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Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI) Conference 2023

April 6, 2023

 Panel 1:  Bet You Didn't Know This Was Diplomacy! Science, Sports, and Music Diplomacy 


Gaïna Dávila
Policy Advisor for Africa, Bureau of Oceans
and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs

Gaïna Dávila joined the State Department in 2014 and has served in Washington, D,C., Bangladesh, and the eastern Caribbean. Most recently, she worked as the public affairs officer at U.S. Embassy Conakry in Guinea and now serves as the policy advisor for Africa in the Bureau of Oceans and  International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

Prior to joining the State Department, Dávila served as the communications director for Haiti in Transition (H.i.T), a nonprofit organization that aimed to develop sustainable means of empowering Haiti’s youth and future leaders. She is also the co-founder of Dávila Kafe, a specialty coffee company.

Dávila holds a bachelor’s degree in foreign policy and a master’s degree in international communications from American University. She speaks French, Haitian Creole, and Spanish. Dávila is currently based in  Washington, D.C., with her husband and son.





Julia Gómez-Nelson Program Officer for Performing Arts Exchanges, Cultural Programs Division, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

Julia Gómez-Nelson is currently a program officer in the Cultural Programs Division with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). She specializes in performing arts exchanges and created the OneBeat and Center Stage programs.  She joined ECA in 2004 as a special assistant and senior advisor on cultural diplomacy for the deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Professional and Cultural Exchanges. Prior to joining ECA, Gómez-Nelson was a program manager for special initiatives at the National Endowment for the Arts, launching the Shakespeare in American Communities theater program. Before joining the federal government, Gómez-Nelson worked in arts management at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. She holds a master’s degree in historic preservation from Georgia State University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College.












Kalisha Holmes,
Former Program Officer, Sports Diplomacy, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

Kalisha Holmes has been a Foreign Service officer since 2014. She is currently studying Swahili at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute in preparation for an upcoming assignment as the spokesperson at U.S. Embassy Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Prior to this assignment, she served as a Sports Diplomacy program officer, managing the Sports Envoy program that sends professional athletes and coaches overseas to work with U.S. embassies and consulates on short-term exchanges and as the department’s primary liaison for professional North America-based sports leagues and Team USA. Holmes has previously served as a consular officer in Lagos, Nigeria, and in Beijing, China, as both a consular and public diplomacy officer. At U.S. Embassy Beijing, she served as the deputy director of the Beijing American Center, a public outreach center, where she coordinated public diplomacy programming for around 25,000 visitors a year. She has a bachelor’s degree in international relations from George Washington University and a master’s degree in public policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Holmes speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, is learning Kiswahili, and has some basic Spanish. In her free time, she enjoys traveling and playing sports and musical instruments. 


Panel 2: Ambassador All-Stars

Photo of Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, U.S. Department of State
Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, U.S. Department of State

Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley











Ambassador Rebecca E. Gonzales, Director, Office of Foreign Missions

Ambassador Rebecca E. Gonzales










Photo of Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Julieta Valls Noyes
Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Julieta Valls Noyes

Ambassador Julieta Valls Noyes











Michele J. Sison
Assistant Secretary Bureau of International Organization Affairs

Ambassador Michele J. Sison


Panel 3: A Path to Service, Policy, and Practice: A Conversation with Civil and Foreign Service Officers

Ebony K. Smith
Talent Recruitment Specialist, GTM/TAC/REC

Ebony Smith is an HR Professional with over 15 years of experience managing a wide range of issues such as processing complex staffing and placement requests as well as providing comprehensive advisory technical services.

Ebony received her Bachelor of Science with honors from Xavier University of Louisiana in 2002 and her Master of Education from the University of New Orleans before eventually becoming an Analyst for the New Orleans Police Department in 2004. In 2005, Ebony returned to the Washington, DC Metropolitan area where she accepted a position with Lockheed Martin working as a Contractor for FEMA’s Mitigation Division. During her tenure with FEMA, Ebony drafted and reviewed replies to congressional inquiries. 

In due course, Ebony accepted a position with the Department of State working in the Employee Relations Department. Though not working in her chosen field, Ebony was able to move up the ranks in the Department of State and gain exposure to various programs. She has worked as a Program Coordinator for the Pickering and Rangel Fellowship Programs in the Recruitment and Examination Branch, helping minority youth become Foreign Service Officers; as an HR Specialist in the Bureau of Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs working to staff domestic and overseas offices; as an HR Specialist for the Office of the Secretary’s Executive Director, which is the direct office servicing the Secretary of State and immediate staff; and as a Senior HR Specialist with the Office of the Chief of Protocol (S/CPR) where she performed duties associated with the provision of human resources and manpower for the bureau. Ebony also had a brief stent as Acting Executive Director directing day-to-day activities of the members of S/CPR’s Administrative Division. She currently works for GTM’s Office of Talent Acquisition as a Talent Recruitment Specialist, working to improve the external recruitment of talented, qualified, and diverse candidates to the Civil Service.


Darion K. Akins
Diplomat-in-Residence for D.C. Metro Area

Prior to this assignment, he served as the consul general at U.S. Consulate General Hamburg, Germany, and senior-ranking U.S. government official to northern Germany. His inaugural diplomatic posting was in Malaysia, where he served as a consular officer. Other overseas tours included India, Afghanistan, Australia, and Indonesia. After earning a master’s degree in national security strategy at the National War College in Washington, D.C., he served as the human resources division chief in the executive office for the bureaus of European and Eurasian Affairs and International Organization Affairs. Though born in Oklahoma, Akins calls Texas home. He solidified his Lone Star State status after graduating from Texas A&M University in College Station with a Bachelor of Science degree in political science. His languages are German, Japanese, and ChiNyanja.






Alice Chu
Director, Office of Taiwan Coordination, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

Alice Chu currently serves as the director of the Office of Taiwan Coordination in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. She has served at U.S. embassies in Warsaw, Poland (2016–2019), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (2007–2009), and Seoul, South Korea (2005–2006). Chu’s domestic assignments include tours in the Foreign Service Institute’s Leadership and Management School (2020–2022); as a Pearson Fellow in the U.S. Senate (2019–2020); as a policy officer for the Western Hemisphere in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (2014–2015); as division chief for East Asia and the Pacific as well as Europe and Eurasia regions in the Bureau of International Information Programs (2011–2014); and as public affairs officer in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (2009–2011). She has also served on the State Department’s interagency working groups for Cuba, Ukraine and the Young Leaders of America Initiative.

Prior to joining the Foreign Service in 2004, Chu taught intercultural communication as an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland University Center (a.k.a. University of Maryland Global Campus). She earned her master’s degree and doctorate in linguistic anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin, where she completed her dissertation on how Taiwan’s crisis discourses influenced the country’s 2000 presidential election. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with Bachelor of Science degrees in economics and psychology. 



Josué M. Barrera
Senior Advisor, Office of Policy, Planning and Resources
Under Secretariat for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

Josué M. Barrera is a senior advisor in the Office of Policy, Planning, and Resources for the Under Secretariat for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. He has held multiple positions since joining the State Department in 2007, including as a public affairs specialist in the Bureau of Public Affairs, recruiter in Global Talent Management, communications specialist for the Summit for the Americas in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, press officer in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, manager of the State Department’s Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program, senior advisor for diversity and inclusion, and retention advisor on the newly established Retention Unit in the Bureau of Global Talent Management. He began his federal career at the Office of Personnel Management as an intern through the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) National Internship Program.

Barrera is an active member and former vice president of the Hispanic Employee Council of Foreign Affairs Agencies. He is an alumnus of the University of Denver and Aspen Institute’s International Career Advancement Program (2012), and in 2015 he was selected as one of Huffington Post’s “40 under 40: Latinos in Foreign Affairs.” He holds a bachelor’s degree in mass media and religion from Houston Baptist University, an Master of Public Policy and Management degree from the University of Texas, Brownsville (now UTRGV), and a Master of Science degree from National Defense University’s Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy.  Barrera, his wife Gloria Romano-Barrera, and sons Zabdiel and Jerico reside in Accokeek, Maryland, where they are owner/operators of Glory Fields, a small-scale, sustainable flower, herb, and vegetable farm. 


Karen L. Brown Cleveland
Special Agent in Charge, Washington Field Office
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
Diplomatic Security Service

Karen L. Brown Cleveland is the special agent in charge (SAC) of the  Washington Field Office in the Domestic Operations Directorate, Bureau of  Diplomatic Security, Diplomatic Security Service. Brown Cleveland has 20 years of service with the State Department and most recently served as chief of the Project Coordination Division in the Countermeasures Directorate. Her prior assignments include deputy regional director for Africa in the High Threat Programs Directorate, deputy regional security officer in Nairobi, Kenya, and assistant special agent in charge in the San Francisco Field  Office. She also served on the protective detail for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in the New York Field Office and at U.S. embassies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Beirut, Lebanon; and Baghdad, Iraq. Brown Cleveland holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from Oakwood University and a  Master of Science in national security strategy from the National War College. 







Cassondra Searight
Diversity and Inclusion Officer
Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Diplomatic Security Service

Cassondra L. Searight is from Pembroke, North Carolina, and a member of the Lumbee Tribe. She began her employment with the Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security in December 2021 as the first full-time employee named as a diversity and inclusion officer. In this capacity, she oversees the organizational change and culture of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) within the bureau.

Searight started her federal career in the U.S. Navy and served roughly nine-and-a-half years. Her military service sent her to Italy, Sicily, Japan, and Mississippi to serve in various logistics and supply specialist roles. She has continued her public service through working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency and the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service in various roles, including human resources, EEO, civil rights, outreach, recruitment, DEIA, and more. 

Searight has a Master’s in Public Administration from Ashford University and a Master’s in Business Administration from George Mason University. She is also a Certified Diversity Professional (CDP®), the only nationally and globally certified accreditation on DEIA issues. Searight is a mother of three daughters, ages 20, 7, and 3 years old.


Panel 4: Ready to Represent? Practical Tips and Unique Opportunities to Launch a Career in Foreign Affairs

Renee H. Lee
Office of Global Communications Strategy
Acting Lead, Employee Communications
Bureau of Global Public Affairs

Renee H. Lee is the acting lead for employee communications and a member of the Office of Global Communications Strategy (GCS) in the Bureau of Global Public Affairs. In her employee communications capacity, Lee and her team coordinate internal communications initiatives. In her GCS capacity, she coordinates messaging efforts on high-level and cross-cutting issues to promote understanding of U.S. foreign policy priorities.

Prior to joining the federal government as a Presidential Management Fellow, Lee served as a public affairs officer (PAO) in the U.S. Air Force with assignments and deployments in the Pacific region. She continues to serve in uniform part-time as a PAO and foreign area officer specializing in northeast Asia in the District of Columbia Air National Guard. She has a bachelor’s degree in communication from the University of Washington and a master’s degree in public diplomacy from the University of Southern California. Lee has served on the board of the Asian American Foreign Affairs Association, Veterans@State and Pan-Pacific American Leaders and Mentors. She speaks Korean and French.  




Hermes Grullon
Political Officer, U.S. Mission to the OAS
President, Pickering and Rangel Fellows Association

Hermes Grullon has been a Foreign Service officer since 2015.  He serves as a political officer at the U.S. Mission to the Organization of American States (OAS) and will transition this summer to be a deputy course coordinator for Foreign Service orientation.  Prior assignments include serving as a watch officer in the 24/7 Operations Center, consular officer/acting deputy consul general at U.S. Embassy Managua, and political section chief at U.S. Embassy Djibouti.

A first-generation college graduate, Grullon completed his Bachelor of Arts at DePauw University, Master of Arts in international relations at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, and coursework at Howard University.  He is from Brooklyn, New York, born to Dominican immigrants, and married with two young children.  He was a Rangel Scholar, Pickering Fellow, Gilman Scholar, Institute for International Public Policy Fellow, and International Career Advancement Program Fellow.  He currently serves as the Pickering and Rangel Fellows Association president. 






Daniel Pattarini
Outreach Officer, USA Study Abroad
Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

A 14-year veteran of the Foreign Service, Daniel Pattarini is an outreach officer with the USA Study Abroad branch in the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, where he supports efforts to increase and diversify study-abroad opportunities for the U.S. higher education community.

Previously, Pattarini served as the public affairs officer in the Office of Foreign Missions and as an outreach officer in the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Office of Public and Congressional Affairs. He was the public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Luxembourg from 2016 to 2019, with responsibility for countrywide public diplomacy efforts. In 2014 and 2015, Pattarini served as the environment, science, technology and health officer at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.  From 2012 to 2014 he served in Cairo, Egypt, as an assistant cultural affairs officer and consular officer. Pattarini joined the State Department in 2009 and served two years as the deputy public affairs officer in Muscat, Oman. 

Before joining the Foreign Service, Pattarini worked for the Institute of International Education and as a middle school history teacher in Alexandria, Virginia. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in government from the College of William and Mary and a Master of Arts in international affairs from American University. He has studied Arabic and French. Born in New York, Pattarini has called Virginia home since he moved there as a child. He and his wife, Katy, have three college-aged children and a Labrador retriever.


Dineo Brinson
Fulbright Program Officer
Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

Dineo Brinson (she/her) is a Fulbright Program officer in the Office of Academic Exchange Programs in the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Brinson’s portfolio includes Fulbright alumni engagement, diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and outreach.

Brinson received her bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Spelman College and studied abroad in the Dominican Republic. She later earned a Master of Science degree in foreign service from Georgetown University. As a graduate student, she had the opportunity to intern at the U.S. Embassy in Panama in the public affairs section. She enjoys mentoring students and young professionals. Brinson hails from New York with a heart for the Knicks and the transformational power of education, learning languages and cultures, and international exchange. 







Elizabeth Latham
Program Officer, Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program
Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

Elizabeth Latham currently manages the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program.  She joined the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the State Department in 2010 to manage Study of the U.S. Institutes.  From 2013 to 2016 Latham worked to create and develop President Obama’s signature exchange program, the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders (YALI).  Since 2017 she has also served as a leader of the Department of State’s Disability Action Group, an employee affinity group.

Prior to joining the State Department, Latham was executive director of the U.S. Committee for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP-USA).  Earlier in her career, she managed track-two diplomacy programs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and community outreach programs for the Maryland governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention. She has served on several nonprofit boards including InterAction and the United Nations Association of the USA. In 2003 she was the inaugural recipient of The United Nations Association of the USA‘s Global Young Advocate Award.

Latham holds degrees in international affairs from Johns Hopkins University and national security studies from Georgetown University.  Born and raised in Missouri, she participated in a short-term 4-H high school exchange in Larned, Kansas. That experience prompted her to become a high school exchange student in South Africa through Rotary International her senior year.