Retired U.S. ambassador joins SIA faculty

SIA professor and retired U.S. Ambassador Joseph DeThomas
SIA professor and retired U.S. Ambassador Joseph DeThomas Credit: Mary Szmolko

Joseph DeThomas is ready to give back. The Penn State grad, retired U.S. Ambassador, and incoming School of International Affairs professor, never expected to be teaching at Penn State. However, when the opportunity arrived, he barely needed time to consider joining the SIA faculty.

“I knew right away and really wanted to come back to Penn State,” said DeThomas, who served as U.S. ambassador to Estonia from 2001 to 2004. “It felt so right to be able to give back to Penn State and the students here, after Penn State gave me my education. This sort of balances my imaginary account, in terms of what Penn State gave me, and now it’s my turn to give.”

DeThomas will start teaching Weapons of Mass Destruction and International Security (INTAF 597A) at SIA in the fall of 2015. .

After a 29-year career in the Foreign Service, DeThomas has spent the past five years working in Washington, D.C., as a government consultant, advising on the issues of arms control and weapons of mass destruction.

Because of his foreign service and consulting experience, DeThomas feels he can teach students about international issues from the practitioner’s viewpoint.

“In international affairs, there is a divide between academic theory and practical application,” he said. “I want to show students how to take the benefits from the academic side, and blend them with a human side and how those theories are practiced in the field.”

DeThomas met some SIA students when they visited Washington recently on a career exposure trip. The students impressed him with their level of engagement, curiosity, and knowledge in international affairs careers.

Already, he feels a responsibility to the students to help them build their resume and build their reputation. He wants to arm them with not only knowledge, but practical experience. Since he’s lived and worked in Washington, he wants to use his connections and experience to help SIA students.

“I’ve been thinking about how to get these students seen in this world,” he said. “I want to prepare them, and help them to be the best they can be, and to get jobs in international affairs.”

DeThomas spent 32 years in the U.S. State Department. In addition to has Ambassadorship in Estonia, he served abroad in Austria, Ethiopia, Germany, Iran, and Mexico. . He also held numerous positions in Washington over the course of three decades. This included two years of service as deputy assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation from 1999 to 2001 as well as a number of other positions that dealt primarily with proliferation sensitive countries including India, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Pakistan.

DeThomas served on the faculty of the National War College from 2004 to 2006. He received Meritorious and Superior Honor Awards for non-proliferation innovations, humanitarian contributions, and management as well as a group award for valor for service in Tehran, Iran.

After retiring from government service in 2006, he directed international science engagement programs in more than 20 countries at CRDF Global.

He returned to service in the U.S. Department of State from 2010 until February 2013 as an adviser. There, he worked primarily on Iran and North Korea, implementing sanctions and attempting to impede the weapons of mass destruction efforts of those two countries.

DeThomas joins Professor Dennis Jett as the second retired U.S. ambassador on the SIA faculty. Jett served as ambassador to Mozambique from 1993 to 1996 and ambassador to Peru from 1996 to 1999.