Pitt alumni discuss their careers in international affairs


Screenshots via Zoom

Students met with Pitt alumni Dereck Hogan (right), the U.S. ambassador to Moldova, and Megan Oates (left), deputy director of the U.S Department of State, on Wednesday morning over Zoom.

By Punya Bhasin, For The Pitt News

Megan Oates took the backwards-walking skills she learned as a Pathfinder all the way to the State Department.

Oates, the deputy director of the U.S. Department of State, said the relationships she built as a Pathfinder greatly helped her career.

“I loved being a Pathfinder for a number of reasons, but mostly because I was able to build relationships on a small scale everyday, which really helped me when I had to transition these skills onto a larger, more important scale,” Oates said.

Students met with Pitt alumni Dereck Hogan, the U.S. ambassador to Moldova, and Oates on Wednesday morning over Zoom, through the University Honors College alumni network chat series. Hogan and Oates discussed how Pitt helped propel their careers in international affairs, and they offered advice to current students looking to break into the field.

Hogan graduated from Pitt in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in politics and philosophy. After graduation, he participated in a foreign affairs fellowship at Princeton University. He then joined the U.S. Foreign Service Corps where he served in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Belarus, Russia, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and now in Moldova.

Hogan said while he knew he wanted to join the foreign services at a young age, he didn’t know how he would get there. He said he initially planned to go to law school, but the fellowship opportunity changed his course of action and led him to his career in foreign service.

“The opportunity to join the foreign service through a number of steps was first made known to me by the Honors College, and it helped me to fulfill all the steps to obtain what is now called the Pickering Fellowship,” Hogan said.

Hogan said his time in foreign service gave him the experience in foreign policy and government relations that he always wanted. He served as a director for Northern and Central European affairs and also said he worked closely with two Secretaries of State where he “helped promote U.S. interests abroad.”

Hogan said he recommends that students recognize that their well-crafted plans for the future can always change.

“Be ready to get off your plan, because there may be other opportunities out there that you were not aware of,” Hogan said. “By learning something completely different, it gives you a different way of thinking, a different way of intellectually processing things and can really open your eyes up to even more options in your life.”

Oates graduated from Pitt in 2003 with a bachelor of philosophy in political science and sociology. After graduation, she attended the University of Chicago where she studied public policy, and then later joined the Presidential Management Fellowship as a start to her career in government.

Oates said she also shifted her original career goals. She said a study abroad trip to Mexico where she taught English in a public high school changed her perspective about what she wanted to do with her career.

“I was there taking classes during the day and teaching English from 5 to 8 p.m. at night,” Oates said. “What struck me was how difficult it must be for a student in a class of 65 people without a textbook to learn by solely relying on a volunteer teacher from abroad for one semester.”

Oates said her study abroad led her down a path of public service and helped her discover her passion for international politics.

“This experience started my interest in international politics and how each country’s governments really play a role in the opportunities that are available to citizens,” Oates said. “This experience shaped me away from law and more into public policy.”

Oates said students need to be flexible and that trying new things is what ultimately allowed her to succeed and what she recommends students do as well.

“By being open to ideas that you may not have necessarily planned, you allow yourself the ability to learn more about what is the right path for you,” Oates said. “By trying new things, it may change your mind or reaffirm your plans, which can be helpful to determining the way you direct your life path.”

Hogan said he recommends students learn writing and public speaking before they enter into any career field.

“I would say writing and public speaking are two very important aspects to not only the State Department, but to any career,” Hogan said. “We live and die on the written word and we use that to persuade others to follow our suggestions.”

Clare Stich, the manager of constituent relations for the Honors College, said this series helps connect current Pitt students to successful alumni.

“These alumni chat events help encourage students to find examples of their desired path within the large network of University of Pittsburgh alumni,” Stitch said. “It helps them see not only the possibility of achieving their goals, but also the boost of connections to set themselves on the right path to success.”

Oates said while the perfect job doesn’t exist, you learn from each one — good or otherwise.

“You’re not always going to find the perfect job or a job where all aspects make you happy,” Oates said. “But you’re going to learn from each job and each opportunity what you like to do, and then you can look for for those aspects in the future.”