Growing up, Dereck Hogan (A&S ’95) never called a single place home for long. Years before starting a career with the U.S. Department of State, Hogan picked up his sense of wanderlust with a family that cast its anchor in a new city or state every two years.
“When we were moving, my parents rarely wanted to fly from one part of the country to the next. We wanted to see more of this great country we live in, so I got to spend time talking to citizens of Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas or wherever we were driving through,” said Hogan. “That desire to want to get to know new people and know about different subcultures within American culture was sparked in me at an early age.”
By the time the family’s journeys had taken Hogan to Hampton Township, Pennsylvania, in the late 1980s, the high schooler had already developed a global mindset that would only sharpen a few years later when he transferred from Bucknell University to Pitt. Hogan studied politics, philosophy and economics through the University Honors College. He graduated with his Bachelor of Arts in politics and philosophy from the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences in 1995.
“I took political philosophy my senior year. Sitting in that small classroom with no more than five students, going in depth into Rawls, Voltaire and other political philosophers really shaped my thinking on how we can advance U.S. foreign policy,” said Hogan.
Today, as U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Moldova — a country sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania — Hogan credits the unconventional major and support he received at the Honors College for adding fuel to his passion for international studies. He also credits Honors College administration for steering him toward the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, a competitive program with the goal of guiding students toward careers in foreign service, which financed the last two years of his undergraduate degree and a two-year master’s program. He is the first Pickering Fellow from the University to receive an ambassadorship.
Hogan went on to earn a Master of Public Affairs from Princeton University but always remembered lessons learned in Pittsburgh.
“Pitt played an instrumental role for sure in my entry into foreign service, in the classroom as well as outside of the classroom,” he said.
A global philosophy
Pitt’s politics and philosophy major, modeled after programs at Oxford and Cambridge University, was officially launched in the late 1970s in the Honors College.
Students in the program must take a minimum of 51 credit hours — 21 in philosophy, 21 in political science and nine in economics — along with a capstone to fulfill its requirements.
Honors College Dean Brian Primack said the rigorous program trains students to examine the philosophical theories behind politics and economics, a practice he says has helped many students thrive in their respective careers.
“That’s why so many people that go through this major have success. They learn the theoretical underpinnings of philosophy. And then they are able to truly apply those concepts to the real world. That’s exactly what Mr. Hogan has been able to do,” Primack said.
Pitt is also attracting students like Hogan before they’ve been accepted to a university. The Pennsylvania Governor’s School for Global and International Studies, a competitive high school fellowship, brings students to the University’s Pittsburgh campus for a four-week residential program designed to emphasize global thinking and leadership. The Pennsylvania Department of Education program is hosted through the University Center for International Studies’ Global Studies Center. Hogan was one of 60 students chosen for the fellowship in 1990.
As he rose through the ranks of the State Department following his first foreign service tour in 1997, Hogan said Pitt students were a regular presence.
“The University of Pittsburgh is a great feeder for the State Department; the institution really prepares global citizens. I certainly found that to be the case in my experience,” Hogan said. “I would come across other diplomats and State Department professionals and would not be surprised to hear the Honors College, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs or Pitt was part of their educational background.”
Honors College Assistant Dean David Hornyak said politics and philosophy graduates are a great fit for government jobs, but it’s hard to predict where students will land. The only consistent pattern is that they tend to land on solid ground.
“It’s a good solid preparation for anyone because it gives critical thinking skills, analytical skills and writing skills,” Hornyak said. “You can combine it with film studies to go to film school and make political films. You can use it for writing because you want to write historic novels. Two students went on to rabbinical studies and another entered the priesthood. They can be found throughout all areas of society.”
How they got there: tips for landing a foreign service career
Dereck Hogan is in good company. More than a dozen alumni of Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs have served as ambassadors in the U.S. and foreign ministries around the world.
David Dale Reimer and Eric Whitaker were recently appointed U.S. ambassadors to countries in Africa after long careers as diplomats, and they have some advice to help students interested in foreign service get on the right path.
Study and work abroad
While no particular moment turned David Dale Reimer’s (GSPIA ’85) career path toward foreign service, throughout his life he had firsthand exposure to other countries’ cultures and customs. His father, an economics professor, took sabbaticals in Nairobi, Kenya, when Reimer was 8 years old, and in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, when he was 13.
“We were in Ethiopia during a famine and a series of coup d'etats. Experiencing that got me to start thinking about political and economic events on a more global scale,” said Reimer, who in 2017 received ambassadorial appointments to the islands of Mauritius and Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.
In addition to his childhood experiences, studying abroad in college and working part-time for the Belizean government’s coral restoration project helped push him toward a career focusing on international work.
Eric Whitaker (GSPIA ’84), who is the U.S. ambassador to Niger, volunteered for the Peace Corps in the Philippines and watched diplomats work in the U.S. Embassy in Manila. “Learning what our diplomats did inspired me to pursue the Foreign Service, even though I detoured for six years in municipal management in the state of California before joining,” he said.
Learn a language — or many languages
“You are lost if you are overseas without fluency in the local language,” said Reimer, who started the foreign service with French and German language skills. Luckily, he said, the U.S. Department of State will teach diplomats language skills needed in order to function professionally overseas. Reimer became fluent in French, German and Italian for assignments in Haiti, Germany and Italy.
Whitaker similarly developed Korean, Portuguese and French language skills in the Foreign Service. But he also learned Spanish in high school and college and Visayan in the Peace Corps.
“Developing a facility in foreign languages early in life is helpful in the Foreign Service, in traveling, and in maintaining an awareness of different cultures,” said Whitaker, who earned his Master of Public Administration in 1984. “Combined with interpersonal and cross-cultural skills, language ability separates an individual from the crowd and opens many doors.”
Become culturally literate
Immersion in foreign affairs through internships with the State Department or other organizations is invaluable not only for the professional experience but also the opportunities made through key contacts.
“Even if you do not do an internship for the State Department, I highly encourage students to seek out an internship with another international organization on nongovernmental organization,” Reimer said, who earned a Master of Public and International Affairs from GSPIA.
There are also a number of ways students can expose themselves to other cultures without having to leave Pittsburgh. Whitaker said students should participate in cultural events and social groups, befriend foreign students, read widely and keep up to date on foreign affairs through any number of publications and news outlets that cover international affairs.
More information on what’s available to Pitt students can be found through the University Center for International Studies and the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.