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Q & A: Meet Korbel’s New Diplomat in Residence

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Courtland Matthews

Communications Manager, Josef Korbel School of International Studies

Denver Herren

The Korbel School continues its longstanding relationship with the U.S. Department of State to house a Diplomat in Residence for the Rocky Mountains region. We are excited to welcome James Denver Herren to the Korbel community! While at Korbel, he will provide advice to all University of Denver students on fellowships, internships, and careers with the Foreign Service. Before coming to Colorado, he served as the Management Counselor for the U. S. Embassy in Iraq.  His other assignments included serving as the Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy The Bahamas, and assignments in Belgium, Haiti, Oman, Mongolia, Zambia, and New Zealand. Prior to becoming a Foreign Service Officer, he worked a variety of jobs from a police officer to a foreman on an Alaskan floating fish processor. Mr. Herren has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Master of Arts in American Studies from Northeastern State University in Oklahoma.

What made you interested in serving with the State Department? Is there anything in your background that led you to that career path? 

I am the first member of my family to go to college.  As a high school graduate, I really had no interest in going to college, in international travel, or even moving outside of Oklahoma. This was in the 1980s and it was soon evident that the model that was successful for my father was not realistic for me. My father worked in a factory for over 20 years and was able to provide a good life for our family. By the mid 1980s, these types of opportunities for high school graduates were starting to dry up. I soon realized that I needed a new plan and decided to go to college. Initially, I was not prepared for the change in lifestyle, and it took a while for me to finish my undergraduate degree. I became interested in the State Department after a Diplomat in Residence visited my university. I was intrigued by the unique opportunities offered by the State Department and the possibility of a career in public service. Not many jobs allow you to move every few years but keep progressing within an organization, building equity and seniority while also having the flexibility to reinvent yourself. 

What do you consider your most challenging posts? What lessons did you take away from the experience? 

I have served in a variety of posts over the years that have been both difficult and rewarding. Haiti and Iraq were challenging due to safety and security threats and the developing nature of the host countries. One benefit of these obstacles is that it made all of us on the mission team bond and develop strong lasting relationships. The main lesson I have learned from every assignment is that despite cultural differences, people are people.   

What advice do you have for students that may be interested in a career with the State Department? 

There is not one clear path to serving in the Foreign Service. I have worked with outstanding people from almost every academic discipline. Some of the best officers I served with were not successful in their first attempts to enter the Foreign Service. My advice is to study something that you enjoy. When applying to the Foreign Service, do not be discouraged if you are not initially successful. Perseverance pays off.

What will be your role and connection to Korbel students?

The Diplomat in Residence program is in a bit of transition. The pandemic caused a shift in how the State Department views recruitment. We have seen that we can reach many students virtually, but also recognize the need for personal interactions. Over the next two years, my role will likely evolve. I plan to have set office hours on campus and will conduct in-person and virtual sessions on a diverse array of topics pertaining to careers in the Foreign Service. As a Diplomat in Residence, I cover a large region and will often be traveling, but I want to ensure that I have time for anyone that wants to discuss the the Department of State.

Anything else that you would like to mention?

I am thrilled to be here.  I look forward to hearing from students about how I can help. I have spent most of the last 23 years abroad and have enjoyed every minute of it. One thing to point out. While you may see my name listed as James Denver Herren, I actually go by Denver. It may seem strange now that I am at DU, but I have gone by Denver my whole life and don’t think I can change!