By Buzz McClain
A new survey shows George Mason University ranks seventh in the country for placing graduates in the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service. George Mason’s listing of 522 active-duty alumni working in posts around the world followed Harvard University’s 554, at sixth place. Topping the list was Georgetown University with 1,190. The full list is here.
“[Foreign Service officer] is the technical term for people we know as ‘diplomats,’” says Mason professor Peter Mandaville. Mandaville worked in the State Department’s Policy Planning staff under Hillary Clinton and frequently encountered Mason graduates there.
“You start off stamping visas at a consulate in a dusty town and work your way up, in theory, to being an ambassador, also known as a chief of mission,” Mandaville says.
Becoming a Foreign Service officer is not easy, he adds. Only three percent of those who take the Foreign Service exam each year manage to make it through the ensuing testing and training process.
“It’s really rigorous and selective,” he says.
Two units in particular at Mason help candidates acquire the skills that prepare them for the acceptance process: the School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs, and the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.
“Master’s programs at the School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs focus on developing the critical analytical and communication skills that are essential for every career in the Foreign Service,” says policy professor Edward Rhodes. “And they offer specialized course work in the range of political, economic and technical fields that particular Foreign Service careers demand.”
He adds that Mason’s faculty—which includes individuals with successful Foreign Service careers—offers one-on-one advice to students looking for a pathway to the service.
“We prepare them to analyze conflicts in a comprehensive way, understanding the deeper historical and cultural contexts and taking seriously the interests of all the parties,” he says.
“Beyond this, and what is perhaps unique to the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, is our students come out understanding a range of nonviolent paths to resolution of serious and deeply rooted conflicts that characterize our world today.”
Cheryl Fernandes, MA International Transactions ’97, is deputy director of the Office of Western European Affairs at the State Department, overseeing the teams responsible for foreign policy in France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, the Vatican, Malta and Monaco. She says Mason gave her two key benefits that have proven invaluable in her Foreign Service career.
“The Mason master’s program taught me the critical thinking skills I needed to look behind the headlines and examine the underlying motives that drive policy,” she says. “And Mason gave me access to foreign policy practitioners whose experiences inspired me and gave me the confidence to pursue a diplomatic career.”