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U.S. ambassador gives students advice on foreign service careers

Published: Monday, April 25, 2011

Updated: Monday, April 25, 2011 12:04



Ambassador Ronald McMullen, a Cedar Falls native, gave advice to UNI students about foreign service careers Wednesday.

Ambassador Ronald McMullen, a Cedar Falls native, spoke to University of Iowa students on Wednesday, April 20 about foreign service careers, experiences and internships. The event was sponsored by UNI Career Services.

Students from a variety of majors came to McMullen's presentation and many said they thoroughly enjoyed hearing him speak.

"I'm very interested in working in the foreign service. It was very informative to have someone come in to give us personal insight on how to be successful in that field," said Robyn Odegard, a senior Spanish and global studies major.

McMullen is currently a diplomat-in-residence at the University of Texas in Austin. He went to Drake University and majored in political science, then got his doctorate from the University of Iowa. He has 28 years of experience and has worked, lived or traveled in more than 89 different countries.

Some of his experiences over the years include surviving a voodoo curse in the Dominican Republic, training mongooses to detect heroin in Sri Lanka and taking Hillary Clinton to tour Robben Island in South Africa with Nelson Mandela. McMullen also spoke of being in Fiji on New Year's Even when he got a phone call from a radio station in Toledo. In his opinion, he made history.

"I think I was the first person to hear a live voice from a past millennium because they were still in 1999 in Toledo and Fiji had clicked over to 2000," said McMullen.

Along with his experiences, McMullen discussed the series of steps necessary in becoming a foreign diplomat. First, he said to take the Foreign Services Officer Test, which tests your knowledge of U.S. and world affairs. The next step is the QEP, which stands for Qualification Educational Panel. At this step, a panel of three foreign service examiners looks over your previous work and education. The final step is an oral assessment. After you have passed the other two steps, you are brought to Washington, D.C. to do test runs of real-life situations.  

McMullen also left the students with a few tips to make themselves more appealing when applying to be foreign diplomats.

"If you pick public diplomacy or political (as your major), you just cut your chances in half because we have so many people sign up for those career paths that they are oversubscribed … So if there's some way you can see yourself as an economic, management or consular officer, I'd opt for those," said McMullen.  

McMullen also suggests that you read The Economist, get as much international experience as possible and be a state department intern. He said these experiences and a love for your country will help you to go far in foreign service career.

"To be a successful foreign service officer, you really need two things. One is an exploring gene. You need to be excited at the prospect of living around the world and seeing the world," said McMullen. "The second thing you need is a service mentality… to want to serve your country, to be the face of America, to find things in common with other cultures, to build bridges and to win friends and influence people for the United States."

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