School 30

Steven H Arnold

December 15, 1942 ~ March 26, 2023 (age 80) 80 Years Old
Obituary Image


Visionary founder of American University’s International Development Program.

Steve Arnold, an acclaimed international development scholar/practitioner who founded American University’s School of International Service’s International Development Program -the first international development program in the United States - died in his home in Gig Harbor, Washington on March 26, 2023. While Steve’s spirits remained high, he combatted amyloid angiopathy, a progressive neurological disease, for the last decade of his life. He died at home with his wife Carol and his daughters Kristina and Melia by his side.

Steve Arnold was born in Alameda, CA in 1942, and grew up in Long Beach with his parents Harold and Maureen Arnold, and his younger brother Phil (1945-2020), where pillars of their household included family, service, education, and community. Steve made lasting connections and friendships wherever he went; people were always important to him and he found everyone’s story intensely interesting. Many remember Steve for his genuine ability to connect, the engaging questions he would ask, his capacity to truly listen, and his wacky sense of humor.


Growing up, Steve hung out with a tight-knit group of mostly music-connected friends (Steve played trombone), attending Arrowbear Music Camp in the San Bernardino Mountains for the summers and retaining close friendships with “The Cynics” and a love of music for the rest of his life. In 1959, Steve studied abroad in Wairoa, New Zealand, a voyage that took several weeks via ocean liner. There, he attended high school, played rugby for the Wairoa team, and became close with his host family. The memories and connections he made created future stories with which to regale his children, and an extended “New Zealand family” with later visits back-and-forth via airplane. Upon returning state-side, Steve met his future wife Carol in high school while attending her youth group to talk about New Zealand. His talk included wearing his school uniform, complete with knee socks and a beanie, and then being puzzled as to why she didn’t think he was cool. Luckily, his persistence paid off and they were married after both graduated from college.


Steve graduated in 1964 from Occidental College where he balanced studying political science with playing water polo. He relocated to the east coast to attend graduate school, earning his PhD from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in 1972 after marrying Carol in 1967, and both living in Rio de Janiero, Brazil in 1969 while he conducted research for his doctoral dissertation. Daughters Kristina and Melia were born in 1972 and 1974. Family was always a focal point, and every summer was marked by all-family adventures, often with long-distance travel and car-camping. True to the easy nature he was known for, only once did Steve actually pull over and threaten to leave the girls by the side of the road – threatened punishment for singing “Spirit in the Sky” nonstop for longer than a sane human could handle. The Arnold house in Arlington, VA was a short walk to the Metro line to DC, and often had a revolving door of visitors, many of whom enjoyed the “Steve Arnold Tour of Washington DC and its Monuments.” The rule was: first guests to show up got the bed, second there got the floor. Many of the girls’ friends also remember lots of happy times in and out of the Arnold house, filled with food, music and silliness.

Steve began his career at American University in 1972 as Assistant Dean of the School of International Service and joined the SIS teaching faculty in 1974. In 1976, he co-founded the AU International Development Program (IDP) with Professor Coralie Bryant. Steve directed the IDP until his retirement from AU in 2000. The program intentionally combined theory and practice with students acquiring proficiencies in designing, administering, and evaluating economic, social, and educational development initiatives. Steve encapsulated the vision as follows: “The program will give students an appreciation of the dilemmas of social change.”

The program intentionally sought students with prior hands-on development experience and sought a student body diverse in gender, race and national origin. Steve made the IDP renowned as one of the best international development programs in the world. He also created and taught the core foundational interdisciplinary course. Under Steve, the IDP was more than just a set of courses or degrees; it was a community and he made sure to get to know all of its students.  Since its founding, the program has awarded masters degrees to more than two thousand students. Those entering the program through the year 2000 all felt they experienced both Steve’s academic guidance and his care for them personally and professionally.  He also nurtured the IDP faulty and staff. It is no exaggeration to say that Steve Arnold had a positive influence on generations of development practitioners and scholars.

Under Steve’s leadership, the International Development Program brought many innovations to SIS and AU.  While based in SIS, the IDP counted colleagues from across AU as affiliated faculty. In 1980 Steve was instrumental in developing AU as a host institution for the then-newly-founded Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program. The program brought international professionals to both study and share their expertise with the IDP.  Steve took this ‘hosting’ role very seriously, and Arnold Family Thanksgiving Potluck Celebrations with the Humphrey Fellows were an extensive introduction to as many US foods and strange traditions as could be stuffed into an afternoon. Steve and Carol also were well known for creating community through the backyard barbecues they regularly hosted for students, faculty, and friends of the IDP. Banana splits – including hands-on instruction by Steve – were a favorite feature.

Curricular-wise, under Steve’s leadership, the IDP pioneered many innovations for AU. These included one-credit “Skills Institutes,” which enabled students to be taught specific development-related professional skills in a single weekend, and practicums designated as master’s degree capstones, which enabled students to carry out practical evaluations for development-related clients. Steve also helped create a strong IDP student organization and a similarly strong IDP alumni association, both with responsibility for substantive input. In addition, and far ahead of other schools and programs, the IDP expanded its curriculum into the fields of environment and development, gender and development, and health and development, all of which evolved into SIS-wide specializations.

Steve’s career at AU was supplemented with two sabbatical research plus teaching abroad stays in England in 1979-80 and 1986-87 and teaching abroad in Kyoto, Japan in 1994; experiences which again created many life-long friendships. After a celebrated career, he retired from AU in 2000, relocating to the Pacific Northwest. Officially retired for less time than it took to drive across the country, Steve began teaching again in Fall 2000 for the University of Washington’s Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs, with retirement finally sticking in 2007.


Following retirement, Steve was active in Kiwanis and working with high school youth. Travel and family also continued to be important, with visits to his and Carol’s (now grown) daughters in Nashville TN and Bowling Green KY, including sons-in-law Ryan and Charles, grandchildren Camden (2012) and Izzy (2014) and step-grandchildren Haylea (1993) and Zach (1995).


Steve is remembered by many as one of their favorite people with whom to be. He was compassionate, kind, insightful, and fun. Those who wish to celebrate him can do so in a number of ways -- and know that he is with you in spirit.

You can participate in some of Steve’s favorite things: make and eat a banana split; practice random acts of kindness; make up silly songs; or gather a group of good friends for a barbecue.

You can contribute to the Steven Arnold Innovative Small Grant Fund, a scholarship created by American University International Development alumni and faculty. This fund provides students in the International Development and Development Management Masters Programs with small grants for innovative ideas that are helpful to communities. [] 

You can contribute to one of Steve’s favorite organizations: Arrowbear Music Camp [] or Habitat for Humanity [] 


Carol, Kristina, and Melia have enjoyed hearing everyone's memories of Steve. If you have stories to share, please send them to Kristina ( and she will pass them along to the family.

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Steven H Arnold, please visit our floral store.

Friends and family have shared their relationship to show their support.
How do you know Steven H Arnold?
We are sorry for your loss.
Help others honor Steven's memory.


You can still show your support by sending flowers directly to the family, or by planting a memorial tree in the memory of Steven H Arnold

© 2023 Haven Of Rest Gig Harbor. All Rights Reserved. | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Accessibility