Students break down barriers as they prepare for foreign service through DACOR mentor partnership

Students break down barriers as they prepare for foreign service through DACOR mentor partnership

Students break down barriers as they prepare for foreign service through DACOR mentor partnership

Political science major Venecia “Abbie” Ferguson has her foreign service career mapped out thanks to the UDC-DACOR (Diplomatic and Consular Officers Retired) mentorship partnership launched last fall. Ferguson is among a select group of nine students matched with mentors from DACOR, Inc., an organization of foreign affairs professionals, many of whom are retired and committed to diversifying the field. Mentors help students navigate the application process and provide advice for career mapping, mock interviews, virtual training experiences, one-on-one discussions and invitations to DACOR and State Department events for networking opportunities.

The UDC-DACOR partnership agreement was signed by President Ronald Mason Jr. and James Dandridge II, president of DACOR, on September 10, 2021, at the historic DACOR Bacon House in Washington, D.C. It houses a museum dedicated to diplomacy in the U.S. Founded in 1952 by foreign service officers, DACOR has 1,550 members.

DACOR mentors are paired with select students who have and are currently taking the Introduction to Global Studies class at UDC. Participants include those studying political science with a concentration in global studies.

“As an institution, if we do our job, our students will be ready, willing and able to go out and make the world a better place,” President Mason said at the signing of the partnership. “Part of doing that job is providing students with opportunities to directly work with and learn from professionals in their aspirational fields.”

The first group of cohorts was matched based on resumes, interests, skill sets and interactions during a hybrid event.

Ferguson, a political science major ‘22, said she is honored to have been matched with Dandridge for the year-long program.

Dandridge was impressed with her quick learning and adaptability.

“When I suggested that she apply for more internships and hands-on opportunities, she made the quick deadlines and was accepted,” he said. “When I introduced her to professional colleagues, they were so impressed that they asked to co-mentor her. She is more than ready to pursue a foreign service career.”

Ferguson describes the UDC-DACOR Mentor Program as a life-changing experience that exposed her to people and situations that she hadn’t imagined.

“It’s been amazing,” Ferguson said. “President Dandridge has invited me to events and virtual talks, and I was his guest for the spring DACOR dinner. I’ve learned so much about the reach of the State Department, bureaus, bureaucracy, nature of diplomacy and how it plays out in foreign policy. As an HBCU, UDC knows how important it is to have different people at the table.”

Ferguson is taking full advantage of the opportunity. Following the advice of her mentor, she is applying for a State Department fellowship that will pay for graduate school based on her commitment to foreign service at its completion. The Jamaica-born, first-generation college student says she wants to give back through her work.

“I want to work with post-colonial nations in the Caribbean and Africa to support women’s issues,” she said. “As an immigrant, I feel a strong connection.”

The UDC-DACOR mentor program has led to many opportunities for Ferguson, including becoming a part of the 2022 cohort for the Envoys program, which guides students on focused explorations of topics of global significance and travel. It brings together diverse students and stakeholders to discuss various issues.

Dr. Jasmine Yarish (Dr. JNY) teaches political science at UDC and serves as the faculty coordinator for the UDC-DACOR mentor program in cooperation with Rhonda Ferguson-Augustus and Daphne Titus of DACOR. As a team, they hope to break down barriers and help students navigate the sometimes-challenging process of applying for jobs at the State Department. Students participate in workshops on resume writing, explicitly targeting the requirements and needs to be a successful candidate.

“I hope to get more students involved,” Dr. JNY said. “The goal is for the students who come into the elite spaces like the DACOR Bacon House to understand that they belong there. That’s at the base level. Long term, I would like to see more students who graduate from UDC get jobs at the State Department.”

Dr. JNY said students could continue with their mentors beyond the one-year commitment. Another cohort is planned for the fall with more students taking advantage of the opportunity. “We open the doors, and it’s up to the student to walk through them.”