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Distinguished Alumnus

John J. Brandon

M.A. Political Science, Southeast Asian Studies, 1985

John Brandon

NIU has long maintained its reputation as a leading center for the study of Southeast Asian countries. As Director of The Asia Foundation’s International Relations programs and Associate Director of its Washington, D.C., office–and an alumnus of NIU’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies–Mr. Brandon is a prime example of what one can accomplish with persistence, passion and a degree from NIU.  

In 1978, he was awarded a teaching fellowship through Princeton University’s “Princeton-in-Asia” program that took him to Srinakharinwirot University in Bangkok, Thailand. When Mr. Brandon returned to the U.S., he began looking for a graduate program to develop his expertise in Southeast Asian studies. Attracted by NIU’s resources and reputation, he applied to NIU and earned his Master’s degree in 1985. 

In 1990, Mr. Brandon began work at The Asia Foundation, a leading non-governmental organization dedicated to peace and prosperity in Asia. The focus of his work includes monitoring U.S. foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region and managing program activities, many of which make specific suggestions about U.S. policy. As a leading expert on the region, he has written dozens of articles for news outlets, including the Christian Science Monitor and the Los Angeles Times, and has appeared on over 100 television and radio segments. Mr. Brandon is the editor of Burma/Myanmar Towards the Twenty-First Century: The Dynamics of Continuity and Change and contributed to Burma: Prospects for a Democratic Future. He has also served on task forces organized by the Council on Foreign Relations and The Stanley Foundation, which have provided recommendations to the Bush and Obama administrations regarding U.S. policy in Southeast Asia.  

While his work with the Asia Foundation focuses on global issues, Mr. Brandon has never forgotten his NIU roots. Through his efforts, the Asia Foundation supports the annual Council on Thai Studies conference hosted by NIU and the University of Wisconsin. He has helped participants in the Southeast Asian Youth Leadership Conference learn about the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the region. He also makes himself readily available when students have questions about foreign policy or potential careers. 

In spite of a demanding travel schedule, Mr. Brandon often returns to DeKalb to meet with students, make presentations, lead seminars, and reconnect with faculty and staff who have become good friends. Last February, he flew in from Washington, D.C., to discuss Southeast Asia’s future with students and faculty. In 2012-2013, Mr. Brandon and fellow awardee Clark Neher, his former professor, are co-chairing the year-long, fiftieth anniversary celebration of NIU’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

In a recent interview, Mr. Brandon noted that NIU has figured prominently in all that he has achieved: “My experience at NIU gave me the grounding in and understanding of foreign policy – and in particular U.S. foreign policy in Southeast Asia – that has helped me be successful.” 

His dedication to peace and prosperity in Southeast Asia, along with his continued and support of the NIU community, have distinguished Mr. John Brandon as one of the college’s brightest stars.  


by Cameron Orr