Students Find Pathway, Mentors in Pursuit of Careers as Diplomats

Paul Mayer (right) in red sweater fills in Foreign Service Day participants on the details of the life of a diplomat
Mentor Paul Mayer, in red sweater, fills in Foreign Service Day participants on the details of the life of a diplomat. Photo by Maddie Ludwick

How does one join the Foreign Service? What’s the pathway to serving your country at the State Department or, thinking long-term, earning the position of ambassador?

Six years ago, several academic units at George Mason University combined forces to create a “Foreign Service Day at Mason,” a half-day event that brings representatives from various agencies to meet with undergraduates and graduates interested in careers in foreign service.

Mason’s location near Washington, D.C., paid off once again on April 9 when dozens of students met with active and retired foreign affairs professionals to hear in-person and Zoom presentations, followed by one-on-one mentoring sessions at Mason’s Merten Hall on the Fairfax, Virginia, campus.

The keynote speech was delivered by former Ambassador John M. Jones, an adjunct professor at Mason who represented the U.S. at the embassy of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.

By the end of the day, students had met and heard from speakers who not only inspired them to pursue careers in foreign service but also spoke of the U.S. government’s need for educated and enthusiastic representatives.

These events provide an unparalleled opportunity for Mason students to speak with serving and retired Foreign Service and Civil Service officers,” said Schar School of Policy and Government Distinguished Visiting Professor Richard Kauzlarich, himself a former ambassador. “It also provides a chance to learn about family life in U.S. Embassies from spouses and children of Foreign Service Officers,” including his wife Anne, who also took part in the day.

“I was grateful for the opportunity to make connections and to network,” said Runlin Zhang, a senior government and international politics major at the Schar School. “It was useful to have important conversations with people in the field.”

“The speakers were supportive and encouraging for anyone who wants to join the foreign service,” said Jennifers Great, a Korean studies and foreign language major. The self-admitted introvert said after engaging with mentors, “I feel I could still succeed” despite her shyness. “I’m encouraged to pursue anything.”

For James Lillard, a global affairs major, the event solidified his ambitions.

“I was inspired by all the stories and speeches,” he said, “especially Ambassador Jones. I got a real sense of community. This really committed me to following the path to service.”

The mentors were similarly enthused by the students.

“The students were, as always, impressive with their questions and their interest in opportunities for public service careers with the State Department,” said Tom Brannan, a teacher of diplomatic history who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War.

Carol Stricker, a former associate dean of the Foreign Service Institute’s School of Language Studies, agreed.

“It was a superb event with outstanding students,” she said.