Southeast Missouri State University alumnus Jacob McCleland always wanted a job that would allow him to travel the world while serving his country. McCleland will see his lifelong dream soon come true when he begins a new career as a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. Department of State in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Foreign Service Officers work around the world at United States embassies and multilateral organizations. McCleland, a 2000 Southeast graduate with a double major in anthropology and Spanish and a Cobden, Illinois, native, will spend two years in his first assignment to Israel.
“Foreign Service Officers serve as diplomats in United States embassies around the world. We have worldwide availability, meaning we could be sent anywhere in the world,” he said. “Before leaving the United States, I will take several months of Hebrew language classes. I will also undergo training for my job functions.”
Most Foreign Service Officers serve as consular officers during their first tour. Consular officers work on visa adjudication and provide services to American citizens overseas. After he completes his tour in Tel Aviv, McCleland hopes to have the opportunity to work as a public diplomacy officer.
“Public diplomacy officers have several responsibilities within an embassy, including press relations, cultural programs, outreach and exchange programs,” he said.
Southeast’s programs and faculty provided him the linguistic skills and cultural adaptability for becoming a Foreign Service Officer, McCleland said.
“My anthropology professor, Dr. Warren Anderson, was my favorite professor at Southeast, and he opened my eyes to a world beyond our borders and to the fascinating dynamics that culture plays in our lives,” he said. “He was warm and funny, and cared about his students’ success.”
McCleland says he was inspired to become a Foreign Service Officer during his work with the Peace Corps in 2000-2003 in Panama.
During his three years with the Peace Corps, McCleland worked on sustainable agriculture projects in a rural village that had neither electricity nor a road. During his final year, he hosted and produced an agricultural radio program. He often interacted with U.S. Foreign Service Officers.
“Foreign Service Officers serving at the embassy in Panama City would often invite Peace Corps volunteers to stay at their homes,” he said. “I was impressed with their breadth of knowledge about international issues.”
McCleland returned to Cape Girardeau after serving with the Peace Corps, and worked for KRCU, southeast Missouri’s National Public Radio (NPR) station broadcasting from Southeast’s campus, for 11 years.
“I was always interested in radio and media as a child. As a freshman at Southeast, I got a job as an announcer on KRCU. I worked there until I graduated and joined the Peace Corps. After my Peace Corps service ended, KRCU hired me as a full-time employee,” McCleland said.
McCleland fulfilled many roles and responsibilities while at KRCU, including Morning Edition host, reporter and producer, and managing a small team of intern student reporters. In 2013, he joined KGOU public radio in Norman, Oklahoma, as their news director.
“I managed the station’s reporters and served as their editor,” McCleland said. “I would also do my own reporting, and my stories were heard on national programs.”
His more than 10 years as a radio journalism helped prepare him for his new duties as a Foreign Service Officer, he said.
“It honed my communication skills and gave me the ability to write quickly and concisely,” he said.
McCleland’s career has been full of variety and learning. He advises current students not to limit themselves to small dreams. That advice has carried him far and will continue to do so around the world.