Stephanie (Wegmann) Peterson
Year of Graduation: 2010
Major(s): Peace Studies
Current Position: Diplomat, US Foreign Service, Santiago, Chile (Graduate School: Master's in International Development, University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies - 2012) Note: Stephanie is now back in Washington, DC, for a 2-year post at the US State Department
What path did you follow to arrive at your current job?
During my sophomore year at CSB, I applied for and received the Thomas R. Pickering Undergraduate Foreign Affairs Fellowship. Believe it or not, I found out about the fellowship through the Career Resource Center, and it has had a huge impact on my future. The Pickering fellowship essentially provides a fast-track into the U.S. Foreign Service. I signed a 4.5 year agreement with the State Department to work as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer upon the completion of my Bachelor's and Master's degrees. In July 2012 I was officially sworn in as a U.S. Diplomat and will be heading to my first post, Cotonou, Benin, to serve as the Public Diplomacy Officer at the U.S. Embassy there. I guess you could say I arrived at my job by utilizing the resources at CSB/SJU and taking the initiative to find out what opportunities were available, even if they seemed out of reach.
Please give a brief description of your graduate program and what it entailed?
The MA in International Development at the Korbel School is a flexible two year program that allows students to tailor their studies to their specific interests. The program views development through a comprehensive lens to include factors beyond economic wellbeing, such as human development, human rights, environmental sustainability, and access to opportunities like education. This means that while quantitative courses are available, so are courses in development theory, policy analysis, and management practice so that outgoing students are well-rounded and prepared to work in either the private or public sector.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
I am incredibly lucky in that my fellowship provides me with a bit of a short cut into the Foreign Service. The process of becoming a U.S. Foreign Service Officer is intense, but those who have gone through it claim that it is well worth it for the resulting career. Foreign Service Officers have to shift locations and jobs every two to three years, and therefore must be extremely well rounded. For those interested in becoming a U.S. diplomat, I would suggest taking courses in writing, history, political science, and foreign languages, as well as keeping up with current events.
What skills are important in your field?
I think that interpersonal skills are probably most important, followed by writing and critical thinking. Entering into the Foreign Service with foreign language skills is also extremely advantageous (and the number one thing that I lack). Looking back, I wish I would have taken advantage of the foreign language courses offered at CSB/SJU.
What are the most challenging and satisfying parts of your job?
In a world so filled with conflict and misunderstandings, going to work every day to represent the United States in a diplomatic capacity is extremely satisfying. I'm incredibly grateful to have a job with a mission that I truly believe in, to promote peace and understanding abroad. While the life of a diplomat is exciting, moving every two to three years can take a toll, so it's important to be flexible and remain open to change.
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for your current career?
Due to its small size and active nature, CSB/SJU gave me the opportunity to take on leadership roles early into my undergraduate experience. I became the Co-chair of Amnesty International as a sophomore in college, something that would have been impossible at a large university. I think my involvement on campus and travel abroad (through CSB/SJU programs to Kenya and Guatemala) were major factors in receiving the Pickering fellowship, and therefore in securing my job as a Foreign Service Officer.