Opportunities Within Reach: Diplomats in Residence Share Why Public Service Matters

6 minutes read time
Melissa Martinez, DIR for Southern California, Hawaii, and Nevada participates in the 2017 ‘Connecting to the World through Global Trade’ event organized by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Port of Los Angeles.
Melissa Martinez, DIR for Southern California, Hawaii, and Nevada participates in the 2017 ‘Connecting to the World through Global Trade’ event organized by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Port of Los Angeles.

Opportunities Within Reach: Diplomats in Residence Share Why Public Service Matters

Serving as Diplomats in Residence (DIRs) and recruiters has reinforced our roles as connectors, engagers, leaders, communicators, institution-builders, educators, storytellers, mentors, and more on behalf of the U.S. Department of State. Our team of 16 DIRs placed strategically at academic institutions across the United States, and cadre of recruiters in Washington D.C. are committed to our mission of recruiting talented, diverse candidates prepared for a career serving the American people.

As DIRs and recruiters, we are bridge builders that strengthen relationships with citizens across the United States to further U.S. interests. We partner with academic institutions, private sector organizations, and members of civil society to engage and influence current and emerging leaders. We also mentor prospective candidates and guide them to the resources they will need for a diplomatic career. A large part of work involves educating domestic audiences about opportunities at State and communicate face-to-face and through social media the important role we play on the global stage and why diplomacy matters. 

DIRs and recruiters also have the opportunity to share our unique perspective of public service with many constituents. As storytellers, we impart first-hand knowledge about the challenges and importance of meeting diplomatic strategic goals that have a global impact. Our anecdotes and learned best practices, tools gained through our diverse professional experiences, are some of the most helpful support we provide to our mentees.

But we also learn from our mentees. The dedication of prospective candidates to serve the American public is contagious and reinvigorates our commitment to that same calling. The public service aspirations of students and second career professionals alike remind us why we ourselves chose this pathway to public service. Below is just a snapshot of our stories; two very different paths that eventually led us to start our career as diplomats, together. 

Kali is an economic-coned officer originally from New Orleans, Louisiana. As a DIR, she now recruits students and professionals from the Central South regions to include Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi.

When Local Community Service Goes International

My road to public service began in a home with parents that owned a small business and were committed to community volunteerism. Their art gallery was community space where members of the public came together to discuss local politics. I considered local government but after graduating with a degree in law and public health, I joined the Peace Corps and worked in small rural health clinics in the north of Madagascar. It was bicycling between villages when I made public service and diplomacy my primary career objective. I was charged with delivering messages from one village to the next and representing America’s ideals and values through my actions. Excited by my international work, I returned to the United States and took the first step to join the Foreign Service. I registered for the Foreign Service Officer Test.

Operation Unified Response was the 2010 U.S. response to the Haiti earthquake and one of the largest evacuations of American citizens in a collaborative effort by the United States Departments of Defense, State and Homeland Security.

While there are several events that shaped my career, one poignant moment crystalizes the importance of public service to me. Days after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, I traveled to Port-au-Prince with colleagues from all over the globe. We assisted in one of the largest humanitarian evacuations of American citizens. While we were there, a young child was suffering severe medical problems and unable to get adequate care. The U.S. medical team stabilized the child and I worked with the mother to explain the evacuation process for the American citizen boy. He returned to the United States safely. It is this kind of story that underscores the importance of why public service matters. Diplomats are on the forefront daily and are often asked to carry out responsibilities that not only impact, but save lives.   

Putting Civic Lessons to Work in Public Service

Melissa's journey in the Foreign Service has taken her from Latin America to Africa where she has been able to serve on the frontlines of diplomacy.

I can trace back my early interest in government to third grade when I would dive into the box of finals papers students prepared for my father’s high school civics class he taught in New Mexico. I always knew I wanted to work in public service and the spark to pursue a global career was ignited in me after taking an Intercultural Communications class at New Mexico State University. I went on to apply for the Thomas Pickering Graduate Fellowship and was one of ten selected nation-wide for the fellowship. I later received my M.A. in International and Public Affairs from Columbia University and was also selected as a Boren Graduate Fellow and studied in Guadalajara, Mexico. For nearly fifteen years, I have served my country as a Foreign Service Officer and have served in countries including Mexico, Uruguay, and Costa Rica. As a DIR, I am in a role where I am telling the U.S. Department of State’s story of a global mission to a domestic audience; a bit of a shift from my previous work as a Public Diplomacy Officer where I am accustomed to telling America’s story to foreign audiences around the globe.

But life has come full circle for me recently. While engaging with students at a career fair at Loyola Marymount University, I learned that the very professor, who influenced me to become a diplomat back in 1998, was now Dean of the university and was in the building. This gave me the opportunity to thank Dean Crabtree personally for being the catalyst that led me to seek out a global career in public service and give back to my country.

In commemoration of Public Service Recognition Week, we owe all of those aspiring diplomats and civil servants the assurance that our work will continue to be purposeful, and that our mission is one they will want to continue with pride.

Kali Jones and Melissa Martinez joined the U.S. Department of State in 2002 and were part of the Mighty 109th A-100 class, the initial training course for U.S. Foreign Service Officers.

As the late Charlie Peacock, U.S. Diplomat and our legendary trainer of incoming U.S. diplomats liked to say, “It’s another damn fine day to serve your country.” We hope to keep Charlie’s spirit alive by inspiring others to find their public service calling, embrace it, and then lead by example.

About the Authors: Melissa Martinez serves as a Foreign Service Officer, US Department of State and Kali Jones serves as a Foreign Service Officer, US Department of State. 

Editor's Note: This entry is also published on Medium.com/StateDept.

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Melissa Martinez
Kali Jones