Global Public Affairs at UCLA Luskin hosted representatives from the State Department and Peace Corps to discuss careers in U.S. foreign service and diplomacy. At the Feb. 13 event, UCLA’s diplomat-in-residence, Cecilia Choi of the U.S. State Department, and the Peace Corps’ Jeffrey Janis recounted their paths to foreign service and shared stories with students in attendance. The enduring theme of the discussion was the need for international public servants to remain adaptable and open-minded. Janis recounted his experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine for over two years. “You need to be a proactive self-starter. You’ll show up to your site and might be told they don’t need you for two or three weeks. Things like that happen all the time.” He advised those considering a foreign service career, “Take what you’re given and make something from it. I was planning on working with nonprofits in Ukraine. Never did I think I would be teaching sign language, but an opportunity presented itself and I took full advantage.” Choi said the diversity of opportunities in the foreign service not only demands adaptability but also makes it hard to leave because there are so many interesting types of work. “I go into every post thinking it may be my last but always commit to one more because an interesting opportunity presents itself,” she said. “After concluding my time here and finishing language training, I’m headed to Beijing to represent the U.S. on trade. Maybe that’ll be my last post…” — John Danly
The big story of the 21st century will be Africa, according to international policy expert Kate Almquist Knopf, who spoke Feb. 6 as part of the Senior Fellows Speaker Series at UCLA Luskin. “If we look at demographic growth rates, Africa’s population is projected to more than double between now and 2050, when 25 percent — a quarter of the world’s population — will be African,” she said. Knopf works for the U.S. Department of Defense as the director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, which aims to be an objective source of strategic analysis on issues in Africa. The audience for her presentation, which was co-hosted by Global Public Affairs, included local civic and business professionals who serve as mentors for UCLA Luskin students as part of the Senior Fellows Leadership program. The talk focused not only on demography but also on issues related to climate, economics, governance and security. Knopf cited statistics that show how issues such as poverty and authoritarianism contribute to violence and humanitarian crises in African countries such as South Sudan. “The violent conflict that we are seeing — and the violent extremism — I think portends the possibility of quite significant state collapse on the continent,” Knopf said. Some encouraging signs are evident, however. Because the youth of the continent are increasingly making their voices heard, “all is not lost,” she said. “It’s really fragile change at this point … but the great hope is that the youth across the continent want governments that work … and they are out there fighting for it — nonviolently, peacefully — and making a difference in big, profound ways.”
View additional photos on Flickr
By Zoe Day
Global Public Affairs at UCLA Luskin hosted an informational session for students wanting to learn more about career paths and opportunities in U.S. government and international development. The Feb. 7 event featured guest speakers Cecilia Choi from the State Department, Alfred Nakatsuma of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Jeffrey Janis from the Peace Corps. The three shared personal experiences, answered questions about their respective sectors, and advised students how to pursue futures in international development and government.
Choi, U.S. State Department diplomat in residence, discussed the availability of careers in diplomacy, stressing the benefits of combining humanities and writing skills with technical backgrounds in IT or STEM.
“You have one life to do something meaningful,” said Choi, who has served as the director of trade and investment at the National Security Council, deputy director in the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, and food safety advisor at the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. Now a visiting fellow at UCLA recruiting talent for careers in public service and global affairs, Choi is a valuable resource for students interested in learning more about diplomacy and government careers.
As a USAID diplomat in residence who has served in Asia, Latin America and Washington, D.C., Nakatsuma highlighted the development side of foreign policy. The agency aims to lift lives and build communities through development assistance abroad, he said, adding “[USAID] isn’t a job. It’s a life.”
Nakatsuma said the plethora of specialties within international development include humanitarian assistance, female empowerment, energy access, global health, education, innovation and technology, clean water and more. For undergraduates interested in international development, Nakatsuma recommended, “Figure out what you love to do and what pulls you. Figure out what kind of thing you’d like to do in a developing country. Develop skills, take classes, expose yourself to real-world applications, learn how development works.”
Nakatsuma will be returning to UCLA during spring quarter.
Janis is a returned Peace Corps volunteer who currently works as the UCLA Peace Corps campus recruiter. The Peace Corps requires a 27-month commitment to work abroad, during which volunteers are strongly encouraged to “live at the local level,” Janis said. With 70% of Peace Corps volunteers in their 20s, many returnees go on to pursue careers in foreign service, including with the State Department and USAID.
Volunteering for the Peace Corps demonstrates “capacity to work with other cultures,” which is essential to careers in international development, said Janis, who also spent years in the nonprofit sector.
His time in Ukraine with the Peace Corps was “the best experience of [his] life” despite the difficulties, Janis said. It’s “the toughest job you’ll ever love.”
Janis is available in the UCLA Career Center to help students interested in volunteering for the Peace Corps through the application process.
Choi, Nakatsuma and Janis also discussed scholarship and fellowship opportunities within their respective organizations. They included the State Department’s Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, which offers financial support for recipients in graduate school, guarantees two internships in Washington, D.C., and at an embassy overseas, and includes a five-year employment contract as a Foreign Service Officer. Among the students attending the Global Public Affairs event was Ankhet Holmes, a second-year Public Policy student at UCLA and 2016 Pickering Fellow.
The Charles B. Rangel Graduate Fellowship also supports graduate students interested in pursuing a career in the State Department’s Foreign Service Office. USAID offers the Donald M. Payne International Development Fellowship for graduate students interested in working in international development, and the Peace Corps offers scholarships of up to $70,000 for volunteers who attend graduate school.
Choi also had advice for undergraduates, urging them to gain work, leadership and volunteer experience in preparation for careers in government and international development.
View more photos from the GPA session on Flickr.