Alumni Profiles

Global Impact

Marisa Guzmán-Aloia
From left, Vanessa Dohner LC’09; Adam Blakeman RC’05, NLAW’09; and Matthew Sheren EJB’11 are in training to be diplomats at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, VA. (Photo credit: Marisa Guzmán-Aloia)

The Foreign Service Institute provides diplomatic training that U.S. foreign affairs professionals need to excel in today’s global arena. Given that institute classes are relatively small—somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 students—the odds of meeting another Scarlet Knight—let alone two—were fairly slim. But when the three talk about how Rutgers shaped them, those odds start to improve.

Dohner LC’09, for instance, grew up in a small town in rural Pennsylvania, and she credits Rutgers’ diversity with sparking her interest in foreign cultures and international affairs. “I think I learned as much at Rutgers from my peers outside the classroom as I did from my professors,” she says. Blakeman RC’05, NLAW’09 tells a similar story. Having spent his childhood in the small, relatively homogeneous town of Dumont, NJ, he arrived at Rutgers to find, “a massive new world with an international community of students possessing a diverse set of interests.”

Although Sheren EJB’11 came to Rutgers as a graduate student, his experience at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy provided strong underpinnings for a diplomatic career. “At Bloustein,” he says, “you get an education that’s not only technically strong but also demonstrates how policy and politics shape each other.”

The three have already received their assignments: Blakeman to Rome; Dohner to Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Sheren to Shanghai. All three are studying to be consular officers, charged with adjudicating visas and offering support to Americans working and traveling overseas, whether they have lost a passport or run into legal or medical difficulties. And all three will be generalists, which means that they could be called upon at any time to do work beyond consular affairs. Unlike specialists, they are preparing to function within a variety of “cones”—areas of specialization such as management, politics, economics, and public diplomacy.

That training—given at the institute in Arlington, VA—begins with a six-week orientation class covering the history of the State Department, the intricacies of crosscultural communication, and practical matters, like how to ship your household goods halfway across the globe. Additional classes vary according to individual assignments, and might include job-related training (in subjects like consular affairs and tradecraft) and “area studies,” covering the assigned region. If language is required, study is typically between 24 and 36 weeks. Sheren’s Mandarin class, for example, will last the full 36 weeks. It’s been challenging, he says, “but that’s what I expected—I didn’t sign up for this job to escape challenges.”

He signed up largely out of a passion for geography, his undergraduate major. The job, he explains, “gives me the opportunity to experience other countries and cultures, rather than just see them.” Dohner, too, felt drawn by the opportunity to work overseas and to continue in public service, both of which she has done for Citizenship and Immigration Services.

For Blakeman, who studied law at Rutgers and whose wife is a diplomat, the job is “a natural fit. When you’re overseas making decisions on behalf of other people, you’re applying both law and policy,” he says. He relishes the potential challenges, noting that “any emergent task could pop up on any day of the week, and a lot of those tasks are high level and complex—that’s what excites me most.”

All three alumni foresee long careers in the Foreign Service, accepting posts wherever they are needed (initial posts generally last two years; subsequent posts vary). Sheren says that, during his time in the Foreign Service, he would like to, “share the United States with the world, make sure that Americans can safely study, travel, and do business wherever they are, and help people from other countries do the same, because,” he adds, “we all have a lot to learn from one another.”