Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Houston Tuesday to speak at an energy conference and also to encourage college students to learn about and join the State Department.
Though Pompeo was in town to give a speech at Cambridge Energy Research Associates Week, or CERAweek, he also took time to speak with both The Cougar and The Rice Thresher about why Houston students should apply to State Department internships and become diplomats.
The State Department has many internships students are welcome to apply for. The Department has two internship programs: U.S. Department of State Student Internship Program and Pathways Program, unpaid and paid, respectively. Internships are open to those who may be eyeing a career within the Department or just want experience.
Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the country, allowing students here to have the opportunity to meet and interact with people from all over the world.
The Thresher: Why is the Department particularly interested in Rice and UH students? And what career roles are you looking to fill?
Secretary Pompeo: We’re looking for students who come from a broad array of backgrounds. We have an incredibly diverse workforce at the State Department. We want people who grew up in all kinds of different places. Whether that’s in a big city like Houston or Dallas, or whether they’re from a rural town somewhere in East Texas.
Those different perspectives, different views, different skills that they bring to bear are incredibly valuable as we work around the world in places that are sometimes big cities but sometimes very rural as well. Those different mindsets, we need to have State Department officers who understand that and have a cultural affinity for those different places.
When it comes to skill sets, well boy, we have them all. We hire a lot of different folks who can speak more than one language. We have engineers, we have medical professionals across the spectrum of medical needs. We have folks who studied political science and law. We have engineers and technicians and communications people. We have a big group that works on media and public diplomacy, sharing America’s message around the world.
So these are folks who would’ve worked in the communications field or studied communication or journalism. We bring America’s expertise to bear across a broad spectrum of tasks, and we need talented young people with those skills who come join us every year.
The Cougar: Why should students interested in energy or already studying to enter an energy-related field consider joining the State Department or a diplomatic Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)?
SP: At the State Department, we have a tremendously talented energy group. We have an entire group that works on economics. That’s probably not something people think about when they think about the State Department. The work that we do can’t be done without bringing to bear America’s economic capacity, our wealth creation engine, the power that comes from being the world’s largest economy. Energy is certainly part of that.
We have energy people that are technical people who came from the energy world itself. Whether it was the midstream folks, the upstream folks, wherever it is. We have folks that have done energy trading who understand the risk from the various energy products around the world and can help U.S. businesses make good judgments about which countries have the political conditions for them to develop various energy products.
It’s an exciting place. You get to serve America — the greatest nation in the history of civilization — all while bringing your energy expertise to bear against the problem set.
TT: What are a few things that universities can do to complement the Department’s effort to attract talented students to the State Department?
SP: That’s a really great question. I’ll be honest, I think sometimes government agencies in Washington D.C. focus a little too much on schools on the East Coast. It’s one of the reasons I was out in Iowa last week, I’m in Texas today. Making sure that universities all across America understand this opportunity.
And the work that goes into getting the best and brightest to be part of the State Department. You mentioned our intern programs — we have interns that come in the summer, we have interns that come in the fall who get a chance to see what it feels like to be a State Department officer. College students who come and work in a particular department, whether it’s in arms control or economics or public diplomacy. Whatever it is they’re interested in, we find places for them.
It is a competitive field. There are a lot of folks who want to come to this. But each year we bring out a big group of interns, and every year after that we hire a significant number of those young people who came in to work at the State Department to intern.
I’d encourage every student at the University of Houston or at Rice to consider this, to get online and check out our internship program, see what it’s like. See if they think it might be a good fit for them.
TC: What advice do you have for students interested in the foreign service or diplomacy in general, outside of taking the Foreign Service Exam?
SP: Study hard. And I don’t mean just study hard for the test itself. These are jobs that require incredible knowledge, incredible commitment to service. People who truly have demonstrated excellence in their particular field. So, work your way through school.
This is probably good advice for whatever you plan to do when you graduate from college. Work hard, stay focused. Find things that you love. Whether that’s math — we have an enormous number of statisticians who work for the State Department — or engineering or languages.
Study hard. Become excellent. Find the things that you love. A place where you enjoy, a place where you have passion. Perform well. And then take the Foreign Service Test. Do well, we’ll welcome you aboard our team.
TT: Are there any particular graduate programs that you might like to point to, or extracurriculars or career or internship experiences, that might prepare you for a life in the State Department?
SP: Why I tell you, we hire people from a broad range of experiences. You know if I were to give you just three simple ideas: language skills matter, not only in the State Department but in many of our jobs in the complex, interconnected global world in which all of you are going to live your lives. So I would always suggest making sure you have the opportunity to do that and develop a set of language skills.
We hire those that don’t have that, too. We hire people out of the military, folks who decided to be uninformed military professionals and then decide they want to do something different. I think something like a fifth or more of our workforce are military veterans. It’s a broad range of backgrounds.
We have folks from the private sector as well who spent two or four or eight years in the private sector, decided that they wanted to come serve America. I think it’s less important the particular skill set you develop. We hire people with a broad range of backgrounds.
But coming with a commitment — a commitment to America, a commitment to service and a desire to engage with foreign partners and help America be successful and help those countries be successful in their own right as well is really what’s central to a successful career at the State Department.