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International resource: new diplomat in residence now on campus

John C. Roberts of U.S. State Department helps students find work, study opportunities abroad

John C. Roberts and students - Photo from facebook/dirsotxla
John C. Roberts recently met with CLASS comparative politics students Olumide Akibola,
Yvette Hernandez, Hyunja Norman and Rachel Smith to discuss Foreign Service careers.

Diplomat John C. Roberts was living and working in Baghdad, Iraq in 2005, dodging mortar and rocket attacks during one of the most tumultuous and violent times in that nation’s history.

Two years later, Mr. Roberts was still a diplomat but his working conditions had changed dramatically while he was living in the Eastern Caribbean country of Barbados, a tropical island known for its luxurious vacation resorts.

Now, Mr. Roberts has settled at University of Houston as the Texas and Louisiana region’s new Diplomat in Residence. His role at this new post is to introduce students to the vast array of career opportunities and government-funded study abroad programs available through the U.S. State Department.

Mr. Roberts’ duties mesh well with a goal of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences – for every CLASS student to get a passport and travel internationally at least once before graduation.

Mr. Roberts is planning a number of events for him to meet and discuss with students study abroad opportunities. Last month, he hosted an information session about a fully-funded summer language study abroad program for students working to become fluent in languages considered critical to U.S. security, including Chinese and Arabic. He will soon launch the “Lunch with a Diplomat” program. He keeps students abreast of all opportunities via his Facebook page, and the Department of State website:

“Students don’t usually have an opportunity to meet Foreign Service Officers because we are either working in Washington D.C. or serving abroad at embassies and consulates around the world,” said Mr. Roberts. “Careers are often shaped by mentors or chance encounters, but that won’t happen with the foreign service. Now that I am at UH, I have a unique opportunity to give students, as well as members of the community, insight into career options at the U.S. Department of State they may never have considered.”

Mr. Roberts “took the scenic route” on his way to a career as a diplomat. After completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Mississippi he enlisted in the military and served in the U.S. Army Special Forces as a military advisor and senior instructor. Following that commitment, he returned to school and earned a Master’s Degree in International Business from the University of South Carolina.

Next, Mr. Roberts worked in private business as a partner in a telecommunications investment and operating company. He also worked as an independent business consultant.

A political appointment to the U.S. Department of Commerce during the presidency of George H.W. Bush administration prompted the businessman to shift his career into public service.

“Being in Washington D.C. gave me access to Foreign Service Officers,” he said. “I had the opportunity to meet and work with them. I decided to pursue a career with the Department of State since I already had a Master’s in International Business, spoke Spanish, and had a tremendous desire to continue to serve my country.”

After successfully navigating the Foreign Service selection process, his first post was Managua, Nicaragua in 1997, a place he calls “delightful.” Then, after studying Russian at the Foreign Service Institute in Washington, he accepted an assignment in Moscow, where among other things he monitored the dismantlement of the Russian nuclear submarine fleet in Far Eastern Russian; often visiting places few Westerners had seen.

His global travels took a detour after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001. A month after the attacks, Mr. Roberts was recalled to active military duty. He was assigned to serve as an instructor at the United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, N.C.

When his military duty was completed in 2004, Mr. Roberts returned to the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C. and became a member of the Executive Staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice until 2005. In this role, he organized and directed the Secretaries’ press, media events, and high-level international meetings.

From 2005 to 2007, as the war in Iraq was raging, Mr. Roberts was assigned to direct the Press and Cultural Affairs Offices at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as the Information Officer and Acting Public Affairs Officer.

“My colleagues and I played a part in the unfolding of world history,” said Mr. Roberts. “We were there for the first elections, and we were there when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was installed and for the trial of Saddam Hussein. It was a fascinating time in that country’s journey toward democracy.”

From Baghdad, Mr. Roberts was assigned to his most “fun” post, Barbados.

“I couldn’t believe I was being paid to live there,” he recalled.

After his global tours of duty, Mr. Roberts completed a Master of Strategic Studies Degree at the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama and then served as Director of the Civilian Response Corps at the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C.

Today, he is happy to hang his hat in Houston. He will be attending career fairs at colleges and universities in southeast Texas and Louisiana, and informing students about the various career opportunities within the U.S. Department of State. He also plans to host monthly information sessions and help students as they prepare to take the Foreign Service Officer test.

“I hope to identify talent and give individuals information they need to make informed decisions about pursuing a career in the U.S. State Department,” said Mr. Roberts.

 According to Mr. Roberts, students from nearly any discipline can find internships, fellowships and career opportunities in diplomacy, both stationed internationally and within the United States. Perhaps more valuable than the information that he distributes about Foreign Service careers is the first hand experiences that he can share with students.

“I get to sell the dream,” said Mr. Roberts. “I’m looking forward to meeting people, sharing experiences, and introducing them to life in the Foreign Service.”

- By Monica Byars