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Student Spotlight: Eva Coffey, Ph.D. in Political Science

Dec. 2012 graduate and native of Czech Republic is a U.S. Diplomat in training

Dr. Eva Coffey, Ph.D. in Political Science ’12, has joined as a diplomat in training the U.S. State Department, which Madeleine Albright (right) ran from 1997 – 2001  as the first woman to become the U.S. Secretary of State.

Dr. Eva Coffey, Ph.D. in Political Science ’12, has joined as a diplomat in training the U.S. State Department, which Madeleine Albright (right) ran from 1997 – 2001 as the first woman to become the U.S. Secretary of State.

Eva Coffey was working on her political science dissertation when a Google alert flashed the news that U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three of his staff members were killed during an assault on the U.S. Consulate in Libya.

The tragedy was a sobering reminder that the diplomatic work she had spent months testing and interviewing to do is dangerous.

“I was already done with all my interviews for the job,” said Coffey. “I was part of a Google group set up for people who were at that stage of the hiring process and the messages we exchanged showed that the attacks further strengthened everyone's resolve to join the service.

“Every job comes with some level of risk. All of us were aware of the risks going into the process and the State Department does a good job explaining the risks in their information materials so that they only get candidates willing to take it. If you believe that your work has a purpose, you accept the risk.”

Dr. Coffey’s background and experience, combined with her education and the resources available to her at UH, provided her with the opportunity to represent the United States abroad as a Foreign Service officer.

She was accepted into the U.S. State Department’s prestigious diplomat training program in 2012 and moved to Washington. D.C. during the winter holiday season to begin the diplomat training program. When her training is completed, she will find out what part of the world the State Department will send her.

The Few, The Proud

Prior to being accepted into Foreign Service officer training, Dr.Coffey - and thousands of other applicants to the Department of State’s Foreign Service officer program - endured months of intensive testing, interviews, and assessments.

“Each year, about 25,000 people take the initial test,” said Donna M. Blair, University of Houston’s Diplomat in Residence. “Of those, 40% may pass the test. From the remaining group, 10-15% make it to the next stage, and fewer than 5% of those proceed to the final stages.”

Many individuals apply to the program repeatedly over the course of several years, but Dr.Coffey was hired after her first attempt.

“It was one of the fastest turn-arounds I’ve seen,” said Blair. “She’s done very well and I’m really happy for her. She’s going to be a great addition to the Foreign Service.”

Blair knows first-hand what it takes to become a Foreign Service officer – and she is also personally familiar with the dangers involved.

She has worked in the Foreign Service for over 25 years in locations around the world. In 1998, she lost a good friend and professional mentor when the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya was bombed.

Today, as the Diplomat in Residence with the Department of Political Science, Blair is the Southeast Texas/Louisiana representative of the U.S. State Department.

One of Blair’s responsibilities is to offer guidance and advice to students, professionals and the community about State Department careers. She estimates she is currently assisting about 12 students who are at some stage in the process of applying to join the Foreign Service from the Houston area.

“Applicants to the program know that this work has high reward, high challenges, and high risk,” said Blair. “However, security is always the number one priority.”

Once Blair knew that Coffey had been accepted into the training program, she invited Coffey to attend events where Blair could begin introducing her to international dignitaries visiting Houston from abroad.

This gave Coffey her first introduction to life as a Foreign Service officer and the opportunity to meet the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria during one of these events.

International Roots

Coffey’s journey to Washington D.C. actually began across the Atlantic Ocean in her native Czech Republic.

In 2001, she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Business Law and in 2003 her Master’s degree in Economics (majoring in International Relations and Diplomacy and minoring in Journalism) from the University of Economics in Prague.

In 2002, she met her husband Bernard, a former U.S. Marine who was completing his Master’s degree in Prague after eight years of military service. The couple lived and worked in Prague for several years before moving to the United States.

The Coffeys relocated to Seattle where Coffey worked for Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, a public relations agency where she handled crisis communications and other public relations duties for Microsoft.

When her husband’s job moved them to Houston, she applied to graduate school at UH.

“I decided to attend University of Houston because I was impressed by the school’s Comparative Politics program as well as the programs in Research Methods and American Politics, which are my minor fields,” said Coffey. “I also enjoyed the diversity and various backgrounds of UH graduate students – there were students from Turkey, Poland, China, Albania, Egypt, Ukraine, Colombia, Venezuela, you name it. I enjoyed studying and working with all of them.”

Coffey completed her doctorate in December 2012 under the guidance of Jim Granato, professor of political science and Director of the UH Hobby Center for Public Policy.

“Since her arrival at UH, Eva has excelled,” said Granato. “She was primed to be very competitive on the academic job market and secure a tenure track position at a research-oriented department. But, people with talent like Eva have options. She has chosen the Foreign Service as her vocation and there is no doubt she will be a success. Her work ethic, intellectual heft, people skills, and social science training make her a formidable force for positive change.”

During five to six weeks of training in Washington D.C., Coffey learned about the inner workings of the U.S. State department, life in a U.S. embassy, and other information pertinent to her new role. After the initial training program, she received more specialized training based on the needs of the State Department at the time.

“My career track within the foreign service is Public Diplomacy, which is essentially doing Public Relations on behalf of the United States,” said Coffey.

At the conclusion of all of her training, Coffey will be presented with a flag of the nation where she will be assigned. The U.S. currently has 265 embassies, consulates and other diplomatic missions around the world.

Although she hopes to serve in a post-Communist country, such as her native Czech Republic, she has signed an agreement that she is open to moving anywhere on the planet. Both she and her husband are a bit nomadic and are looking forward to this new chapter in their lives.

“We are adventurous and don’t like to live in one place for too long,” said Coffey. “Serving the United States in this capacity is such an honor.”

- By Monica Byars

Bio Box for EvaCoffey:
Born: August 22 in Czech Republic
Married: Bernard D. Coffey on May 21, 2005
Languages: fluent in English, Czech, Slovak; advanced in German; intermediate in French, Russian; beginner in Spanish
PhD, Political Science, University of Houston, December 2012