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New Diplomat in Residence aims to ‘inform and inspire’

Sherry Zalika Sykes, the Diplomat in Residence for the program’s newly formed Allegheny region, said her goal in her new role is to “inform and inspire” people.

“I’m here to inspire people who might not otherwise think of themselves as foreign affairs professionals to think about themselves in that way,” Sykes, who is based out of Pitt’s David C. Frederick Honors College, said.

The role of a DIR is to inform students and the community of careers and opportunities within the State Department, according to Pilar Quigua, Media Affairs Officer for all of the Diplomats in Residence. Each Diplomat in Residence covers a specific geographic region in the United States and is based in a host university within that region. 

The State Department formed the new DIR region consisting of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia this year. Sykes, the first to serve as DIR of the region, said she will be participating in campus events, career fairs and other happenings with the public to raise awareness about careers at the state department.

Sykes will mark 24 years working in the State Department this January. According to Sykes, she has spent roughly half of her assignments overseas in management roles such as serving as a human resource officer or managing an entire embassy. Sykes said she spent the other half of her career in broad leadership positions, such as when she served for eight years as an environmental affairs diplomat.

Nicola Foote, Dean of the Honors College, said she is delighted for Pitt to have the new Diplomat in Residence.

“We are so incredibly thrilled — and honored — to have been selected as the host institution for this prestigious State Department program,” Foote said.

The State Department chooses host institutions based on their ability to support the diplomat along with their geographic location within the region, according to Sykes.

Previously, the New York Metro region used to include Pennsylvania, the North Central region used to include Ohio, and the DC Metro region used to include West Virginia. Sykes said creating the new DIR Allegheny region of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia will benefit people in the area.

“When you create a smaller region, we have the opportunity to have more time with more institutions in the region who otherwise might not have the opportunity to speak with a real live diplomat,” Sykes said. “Everyone can go to the website and read. It’s another thing to talk to someone who has lived experiences.”

Sykes said she hopes the creation of the new DIR area will allow the State Department to form a deeper connection with the region.

Previously, Pennsylvania was in a DIR region that included New York. Because of this, the DIR for the area was primarily based in the Colin Powell School of International Affairs at the City University of New York, according to Foote. Foote said Kyra Brooks, the DIR for Pennsylvania’s previous region, could only visit Pitt about twice a year. 

“In this new model, Ms. Sykes will be able to be present 10 days per month, allowing a significantly greater range of mentoring opportunities for our students,” Foote said.

While Sykes is specifically supported by the Honors College, she said her role is not limited to any one department at Pitt.

Sykes said she recently met with various individuals in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, has plans to meet with the Dean of the School of Nursing, and is setting up other meetings with individuals at the School of Engineering and the School of Computing and Information.

Most people “don’t have much of a notion” about the range of careers within foreign service, according to Sykes.

“We have the doctors and nurses who staff our medical units,” Sykes said. “We have the people who manage all of our real estate, our human resource officers, our IT specialists, our diplomatic security agents, our engineers, our librarians and the list can just keep going.”

Daniel Timmerman, the president of the Political Science Student Association, said he looks forward to sharing the opportunity of having a Diplomat in Residence at Pitt with his organization.

“I believe that having this resource is a fantastic opportunity, not just for students in political science, but for all sorts of fields,” Timmerman, a senior political science and economics major, said. “Having a direct, experienced contact at Pitt that can provide career guidance and opportunities in foreign service will be of great use to the community.”

Sykes’ presence is a “huge and transformative benefit” for Pitt students, according to Foote.

“Students will be able to receive dedicated mentoring and guidance from an esteemed national leader, and will be supported in applying for state department internships and competitive fellowships such as the Pickering,” Foote said.

Sykes said her door is “wide open” to not just Pitt students, but the community as well.

“I’m here to serve students and to help students to succeed,” Sykes said. “But I’m also here to speak to the entire community.”

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