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US foreign service officer discusses Ukraine with ASU students and faculty

Foreign Service Officer Tom Wotka standing at the front of a classroom speaking.

U.S. Foreign Service Officer Tom Wotka spoke to students in ASU Instructor Charles Ripley’s global politics course on Feb. 7. Photo courtesy Matt Oxford

February 10, 2023

As the effects of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine continue to be felt the world over, especially when it comes to economics, Arizona State University’s Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies and the School of Politics and Global Studies hosted U.S. Foreign Service Officer Tom Wotka on Feb. 7 to answer student and community member questions about U.S. foreign policy.

“Tom Wotka’s visit provided an opportunity to learn more about the State Department’s role in supporting the Ukrainian people and holding Russia accountable, ”said Keith Brown, director of the Melikian Center.

Wotka, the Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus unit lead in the Office of Eastern European Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, spoke with various groups of students and faculty, discussing his 14-year career in foreign service, the U.S. foreign policy in Eastern Europe and Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Two days before his visit to the Tempe campus, Wotka spoke with Ukrainian refugees and supporters in the Phoenix metro area. Patience Huntwork, a member of the Melikian Center’s advisory board and staff attorney at the Arizona Supreme Court, attended the event, hosted by Cactus and Tryzub, a Ukrainian advocacy organization in the East Valley of Maricopa County, Arizona.

“Mr. Wotka, responding to tough and often emotional questioning from ardent Ukraine supporters, represented the administration superbly,” Huntwork said. “He earned rousing applause for a presentation which emphasized listening as much as talking, avoided ‘government speak’ and was long on thoughtful, sincere and well-informed responses.”

During his time at ASU, Wotka shared with students in Instructor Charles Ripley’s global politics course the story of his own career path, which included a tour of duty in Iraq as a Marine Corps major and work as an investment banker. He joined the State Department out of commitment to service and conviction that effective diplomacy is vital alongside the use of military means. As well as fielding questions on the use of economic sanctions and the costs of assistance to Ukraine, he offered career advice for students interested in foreign service.

Wotka also later held a Q&A with a wide group of students ranging from undergraduate students to PhD candidates who had an interest in Ukraine, Russia and Eastern Europe.

“The meeting with Mr. Wotka was insightful both as a student of international relations and a future foreign service officer,” said Collin Frank, who is pursuing an accelerated master’s degree in political science and was recently awarded a Pickering Fellowship.

“I appreciate the administration's emphasis on public outreach about diplomacy and the value of diplomatic service,” Frank added. “I'm grateful for the opportunity to better understand Eastern Europe's geopolitical landscape.”

People seated at tables speaking in a classroom.

U.S. Foreign Service Officer Tom Wotka's met with faculty, students and board members from the Melikian Center during his visit to ASU. Photo courtesy Matt Oxford

Wotka’s visit was part of an ongoing effort from the Melikian Center and the School of Politics and Global Studies to build a relationship with the U.S. Department of State, providing opportunities for students to engage with professionals in the field.

In October of last year, they also hosted Matt Jacobs, a public affairs specialist at the State Department and an ASU global studies alum, for a conversation in a political science career development course.

Each semester, the School of Politics and Global Studies also hosts the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomat in Residence — Southwest, Antoinette Hurtado, where she discusses internship, fellowship and career opportunities.

Students that are interested in careers in diplomacy can study less commonly taught languages, including Ukrainian, at the Melikian Center’s Critical Languages Institute. They can also take courses from former ambassadors and high-ranking officials through the Policy Design Studio and Internship Program, as well as the ASU Online Master of Arts in International Affairs and Leadership — both of which are a partnership with the ASU Leadership, Diplomacy and National Security Lab.

“We want our students to see the connections between theory and practice, and to see how our degrees prepare them to be leaders in a range of fields,” said Magda Hinojosa, director of the School of Politics and Global Studies. “Bringing real-world experts, like Tom Wotka, into our classrooms and our online courses is a point of pride for the School of Politics and Global Studies.“

People posing for a group photo holding American and Ukranian flags.

A Feb. 5 roundtable with U.S. Foreign Service Officer Tom Wotka was hosted by Cactus and Tryzub, a Ukrainian advocacy organization in the East Valley of Maricopa County, Arizona. Photo courtesy Irene Amrine, founder of Cactus and Tryzub. Photo by Sven Olson

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