CSB alumnus Stephanie Wegmann Peterson’s dream came true.
She recently accepted a position as a Foreign Service Officer, and will start serving her first tour in Benin, a West African nation, this summer alongside her husband SJU Alumni Erik Peterson.
Originally from Cannon Falls, Minn. Peterson graduated in 2010 with a major in peace studies and a minor in Communication. During her time at CSB/SJU her education expanded within Peace Studies as she became more interested in international issues and conflict, specifically human security.
She believes the communication courses she took allowed her to create a secure foundation and develop skills that would be applicable to a variety of potential jobs. As an involved student, she served as the Community Outreach Coordinator of Amnesty International for four years and a Study Abroad Ambassador after her Guatemala trip, Peterson developed these skills further.
“I am particularly interested in human security. In this day and age we are so incredibly connected and seem to be coming up with new gadgets to improve our quality of life on a daily basis, so it astonishes me that there is still a large percentage of the world’s population living without even the most basic comforts or safetys,” Peterson said. “I really believe that addressing poverty and inequality are key steps in conflict prevention, so in many ways, international development was just a continuation of my peace studies degree.”
History professor Nick Hayes cites Peterson as a stand out student.
“From the start, it was obvious that Steph combined a global perspective with a passion for peace and social justice issues,” Hayes said. “Looking ahead, I have no doubt that she will emerge as a rising star of the FOS.”
She discovered her dream during her sophomore year when she received the Thomas R. Pickering Undergraduate Foreign Affairs Fellowship. The fellowship was named after Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, a renowned diplomat who served in the Foreign Service for over four decades. The fellowship is a fast track into United States Foreign Policy. In 2008, she signed a 4.5 year agreement with the State Department to work as a Diplomat upon the completion of both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.
The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation states: “The Thomas R. Pickering Undergraduate Foreign Affairs Fellowship seeks to recruit talented students in academic programs relevant to international affairs, political and economic analysis, administration, management, and science policy. The goal is to attract outstanding students from all ethnic, racial, and social backgrounds who have an interest in pursuing a Foreign Service career in the U.S. Department of State.”
In June of 2012, Peterson received her Master’s Degree from the University of Denver and started working the following month for the State Department. As she was receiving her Master’s Degree, she completed two tours and full internship programs in Hong Kong, China and Washington D.C.
“My specific job for my first tour in Benin will be to represent the United States by serving as the Public Diplomacy Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou,” Peterson said.
She acknowledged that Benin is primarily a French-speaking nation. She enrolled in a full-time French language training class at the Foreign Service Institute after learning this information.
In Benin, she will be organizing cultural and educational exchanges such as the Full Bright Fellowship. The program provides funding for students, scholars, teachers and professionals to undertake a graduate study, advance research and teaching positions. The program will also allow the opportunity to introduce American culture such as music and art to maintain a cross-cultural understanding between nations.
“To me, cross-cultural understanding means acknowledging and respecting cultural differences, learning from one another and creating a dialogue in order to enhance understanding and respect for one another,” Peterson said. “It’s about debunking the myths and assumptions that come from the unknown and finding common ground.”
Her tour was picked through a bid list system in which individuals rank available positions around the world and they are notified weeks later during the Flag Day Ceremony. There, a Foreign Service Officer is given a post and flag of their country, which is one of the most exciting days. She will serve her tour for two years and be reassigned after to another country for placement.