Path to Diplomacy
This week, the U.S. departments of state and education are sponsoring International Education Week. Among the programs planned at the university was a presentation by BSU Diplomat-in-Residence Kathleen Reddy-Smith, who spoke to a local women's group about the challenges of a career in foreign service.
“We are so pleased to have Ms. Reddy-Smith on our staff this semester because she has such a broad range of experience on topics related to this subject,” said Dr. Michael J. Kryzanek, director of global studies and executive director of international engagement.
Ms. Reddy-Smith’s 29-year career in the U.S. Department of State, serving long tours in the Middle East and Europe, gives her ample qualifications to speak on this subject. Her overseas experience began in Islamabad, Pakistan, where she served from 1982 to 1984 as the trade and commercial officer at the U.S. embassy there. "It was a challenging place to be, but, for me, it was my most wonderful tour, because the people I met in Pakistan treated me so well."
The job also took her to an unstable Bosnia after the civil war had wracked that nation. “Among my duties there was monitoring the reconstruction there,” she said. “All foreign service officers have one conflict they describe as ‘their war,’ and Bosnia was mine.”
All together, half her years in foreign service were spent overseas, in countries like Belgium, Brussels, France and Italy, where she picked up Italian and French and learned from diverse cultures. She even earned a couple master’s degrees: one in public administration from Harvard University, and another in science and national security studies from the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I.
Ms. Reddy-Smith retired in 2009, but still does occasional work for foreign service.
A Dream Job
Working in foreign service was “a dream job” for Ms. Reddy-Smith. She had wanted the gig since she was a young girl, growing up in humble circumstances in North Quincy. In fact, she was only ten when she discovered what would become her life’s work, while reading about Allison Palmer, a foreign service officer, in Parade magazine.
“I walked into the kitchen and said to my mother, ‘I’m going to be a foreign service officer.’ And from that moment forward, I directed all my planning and energy toward that goal. I geared my whole life toward that objective,” she said.
She earned her first master’s in foreign service from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., but instead of applying to the Department of State right away, went into the world of finance, working at a bank, under court order to hire more women, then the Federal Reserve in D.C. for four years.
Then, it was time to focus on her dream. “It was very difficult to get into the foreign service, but I had determined not to postpone my plans any longer,” she said.
Thus, Ms. Reddy-Smith took the written, oral and physical exams for a foreign service position, and was one of the two percent admitted out of the roughly 50,000 that apply each year. The rest is history.
Joys of Public Service
Ms. Reddy-Smith’s path to BSU began when she read an article on tolerance by Dr. Kryzanek in The Patriot Ledger. “I thought it was wonderful and I called him to express my admiration for the article,” she said. "One thing led to another and that's how I became diplomat-in-residence."
Now, she talks with students about what she describes as “the joys of being in public service” and will teach several classes on how to acquire and improve negotiating skills.
Ms. Reddy-Smith said that the current efforts to make the university more global are, in fact, what she refers to as the “resurfacing of Bridgewater’s roots.”
In the late 1830s, each of BSU’s three founders -- John Quincy Adams, Horace Mann and Daniel Webster -- established strong relations with foreign nations, she said. “They embraced multiculturalism and promoted vigorously more extensive global connections which now, 170-plus years later, are fundamental to the university’s mission,” she said.
She hopes to promote that same global mission. “It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to share what I’ve learned about forging a career in a very competitive field and achieving goals that, at times, may appear too difficult to surmount,” she said. “If you’re passionate enough and committed enough, I believe most of us can do that. If I can help Bridgewater students in that direction, my time here will have been well-spent indeed.” (David K. Wilson. ’71, University Advancement)