Foreign Affairs Friday with The U.S. Department of State Office of Public Affairs

DreamWakers has teamed up with the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Public Affairs to virtually connect diplomats and top public servants with our students across the country. The goal of this special series is to expose students to the role that the United States government plays in the country and around the world. We also hope it will introduce students to the wide array of career paths available in the federal government, and inspire students to plan ahead for their futures. To highlight some of the amazing leaders and #DreamSpeakers from the State Department, we’ve created Foreign Affairs Fridays. On the first Friday of every month, we will feature the story of a state department leader who has inspired all of us here at DreamWakers. Stay tuned to hear the unique stories of some leading figures in the U.S. government.

Most recently, we had the opportunity to ask #DreamSpeaker Karina Vera some questions about her role models, inspirations and why she #DreamWakes. Karina Veras is herself an inspiration to students. Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Karina moved with her family to New York City at 8 years old. Karina earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Fordham University, and a master’s in international affairs from the Johns Hopkins Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

Karina was motivated to pursue a career in international affairs to learn about other cultures and strengthen relations between the United States and its partners. With the Thomas R. Pickering Fellowship Karina learned more about the State Department through internships at the U.S. Mission to the Organization of the American States and the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires. She joined the Foreign Service in July 2011 and shortly after began her assignment as an economic officer at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. Since then, she’s worked as a Financial Economist at the Office of Investment Affairs, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs and a Consular Officer at the American Institute in Taiwan. Currently, she serves as an Economic Officer at the Office of Mexican Affairs, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. We are thrilled to have role models like Karina in our network of #DreamSpeakers. Read on to learn more about Karina’s inspiring story.

1. Why do you #DreamWake?

I #DreamWake because I believe that any encounter, even if it is a short one via a Google chat, can inspire a young person to dream big. I want to show them it is possible. If a Dominican immigrant whose family benefitted from public service can become a diplomat for the United States, than they can also achieve their dreams, despite what society tells them.

2. Who is your role model & why?

My parents are my role models. The value they place in hard, honest work and love for their family, the sacrifices they have made for me and my siblings, and their will to make the best out of any situation, inspires me every single day. When I am having doubts about my career or choices that I have made, I think about my parents’ struggles and hardships. If they could overcome theirs, I can overcome mine as well.

3. What inspires you about your job?

Being able to make a difference in someone’s life, even if small, inspires me every day. In my job as a diplomat, I get to share my story with people who have never met someone with my background. Both in the United States and abroad, I meet individuals who would never expect that a young Dominican-American woman could be a diplomat for the United States.

4. What advice would you offer your 6th grade self?

To continue to strive to being the best. Do not worry about the fact that others are seen as “cooler” than you. Education is extremely important. And the people that you surround yourself with will have a very important impact in your life, even in the 6th grade. I met my oldest and closest friend in the 6th grade — he and I were both striving to be the best in our grade. We bonded over that and our love for art.

5. What does “public service” mean to you?

To me, public service means giving back to our communities, in any way you can. It can be through community service, volunteering with an organization, or working for a local, state or, as in my case, the Federal Government. My family and I benefited from the public service of others while I was growing up in New York City. So now, it is my turn to give back to the community, any community, in the United States.

This Foreign Affairs Friday, we’re highlighting Barbara Rascoe Alston. Ms. Alston is a Public Affairs Officer in the U.S Department of State’s Office of Public Engagement. In her role, she formulates and directs strategic outreach and communications plans, engaging with top diplomats, government officials, and civil society, academia, and faith groups. Barbara’s communications efforts ensure foreign policy and guidance from Department permeate to the American public.

With more than 20 years’ experience in public relations, communications, event management, and media relations, Ms. Alston also worked as an independent PR consultant and held positions at various radio, television, and marketing communications firms. She led activities and managed marketing budgets on behalf of several private sector companies and non profit agencies.

Originally from Rolling Fork, Mississippi, Barbara went on to college at Jackson State University, where she obtained her B.S. in Mass Communications. She has completed graduate work in International Commerce and Policy at George Mason University and Integrated Marketing Communications at the University of Memphis.

At the U.S. Department of State, Ms. Alston has served a key liaison between DreamWakers and the diplomatic community, helping to recruit exceptional public servants in the U.S. and abroad to virtually volunteer in under-resourced classrooms across the country. She recently took DreamWakers on a behind-the-scenes #DreamTour of the State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C., and shared about what drives her to give back to the next generation. Read below to learn more about her personal and professional journey, her role models, and why she #DreamWakes.

  1. Why do you #DreamWake?

I DreamWake because I see myself in so many of the students the DreamWakers Program reaches. I’m from Rolling Fork, MS, a rural town in the Mississippi Delta. When reading about Ben Franklin, I didn’t connect the dots about what a Diplomat does because I didn’t know anyone who traveled outside of the U.S. who wasn’t an immigrant in my community. No one ever told me I could study abroad when I was taking French. If they had, I would have worked a bit harder. I want to expose students to the foreign affairs so that they can start practicing citizen diplomacy today and be prepared for a global career in the future.

2. Who is your role model & why?

My mother and father are my role models. My father was a farmer and my mother was a factory worker. Neither of them finished high school, but they sent 12 of their 16 children to college. The children who didn’t go to college were successful in law enforcement, healthcare, and business. While they were not educated by traditional standards, I now understand that my parents were scientists, botanists, and veterinarians as farmers. I appreciate their knowledge and skill more each time I try to grow squash on my patio garden. Even though we had a full table already for dinner every night, they still had room at the table and enough food to share with other children. They taught me to keep an open, global mind and to expect the best from people

3. What inspires you about your job?

I love my job! In my role, I have the opportunity to connect communities across the United States with the work of the Department and Foreign Policy matters. This happens through briefings at the Department, when Civil Service Officers or Foreign Service Officers visit their hometowns, or when the Office of Public engagement programs principals throughout the country. We just launched the #States4States campaign that highlights how the Department works with States to achieve goals. Some of my favorite ways to connect the Department to communities through DreamWakers flashchats, Skypes and other free mediums. The most inspiring part of my job is that I get to provide these services for the American people.

4. What advice would you offer your 6th grade self?

Ask your neighbors from China to teach you their language. Also, find higher trees to climb in the woods since the ones on your street are too “small”.

5. What does “public service” mean to you?

The most rewarding part of my job is that I work for the American people. I took an oath of service that I do not take lightly. Every day, I try to remember and emulate the work ethic, love and care for their professions I saw my parents exemplify. I try to provide my best for the American people in my role at the Department of State.

Our next Q & A features Roya Ellis, Foreign Service Officer at The United States Department of State. Roya was the first in her family on her father’s side to graduate from High School and attend college: She went to Grove City College a small Liberal Arts School in Pennsylvania. Today Roya is a diplomat working on leadership, management, public relations and consular services. She loves helping staff at the Department of State reach their professional potential and serving U.S. Citizens overseas. Most recently, Roya connected with a highschool Industrial Technology Class in Guernsey, Wyoming. In a Q&A Roya told us about her journey, her role models and why she #DreamWakes.

  1. Why do you #DreamWake?

If you can’t see it, it is very difficult to become it. My access to role models growing up was limited, particularly in relation to possibilities for women. However, thanks to a few generous people who took an interest in me and made themselves available for advice, I had far more opportunities than many of my peers. I’m extremely grateful to the foreign affairs professional who told me about the Foreign Service, helped me travel overseas for the first time, and started me on the path to my career at the Department of State. As a result, I’m passionate about letting other people know what a wonderful career this is, and what incredible work we do for the U.S. people.

2. Who is your role model & why?

There are three teachers in my family — sister, sister-in-law, and mother-in-law. From them I learn to always believe that the person in front of you can learn, grow, and pursue their goals. I also see the value of never giving up! These women — Lissa, Julie, and Alice — show up for the students no matter what. They make a difference in the world.

3. What inspires you about your job?

As a Consular Officer, we serve people in very real and tangible ways. I play a role in the security of our country. My work helps U.S. citizens navigate problems that come up while traveling or living overseas. Ultimately, it’s an incredible privilege to be trusted by the people of the United States to represent them in another country.

4. What advice would you offer your 6th grade self?

It’s ok to make mistakes, it’s a learning opportunity! If you never make a mistake it probably means you aren’t trying anything new.

5. What does “public service” mean to you.

We serve an interest other than our own, other than profit. I took an oath to the constitution like generations of federal employees before me, I took an oath to do my job well in service of the country. That’s the standard that motivates me and something that I see my colleagues take very seriously.

Thank you Roya Ellis for the amazing work you do! We are so happy to be able to inspire others with your story.

DreamWakers is a nonprofit that connects underserved classrooms to diverse + dynamic professionals using video chats. #Education #EdTech #Nonprofit #Careers