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U.S. Diplomat in Residence Talks Career and International Opportunities for HBCU Students

John Dinkelman joins Howard University as the newly appointed U.S. Diplomat in Residence. In his role, Dinkelman will provide insight and guidance to those interested in foreign and civil service careers, internships and fellowships.

John Dinkelman, U.S. Diplomat in Residence at Howard. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State)

Once a student studying finance at Brigham Young University, Dinkelman did not always see himself following the interests of his heart to foreign service, which he first developed as a teenage boy living in Turkey during his father’s army assignment. Dinkelman had the opportunity to shadow the American console, as he issued birth certificates and American visas, and was astonished to discover that this was a career one could pursue. 

“I wish that everybody could have a similar life-changing experience where they become aware of a calling that draws them into years of fulfillment in what they do,” Dinkelman said.

Now, in his newly appointed position at Howard University, Dinkelman oversees all recruitment efforts for the Department of State in Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Dinkelman’s day-to-day tasks are largely unpredictable, as he may spend one moment speaking at colleges and universities and another tackling mounds of government paperwork. 

As a representative of the U.S., and U.S. Diplomat in Residence (DIR) at Howard University, Dinkelman has described the opportunity as an “ honor that I will never be able to adequately repay, except by making sure that Howard University students are aware that this could be their life.”

DIRs are career foreign service officers and specialists located throughout the U.S. who provide guidance and advice on careers, internships and fellowships to students and professionals in the communities they serve. Dinkelman is responsible for answering questions and sharing insight with those interested in foreign and civil service careers, internships and fellowships.

“My entire career has been a tremendous ringside seat to many different things in many different places that have affected people in immeasurable ways,” Dinkelman said.

While serving as a human resource officer and hiring committee chairman in Ankara, Turkey, John Dinkelman was tasked with hiring a master electrician for the U.S. embassy based in Ankara. Dinkelman was taken aback when he saw that one of the candidates was a Turkish woman, who undoubtedly had experienced opposition and criticism for pursuing this career. 

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Dinkelman had the privilege of informing the candidate that she had been selected. He emphasized the profound impact this moment had on his life and career. 

“It was my good fortune to watch her face light up and see the shackles fall from her world,” Dinkelman said.

John Dinkelman attended a conference in Istanbul, Turkey, while serving as a human resources officer. (Photo courtesy of John Dinkelman)

Still, a large portion of his work involves answering individual inquiries about the possibility of joining the U.S. Diplomatic Corps.

“While it is an intensive effort, I enjoy it and I have gained a lot of satisfaction from helping people realize that we are looking for someone just like them. [People] should at least try this because it is a wonderful career that could lead to amazing experiences,” Dinkelman said.

Dinkelman’s tenure as DIR comes at a critical juncture in national politics and international affairs as the number of minorities in the foreign service has received extra scrutiny throughout the first quarter of the 21st century. 

In the last three years, there have been numerous reports and accounts of the lack of diversity in the State Department, with many foreign affairs experts, academics and members of civil society calling for increased representation for African Americans and other racial minorities according to the Council on Foreign Relations. 

In the immediate wake of the unlawful murder of George Floyd, which saw a plethora of national and international acts of solidarity as well as several calls for institutional reform, in a New York Times op-ed, former U.S. diplomat Christopher Richardson highlighted that at its inception, the State Department was designed to prevent African Americans from entering its ranks. 

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“Whenever the department is criticized for its lack of diversity, it flaunts two fellowships that have been used as vehicles to recruit people of diverse backgrounds – the Thomas Pickering Fellowship and the Charles B. Rangel Fellowship,” Richardson asserted. 

“Even though the recipients of these fellowships must pass the same written and oral examinations as their white colleagues, they are often derided as ‘affirmative action hires,’” Richardson, an immigration lawyer and former Foreign Service Officer who served in Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan and Spain between 2011 and 2018, said. 

A 2020 report by the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO), found that although the overall proportion of racial or ethnic minorities at the State Department rose from 28 percent to 32 percent between 2002 and 2018, the proportion of Black employees fell from 17 percent to 15 percent. The State Department continues to struggle with the recruitment and retention of Black officers, as the GAO reported in 2020 that the percentage of African Americans in the Foreign Service increased from 6 percent in 2002, to 7 percent in 2018. 

Regarding future racial and ethnic diversity in U.S. foreign services, Dinkelman is optimistic. He discussed the changes he has seen over the last thirty years, with more Black and Indigenous people of color serving in the U.S. diplomatic corps than when he began. 

“I have seen segments of the population which were once unknown in the diplomatic corps now becoming part of the profession. As with any other element of the country, they bring a wealth of experience, insights and the ability to represent the U.S. in the way that the country needs to be represented,” Dinkelman said.

Dinkelman hopes that by spreading information about the possibilities of foreign service, more Howard students, as well as students from the HBCU community at large, will express interest and pursue careers in diplomacy. He seeks to ensure that the diversity in the U.S. is represented by the members of its diplomatic corps. 

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“The best way to do that is to lay a foundation of public knowledge and make sure that students at HBCUs and the general population who have always considered themselves interested in such a career, recognize that we are ready, willing and able to consider candidacies from the depths of American society,” Dinkelman said. 

Maya Martin is an honors junior majoring in international affairs with a minor in business administration from Elmont, New York. As the child of Jamaican immigrant parents, Martin hopes to incorporate cultural and linguistic studies as she works at the intersection of law and business. 

Like many other international affairs majors, Martin has considered a career in foreign service. Martin is excited to see increased diversity and opportunities in diplomacy for Black people. She is grateful to Howard and other HBCUs for providing this pipeline.

“Now, we’re really seeing different visionaries and pioneers come to the forefront, reimagining the face of the foreign service field,” Martin said.

Drawing upon the experiences she gained studying abroad in Columbia in an Afro-Columbian context, Martin hopes to amplify members of the African diaspora. Martin also serves as chair of informational specialists for the Ralph J. Bunch Center, where she is responsible for sharing the blueprint and benefits of studying abroad. 

“HBCUs specifically, are really going to change the face of those who get to study abroad and, in doing so, change the face of those entering international career fields,” Martin said.

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Dinkelman expressed admiration and support for his predecessors in residency at Howard, Darion Akins and Yolonda Kerney, who he had the pleasure of training during their first days in service 25 years ago. 

“They have both done stellar jobs,” he said. “It is just about keeping up with the pace they have set.”  

Dinkelman also shared that he hopes to increase cooperation amongst institutional leaders.

“At all of the HBCUs in this region, it’s going to be the establishment of relationships with the decision makers in the institutions that will make or break my ability to get to the candidates I’m hoping will seek out the [foreign service] as a job,” Dinkelman said.

Dinkelman explained that a common mistake individuals make is assuming that the diplomatic corps are looking for students majoring in political science, international affairs, or foreign cultures and languages. While those academic specialists are welcomed, the State Department is seeking candidates through an examination process that is not limited to one major or academic standing. 

“I want people who represent an entire nation, so I’m going to have to go through [our] entire nation and to find elements from every aspect of [our] entire nation,” he said.

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Dinkelman encouraged Howard students and members of the community interested in pursuing a career in foreign service to research information and the multiple possible career fields, saying. “The best preparation for the foreign service examination process is to go through the Foreign Service examination process.”

Students interested in the Foreign Service Officer process can find more information at the State Department website, or visit Dinkelman in the Ralph Bunche International Affairs Center during his hours of availability. 

Copy edited by Jasper Smith


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