Former Gauchos Discuss Careers in U.S. Diplomacy

Frances Castellon/Staff Photographer

Claire Breen

Four former U.S. diplomats, all distinguished alumni of the University of California, Santa Barbara, spoke as part of a panel discussion titled “Champions of Public Service: The Gaucho Path to International Public Service.” The event, which was held in Corwin Pavilion on Friday, April 29, was part of last weekend’s “All Gaucho Reunion.”

Global Studies Professor Mark Juergensmeyer moderated the panel, which was presented by the Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion, and Public Life, the UCSB Alumni Association and the UC Education Abroad Program (EAP). Alumni Marc Grossman, Barbara Bodine, Giandomenico Picco and Joseph Wilson have all built diplomatic careers as foreign services ambassadors in the United States Department of State and served as key policymakers during decisive moments in global history. When Juergensmeyer asked when the speakers knew they wanted to go into the U.S. Foreign Service, their answers varied.

“There’s no clear path to public service; you could decide at 15,” Juergensmeyer said in reference to Bodine, who said she decided on a career in diplomacy after writing a research paper on foreign service in high school. “Or you could become a ski bum and a carpenter before finding your path to public service,” he continued, referencing Wilson’s career path.

Grossman commented that during his time as an undergraduate at UCSB he saw a poster outside of the career services office about the Foreign Service, and ended up taking his qualifying exam just a few months later in Ellison Hall.

Bodine and Grossman spoke of their time studying abroad as undergraduates through UCSB EAP — Bodine in Hong Kong, and Grossman in London — as pivotal to carving out their paths to diplomacy. Picco was born and raised in Italy before moving to the U.S. to earn his master’s degree at UCSB, and Wilson said he spent his high school years overseas.

In an interview with The Bottom Line, Juergensmeyer said it is important for UCSB students to see example of how fellow Gauchos, whose stories about life in Isla Vista sound pretty similar to most, can reach the highest levels of diplomatic success.

“Some of the diplomats came to UCSB for the parties and the surfing, others for the quality academic life and still others for the political activism of the times,” he said. “Almost none knew exactly what they were going to do when they graduated, but what they all had was a passion about public service and a fascination with global affairs that ultimately led them to remarkable careers. It was their passion, not their plans that made them what they became.”

Fourth-year global studies major Daniel Eyal, an intern with the Capps Center’s internship and public service program, commented on the impact of learning about the backgrounds of distinguished Gaucho public servants.

“I understand that everyone finds their place in the world,” he said. “I’m lucky to not have a lot of social constraints, whether racial, gender, class-based or homophobic constraints. At least in my case, I know that if I work hard and am passionate, I can be successful.”