The U.S. State Department’s political officer to Uganda visited CSUN classes on Thursday, encouraging students at his alma mater to consider careers in diplomatic foreign services.
“I remember what it was like sitting in those chairs,” Jarahn D. Hillsman said.
The south Los Angeles native earned a bachelor’s degree in urban studies from CSUN in 2000.
Hillsman began working for the State Department in 2002 after attending Columbia University for graduate school, where he specialized in international affairs.
Hillsman was selected to participate in the Secretary’s Hometown Diplomats Program and return to his old stomping grounds to spread word of job opportunities with the State Department and the role it plays in the foreign countries in which it participates.
Pan-African Studies Chair Tom Spencer-Walters told the African-American political institutions class a story about Hillsman when he was one of his students.
“He wasn’t bashful in asking questions,” Spencer-Walters said, describing a curious Hillsman who was interested in foreign affairs and traveling abroad.
With the guidance and example of Spencer-Walters, Hillsman said he traveled to Zimbabwe with the university’s study abroad program, the most influential experience he had during his time at CSUN.
Professor Johnie Scott, with the Pan African Studies Department at CSUN, said he takes “fierce pride” in his former students’ accomplishments. Scott said Hillsman’s visit was beneficial for students who don’t know what to do with their degrees once they graduate.
The students in the class Hillsman attended couldn’t answer his question regarding who the current secretary of state was, but didn’t hesitatel in asking questions.
Kinesiology major Shaneill Stolden, 19, asked Hillsman what his presentation had to do with earning a degree in Pan-African studies, which she thought was the subject of the guest lecture. Stolden commented that he sounded like a recruiter.
“(The State Department) is not a school or basketball team, but I am here to recruit you,” Hillsman responded. Hillsman said he hopes his visit inspired students to “look beyond the test tomorrow” and think about the future.
Stolden also asked Hillsman what percentage of the State Department was composed of black employees and if he had to work harder at his job because he himself is black.
“It’s low,” Hillsman said, adding that black individuals comprise seven to eight percent of the State Department’s staff.
In regard to the impact his ethnicity had on his career, Hillsman said he always had to bring his “A” game be ready to communicate. He had to distinguish the way he spoke at work from the way he spoke with friends, Hillsman said.
But only positive experiences have come from working with the department, Hillsman said.
When describing one of the more difficult aspects of his job, Hillsman said it was hard breaking through stereotypes associated with black people because of popular culture images.
While talking to a group of African-Equidorians, Hillsman said it was hard trying to tell them the accomplishments of “real figures, not 50 Cent.”
Hillsman made the stop to CSUN while on the way to Kampala, Uganda after relinquishing his post as political officer at the U.S. embassy in Quito, Ecuador.
The Hometown Diplomats Program was started in 2001 by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell to humanize the State Department.
Spencer-Walters said he was excited when he heard Hillsman was coming.
“This is a manifestation of what we’re trying to achieve,” Spencer-Walters said. “We’re able to pat ourselves on the back.”
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