For an indication of the advantages of studying history please see our interview with Juan Debesa (BA, 2020) who was awarded the highly competitive Foreign Affairs Information Technology Fellowship and who will automatically begin a career with the State Department upon the completion of his graduate studies.
- Tell us about your career aspirations and how this fellowship fits in.
Growing up in Cuba, I remember vividly the profound and positive impression that a Foreign Service Officer left in my life when my mother and I claimed political asylum in the U.S embassy in Havana. Since that day, the thought of selfless individuals, who are willing to undergo hardship and challenges to help those in need, advance the ideals of democracy, and bring unity and cultural understanding globally, motivated me to pursue a career path where I could be a part of that process. My passion for exploring and interacting with foreign cultures that share unique and diverse perspectives has also led me to pursue a career with the Foreign Service. I have also always enjoyed learning and working with technology and recognize that it is a field that will come to dominate most if not all aspects of our lives in the years to come. To this extent, the FAIT fellowship allows me to bridge both passions together: technology and diplomacy within the field of public service.
- What inspired you to become a history major in the first place?
From a very young age, I always had a passion for adventure. Growing up my favorite movies featured Indiana Jones and I even dreamed of someday becoming an archeologist. As I progressed through school however, my interests continued to evolve but the classes I enjoyed most were always history and geography. I distinctly remember how passionate and knowledgeable all my history teachers were and this undoubtedly weighed on my decision to become a history major, alongside the fact that history truly incorporates all aspects of the humanities field: from anthropology and geography, to art and religion, the study of history provides simultaneously a narrow and broad lens into the past, present, and future which I have found to be incredibly enriching in both terms of personal and professional values.
- What do you think it is about studying history that made you attractive to the State Department, especially as most of your fellow awardees for this information technology fellowship seem to be engineering or computer science graduates?
Upon completion of this fellowship and meeting State Department requirements, I will receive an appointment as an Information Management Specialist. In recent years, the role of an IMS has increasingly become more outwardly focused. Although the main aspects of I.T responsibilities remain, the duties have evolved and include directly engaging with the diplomats at the forefront by providing technological solutions to their arsenal in order for their work to be done more effectively and efficiently. This requires not only the stereotypical foundation in I.T. but also skill sets that include bridging the connection between technology and its users. In order to do this effectively, you need excellent communication and writing skills, analytical and quantitative skills, research, and project management skills. All of which a history degree equips an individual with. The ability to synthesize information, make informed decisions, and communicate effectively while working as part of a team, is exactly what my history degree at FIU prepared me to achieve.
- How do you think the Department of History has helped you prepare for the challenges ahead?
The history department at FIU has provided me with the tools necessary to succeed in graduate school and subsequently in my worldwide appointment with the Foreign Service. By providing expert instructors in their respective fields, to the broad availability of courses with varied topics, I have expanded my educational, cultural, and global knowledge. Most importantly, as previously mentioned, my skills-set has been refined and I am confident that the writing and communication skills I was taught, alongside the research and analytical methods practiced in my history classes will be beneficial when working on projects and assignments abroad.
- What experiences beyond the classroom led you to this career and fellowship?
Actions speak louder than words. And in my case, I made a real effort during my undergraduate career to take full advantage of everything FIU had to offer. To this extent, I was an intern with the Jean Monnet Center of Excellence at FIU – where I was able to broaden my knowledge of international relations and diplomacy whilst actively participating in events that regularly hosted diplomats, chambers of commerce, trade commissions, and even a European delegation with representatives from most E.U member states to FIU, all of whom promoted knowledge and cooperation between Europe and the U.S in our local community. I also participated in a fully funded internship at the Library of Congress hosted by HACU – Hispanic National Internship Program. During my time at the LOC, I worked as a Program Assistant with the Internship and Fellowship Programs division. This internship allowed me to develop my technical skills as I worked with remote databases and systems, led data visualization projects, and created program management tools to aid the efficacy of the division. In addition, I have also travelled to more than sixteen countries in order to experience first-hand our rich and complex global culture and engage with individuals of diverse backgrounds. FIU and the History Department truly helped me achieve my academic and career goals. Therefore, I urge all students to take advantage of the many services, programs, and internships FIU offers on campus and beyond.
- What would you say to prospective students who may be discouraged from pursuing the study of history because of the perception that the discipline is somehow “old-fashioned” and “less relevant” to the STEM-dominated world of academia?
I extend an invitation to join the History Department at FIU – where they will learn from a leading class of faculty whilst acquiring and refining skills which can be transferable to any discipline, including STEM fields. Careers and professions are increasingly becoming more outwardly focused. As such, potential candidates and new hires that bring energy, diversity, and different perspectives are invaluable to any company. A degree in history implements all of this and beyond and will qualify you to pursue a multitude of career options.