The below article is slated to appear in the July 2015 edition of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation‘s tribal newspaper, The Hownikan. It has been reprinted here with their permission.
Some residents of the Great Plains don’t know that on both coasts of the United States, the states in between are sometimes jokingly referred to as the “flyover states.” Being locked in the continental interior puts its residents hundreds or thousands of miles away from the nearest international destination. This can foster an understandably inward looking perspective. Yet the U.S., the sole superpower in the world, still needs Americans to serve as its civilian face abroad in services like the U.S. Department of State. Diplomat in Residence Rob Andrew, based out of the University of Oklahoma, is responsible for getting more “flyover state” residents out into the world to serve as the face of the U.S.
Home for Andrew is Chico, Calif., yet his connections to Oklahoma began prior to his stationing at OU as the Diplomat in Residence. A Navy aviator, Andrew’s father was stationed at the University of Oklahoma’s ROTC Naval Science program in the mid-1960s.
“Just before he left town, I was born in Norman. I was not raised here, but I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for OU and the OU Sooners. I see my current position as coming full circle,” he explained.
Following his graduation from the ROTC program at California State University, Chico, Andrew served 13 years as an officer in the U.S. Army. The Gulf War veteran’s ties to Oklahoma were further solidified while undergoing field artillery officer training at Ft. Sill, where he met his wife Pam, an Oklahoma native. His deployments also resulted in Andrew being an eye witness to history, as he proudly notes he is one of the last soldiers to patrol the East-West German border.
Like many military members, Andrew spent years stationed in far off locales, giving him an opportunity to interact with a diverse range of cultures and people. This background may have helped motivate his switch to the U.S. State Department after a 13-year Army career.
“I took the Foreign Service test on a whim really,” said Andrew, “and I ended up passing the tests. The State Department offered me a position in the political affairs track as a Foreign Service Officer.”
Andrew, a Foreign Service Officer, has worked as a diplomat in Mexico, Russia, Costa Rica and most recently Sweden. His present post, as Diplomat in Residence for the U.S. Central Region, has him overseeing U.S. Department of State duties in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and North and South Dakota. Having served as a U.S. diplomat to foreign nations, he is now tasked with promoting careers in the U.S. Department of State to residents in those states. A core focus of his mission is to promote the department to Native Americans, who are underrepresented in the country’s diplomatic corps.
“Less than 1 percent, or 0.41 percent), of the U.S. Department of State’s personnel are Native Americans,” explained Andrew. “Generally in communities that don’t have a lot of contact or visits outside the U.S., many people just don’t know about careers with us. I’m working to change that.”
Andrew has been up and down the Great Plains since his posting to Oklahoma, visiting with as many groups and institutions as he can fit into a day.
“There are people located in this central region of the U.S. who have an interest in international affairs,” he emphasized. “They just don’t feel like they can qualify or compete with students from the Ivy League or coastal institutions. One of my missions is to tell them that they can compete and that careers are available to them.”
Andrew’s pitch to Native Americans is a key selling point in the central region. Noting tribal governments’ status as dependent, sovereign nations to the U.S. Federal Government, Andrew is emphatic in preaching to sometimes skeptical Native American audiences that they already know a great deal about being diplomats.
“If you think about it, Native Americans are very good at diplomacy. Tribal peoples and governments negotiate with the U.S. government all the time. Think about all the treaties, grant funding agreements and modifications, interactions with the Bureau of Indian Affairs or even state compacts; Native Americans are conducting diplomacy on a regular basis.”
The former Army officer’s second selling point to many Native Americans is to show his own path from warrior to diplomat. Native Americans serve in the U.S. armed forces at a higher rate than all other ethnic groups, and as Andrew points out, many have experience of living abroad already.
“I went into the military and now the U.S. Department of State because, like my father did in the Navy, I wanted to serve. At the end of the day, that’s what you’re doing, serving your country,” he concluded.
Andrew is scheduled to speak with the Potawatomi Leadership Program participants in July, and encourages anyone interested in learning about opportunities with the U.S. Department of State to contact him at DIRCentral@state.gov. He also has an official Facebook page at www.facebook.com/DIRCentral, and more information can be found at http://careers.state.gov.