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DU-educated diplomat returns to work with students

"The University has made so much progress since I left here, and the quality of the students and the programs are better," says alumnus Robert Perito. "The whole focus of the University is so improved." Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Robert Perito (BA international studies ’64) brought his many years of experience as a diplomat back to DU when he visited the Graduate School of International Studies (GSIS) spring quarter. Perito spoke to GSIS students about his career, worked closely with them in the classroom and delivered a lecture about the challenges facing the United States.

A Denver native, Perito spent most of his career working as a Foreign Service officer in the U.S. State Department. Currently a senior program officer for the U.S. Institute of Peace, Perito worked as an adviser to the Iraq Study Group.

He recently spoke to DU reporter Nathan Solheim about his time at the University and re-connecting with his alma mater.

Q: How did your degree help you in your career?

A: The work I did here led directly to my life’s work. As an international relations major, I became a career diplomat after graduation. After DU, I went to Columbia University graduate school. Then I went into the Peace Corps and then into the Foreign Service and State Department where I spent my career.

Q: Why come back to DU and work with current GSIS students and international studies majors?

A: It’s a great honor to be invited back. I think everybody would like to return to their alma mater. This was an opportunity that I thought was really unique and not to be missed. The University has made so much progress since I left here, and the quality of the students and the programs are better. The whole focus of the University is so improved.

Q: How important is it for alumni to engage with their alma mater as part of their professional lives?

A: It’s great for the person who’s left the University and is working, but it’s good for students to have direct contact with practitioners in the field. It’s a win-win if you can create those kind of programs. It’s not easy and it takes effort, but it pays dividends.

Q: What’s changed since you left?

A: The building program in the last decade or so has transformed the campus. It’s world-class now. When I was here, half the campus was downtown. Half my fraternity brothers got up in the morning and drove to class. I went across the street to campus. It was not very cohesive. There were problems creating an on-campus environment—all that’s gone now. DU has really come of age.

Q: What advice do you have for current DU students as they start their careers?

A: In the 1960s, the government expanded because of the Vietnam War, the war on poverty and the war on drugs. The Democratic administrations of the 1960s engaged the government in ways that it had never been engaged before. The federal bureaucracy grew exponentially and so a lot of people came into the government. Those people, like myself, are at the end of their careers. There’s a huge need for people in Washington—for people with skills, education and energy to come and literally take our places. In the foreign policy area, this is particularly acute. Over the last 10 years, the civilian agencies in the government engaged in foreign policy—the State Department, the CIA—have been drawn down, and now there’s an enormous need for civilian personnel.”

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