This quarter we connected with RFG Alumna, Allie Carter Olson (Maxwell 2016), who currently serves as the Public Diplomacy Desk Officer for Central Europe at the U.S. Department of State. Her position resides within the Press and Public Diplomacy Office in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. In this position, Allie supports the work of the public diplomacy sections in U.S. Embassies in Central Europe, connecting them to resources and information in the broader State Department. She also brings directives, resources, and information from Washington, DC to her hard-working colleagues in the field. Having worked at the State Department for more than 6.5 years, including two previous positions at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown, Sierra Leone and the U.S. Consulate General in Monterrey, Mexico, Allie shares what inspired her public service journey, the factors that led her to work in public diplomacy, and some of her favorite moments of her career thus far.
Allie’s desire for a career in public service came from her parents, both of whom had public service careers. Allie recounts, “My mom was a public-school teacher and my dad worked as a laboratory technician in a hospital.” Speaking about her father, Allie adds that he was in one of the first classes of Peace Corps volunteers, a program that Allie would serve in as well in the country of Burkina Faso. Thinking of her parents, Allie commented, “I really admired both of them for their dedication to making the world a better place.”
When it came to considering public diplomacy as a field of focus, Allie speaks about how her experience in Burkina Faso with the U.S. Peace Corps merged with her background as a community organizer with the ACLU of Illinois, making a career in public diplomacy and global outreach very appealing. She especially appreciated the prospect of forging strong interpersonal connections as someone in this field. As she states, “Human connections—the bread and butter of the public diplomacy world—shape our national relationships and our ability to respond in a crisis. They also expand our moral imagination so that we can make progress for everyone.”
Reflecting on her career with the U.S. Department of State, Allie shares how over the years she has really valued the opportunities to work on taskforces. Allie assisted with the repatriation of Americans during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. She also served on a taskforce in support of the U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan. Thinking about her taskforce experiences, Allie states, “Those moments—when my skills and experience can really help out an individual or family—have been so powerful.” She also shares how she has enjoyed the sense of comradery between taskforce members, and sometimes the inconceivably fast pace of the work.
Separate from her work on State Department taskforces, Allie greatly enjoyed her previous role in support of the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. In that position, Allie had the opportunity to work on space diplomacy, helping build the rules of the road for the future of space exploration. She recounts, “I really enjoyed contributing to the construction of the international coalition for the peaceful, cooperative exploration of outer space.” She also noted how much she enjoyed being creative in their office’s outreach efforts, which included having the astronauts on the International Space Station record a video in support of their diplomacy efforts!
When we asked Allie about a project she is particularly proud of during her time at the State Department, she spoke about a specific strategic dialogue. “Strategic dialogues tend to be rather staid affairs,” Allie explained. “They involve diplomats talking at (and sometimes if you are lucky, with) each other in small conference rooms.” A recent dialogue with a country in Allie’s portfolio was shaping up to be no different. However, since the dialogue had very high-level representatives from both nations available, Allie decided that they should include some public diplomacy elements to reinforce the objectives of the event. This involved adding a concluding celebration of the long history of diplomatic relations between the two nations, the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on how the two countries would work together to combat disinformation, and the arranging of press to cover the dialogue. The end result was a very successful strategic dialogue that reinforced the bilateral relationship between the two countries and kept the public informed about their collaborative efforts. This experience is not only a source of pride for Allie, but also demonstrates the influence that public diplomacy can have in international relations.
As Allie continues to enjoy her incredible public diplomacy career at the U.S. Department of State, she encourages other RFG Fellows and Alumni to consider working for the State Department. “I think State is a fantastic career,” Allie exclaims. “Getting to represent my country abroad is like no other job.” As she recounts, “My words and ideas have made their way up to be spoken by the Secretary of State and the President, which feels pretty great!” She also underscores that there are career paths both through the Foreign Service and Civil Service that can be the right fit for you and your family.
For those interested in working at the State Department, Allie states that previous international experience is huge. “You need to be able to explain how you adapt and work in new environments and contexts and demonstrate your ability to be flexible.” She also shares how internships with the State Department or similar agencies can be pivotal. “My internship with the Millennium Challenge Corporation in Senegal gave me a great view into the inner workings of a U.S. Embassy,” Allie recalls. “That experience taught me how all the pieces fit together—from the Political/Economic section down to the motor pool—to advance the U.S. objectives in that country.”
When reflecting on her preparations for a career in the State Department, Allie is grateful for her time as a RFG Fellow. She states, “I simply would not be where I am today without RFG.” As Allie explains, “Without RFG, I would not have been able to earn my MPA/MAIR degrees at the Maxwell School and I would not have made the connections to other Maxwell and RFG Alumni here at the State Department.” These factors, according to Allie, “changed my life and the lives of my family members.”
As she looks to her future in Public Diplomacy with the State Department, Allie states that she is hoping to head back out to an overseas Embassy for her next tour. She recently took a State Department leadership class and is working to transition from being a “doer of things” to a “manager of the people who do the things.” As Allie explains, “It’s a different mindset and I’d like to take on further leadership responsibilities.” She also shared that one of her goals is to advance the Department’s DEIA effort wherever she can. “I think our diplomacy is most powerful when it’s rooted in our strengths—and high amongst them is the diversity of the American people,” Allie concludes. “I want to find ways to keep pushing the Department to be more inclusive, more accessible, and more representative of what makes our nation great.”