Career Diplomat encourages CMU students to consider a career at the State Department-Center for International Policy & Innovation - Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Career Diplomat encourages CMU students to consider a career at the State Department

Ms. Akunna Cook, U.S. Department of State
Ms. Akunna Cook, U.S. Department of State
The Center for International Policy and Innovation (CIPI) recently held a student roundtable with Akunna Cook to discuss careers at the U.S. Department of State. The event, which included more than two dozen participants from across Carnegie Mellon’s colleges, is part of CIPI’s mission to expose students to policy in praxis by connecting them with practitioners in the field.

A career foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State, Cook is currently a Dean and Virginia Rusk Fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, where she is focused on commercial diplomacy in post-conflict countries. It is a fellowship that allows her to build on her experience as an economic officer at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq where she covered investment and provincial economic issues. Cook visited Carnegie Mellon University to deliver a guest lecture for the Diplomacy & Statecraft Course taught by CIPI Director Jendayi Frazer and offered to share her career experiences with students in a separate forum.

After receiving her master’s degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Cook began her Foreign Service career at the U.S. Consulate General in Guangzhou, China, where she served as a Consular Officer. There, she helped assist Americans traveling aboard, adjudicate non-immigrant visas and immigrant visa, including adoptions abroad by American parents.

Cook then returned to Washington, DC, where she worked for CMU Professor Jendayi Frazer, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs at the time. Cook has also covered African policy issues as desk officer for Ghana, Togo, and Benin and as Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of State.

“It was great to work so closely with a policy principal,” she said. “If you ever have the opportunity to work as a staffer, jump at it. It is great exposure to see how foreign policy is made at a high level.”

When asked by panel moderator Nikki Nichols, a CIPI researcher and Heinz College student, what her advice would be for someone interested in working for the State Department, Cook explained the two ways there are to work for the department: as a foreign service officer or a civil service officer. “Foreign service officers go to embassies, staff embassies and have jobs in D.C. and abroad,” she said. “Civil service officers are largely based in the U.S. and become experts in various issues or countries. Civil service jobs are what you apply for via the USA JOBS website.”

Students had many questions about the Foreign Service. Cook explained the hiring process of the written exam, qualifications evaluation panel, oral assessment, and background check. To be considered for the Foreign Service, she noted, you must go through the multi-step examination process. Cook described the Foreign Service process as more time consuming because of the testing, security clearances and waiting period. Cook also explained that there is no language requirement for candidates interested in joining the Foreign Service. She recommended that students avail themselves of the opportunity to intern in and consider careers at the State Department.

To learn more about careers at the State Department, please visit