielle. I'm very sorry to hear this wonderful person has passed away.

June 3, 2004

Dear Danielle,

Your kindness this afternoon in taking the time to meet with me on behalf of the
depressed student trying to obtain a visa for his fiancé meant a great deal to
me, and was very helpful to him. I was in a meeting in Nuclear Engineering
headquarters when a stranger walked in and said there was someone in the
corridor whom seemed to need help. I went out and found a young student sitting on the ground – he eventually explained his story to me and we went directly to your office. If you hadn’t taken the time to explain the situation so kindly and thoroughly to us, we would have wasted a lot of time trying to understand what he and his fiancé were up against. It turns out that he has been studying at MIT since August
2003 and the crisis seems to be that his advisor doesn’t want to give him two
weeks off to go home. I urged him to go through the visa process as you suggested for his fiancé, and if that fails, to return to his Physics’ advisor and argue more strongly that it is reasonable after a year’s study to return home for two weeks. I don’t know how it will work out, but your kindness and resourcefulness went a long way in increasing the odds of a positive outcome, and I could tell by the way the student said goodbye that he felt less alone than previously.

Sincere thanks,
Edmund Carlevale
Staff, Nuclear Engineering

I was so very sorry to learn of Danielle's passing. I had been an MIT Administrator for over 30 years, working with our Undergrads and Grads, and Danielle was ALWAYS the calming force for me and my students when we went to her for advice and expertise in dealing with any international "situation"! She was one of THE most delightful and caring Administrators that I ever interacted with throughout my career at MIT. My sincere condolences to Danielle's family and friends.

My heartfelt condolences to Danielle's family. I had limited interactions with her via email but even through that, she still made a great impression on me. She was so helpful. May her soul rest in perfect peace.

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