The Secretary’s Roundtable in Honor of iCount and National Disability Employment Awareness Month
Monday, November 7 @ 10:00 A.M. – 11:00 A.M. (EDT)
Join us online via interactive live streaming on Monday, November 7 from 10 – 11 a.m. for the Secretary’s Roundtable in Honor of iCount and National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Secretary Blinken will be joined by Ambassador Maria Brewer, Ambassador Michael Gonzales, and Ambassador Gautam Rana. This event, a partnership between the Secretary’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Disability Action Group, is a “first” in the Department, with three Chiefs of Mission sharing their lived experiences with disability inclusion.
Antony J. Blinken is the 71st U.S. Secretary of State.
He was nominated by President Biden on November 23, 2020; confirmed by the U.S. Senate on January 26, 2021; and sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris the following day.
Over three decades and three presidential administrations, Mr. Blinken has helped shape U.S. foreign policy to ensure it protects U.S. interests and delivers results for the American people. He served as deputy secretary of state for President Barack Obama from 2015 to 2017, and before that, as President Obama’s principal deputy national security advisor. In that role, Mr. Blinken chaired the interagency deputies committee, the main forum for hammering out the administration’s foreign policy.
During the first term of the Obama Administration, Mr. Blinken was national security advisor to then-Vice President Joe Biden. This was the continuation of a long professional relationship that stretched back to 2002, when Mr. Blinken began his six-year stint as Democratic staff director for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Then-Senator Biden was the chair of that committee from 2001 to 2003 and 2007 to 2009.
During the Clinton Administration, Mr. Blinken served as a member of the National Security Council staff, including two years as the senior director for European affairs, the president’s principal advisor on the countries of Europe, the European Union, and NATO. He also spent four years as President Clinton’s chief foreign policy speechwriter, and he led the NSC’s strategic planning team.
Mr. Blinken’s public service began at the State Department. From 1993 to 1994, he was a special assistant in what was then called the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs. Now he is proud to lead the department where he got his start in government nearly 30 years ago.
Outside of government, Mr. Blinken has worked in the private sector, civil society, and journalism. He was a founder of WestExec Advisors, an international strategic consulting firm focused on geopolitics and national security. He was a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies from 2001 and 2002. Before joining government, Mr. Blinken practiced law in New York and Paris. He was also a reporter for The New Republic magazine and is the author of Ally Versus Ally: America, Europe and the Siberian Pipeline Crisis (Praeger, 1987).
Mr. Blinken attended grade school and high school in Paris, where he received a French Baccalaureat degree with high honors. He is a graduate of Harvard College and Columbia Law School. He and his wife Evan Ryan have two children.
Maria E. Brewer, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, is the current U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Lesotho. She served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Sierra Leone from 2017 to 2021. Maria Brewer previously served as the Deputy Director in the Office of Career Development and Assignments for the State Department; as the Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé of the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria; and as a leader of the management team at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. Earlier in her career, Maria Brewer’s assignments included service as the Management Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka and Management Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai, India. She also was Deputy Executive Director and Supervisory Post Management Officer in the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs; Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of State for Management; and Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for Administration. She earned a B.A. from Valparaiso University and an M.S. from the National Defense University, Industrial College of the Armed Forces. She speaks Spanish, Krio, and Hindi.
Mike Gonzales was sworn in as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Zambia in August 2022. He previously served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for West Africa and African Regional Peace and Security and as the acting U.S. Special Envoy for the Sahel Region.
A career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister-Counselor, Mike’s previous senior positions include service as the Director for Analysis of Africa in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and as Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d’Affaires, a.i., at the U.S. Embassies in Kathmandu, Nepal and Lilongwe, Malawi.
Throughout his career, Mike has built partnerships with host governments, international partners, and civil society organizations to promote good governance, open political space, improve business environments, protect human rights, and expand economic opportunity. His previous assignments include service as the Counselor for Political and Economic Affairs at U.S. Embassies in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia; the Horn of Africa Unit Chief in the Office of East African Affairs; Deputy Public Affairs Officer in Kampala, Uganda; Information Officer and Embassy Spokesman in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and Environment, Science, and Technology Officer in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Mike was an economic analyst in the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
In 2009, the American Foreign Service Association awarded Mike the William R. Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent. He is a five-time recipient of the Department of State’s Superior Honor Award and the 2011 runner-up for the James Clement Dunn Award for Excellence. He is married to a USAID foreign service officer, with whom he has two children. Mike received a Master of Arts degree in international development from American University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Diplomacy and World Affairs from Occidental College. He has studied Spanish, French, Italian, and Bengali.
Gautam Rana is the Ambassador Designate of the United States of America to the Slovak Republic. He arrived in Slovakia on September 14, 2022. A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Ambassador Designate Rana previously served as the Deputy Chief of Mission and long-term Chargé d’Affaires ad interim at the Embassies of the United States in Algeria and Slovenia. He also served as a Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the National Security Council (NSC) from 2014-2015. Prior to the NSC, he was the Deputy Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at the American Embassy in New Delhi, India. From 2009-2010, Ambassador Designate Rana worked for Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg as Special Assistant for South and Central Asia, the Middle East, and counterterrorism. Prior to joining the Deputy Secretary’s staff, he was the Special Assistant to Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried. His overseas diplomatic postings also include Khost, Afghanistan; Peshawar, Pakistan; and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Prior to joining the Foreign Service in 2002, Ambassador Designate Rana was a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society in New York City, and a civil rights fellow with the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium. He speaks Hindi, Gujarati, and Spanish, and has studied French, Slovenian, Arabic, and Pashto. He is currently learning Slovak. Ambassador Designate Rana has degrees in Economics and International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania, a law degree from Vanderbilt University, and a Master of Arts in Strategic Security Studies from the National Defense University. He is married, with two children.
Alex Barrasso took over as Senior Advisor for DEIA in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) in July, 2022. From 2019-2021, he directed a $1.1 billion program on critical infrastructure protection and public security in Riyadh.
Alex joined the State Department in 1999. He served as Chargé d’Affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission at U.S. Embassy Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam from 2010-2012, and as Deputy Counselor for Political and Economic Affairs in Prague from 2013-16.
Other previous assignments included Colombia, Singapore, and Chiang Mai. Alex also served as the Desk Officer for Burma while based in Washington, D.C.
Alex earned a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1995, where he majored in Diplomatic History and completed a minor in German. In 1999, he graduated from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies with an M.A. in International Relations. Alex has received several Meritorious and Superior Honor Awards.
The son of Italian immigrants, Alex was born and raised in New York City. He speaks Czech, Spanish, Thai, Italian and German. He and his wife Brenda have two daughters. During his free time, Alex enjoys chess. He has won the U.S. Chess Championship for Blind Players five times.
Mariyam Cementwala joined the U.S. Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer in 2011. She currently serves as Senior Policy Advisor in the Secretary’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Her portfolio touches the breadth of accessibility issues as well as religious inclusion, in addition to legal and policy matters affecting the Department’s over 76,000 employees. In 2020-2021, she covered political-military and counterterrorism affairs for U.S. Embassy Dhaka and served on the mission’s diversity and inclusion council. As Policy Advisor to Ambassador At Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback from 2017 to 2020, Mariyam drove U.S. government initiatives on promoting religious pluralism through education and combating violent extremist ideologies and malign influence. Her prior overseas tours include the United Arab Emirates, India, and Saudi Arabia. Mariyam speaks four South Asian languages as well as Arabic.
A second-career diplomat, Mariyam is a lawyer by training. She received her J.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in 2007. She then practiced law at a WilmerHale LLP, served as a legal fellow on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, and managed government relations for an international disability rights NGO.
In 2002, Mariyam obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from UC Berkley. She then became the first blind, Muslim-American woman to receive the George J. Mitchell Scholarship, which sends 12 young Americans to universities across Ireland and Northern Ireland to serve as ambassadors of U.S. culture and values. In the early 2000s, Mariyam represented civil society organizations during the negotiations and drafting of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the UN General Assembly in New York.
Heather M. Pishko just concluded her assignment as the Office Management Specialist (OMS) for the Political Training Division in the School of Professional and Area Studies at the Foreign Service Institute. Since joining the Foreign Service in 2006, she served abroad in Helsinki, Finland; Lima, Peru; Frankfurt, Germany; and Belgrade, Serbia. She is currently studying Russian in preparation for her onward assignment to Astana, Kazakhstan.
In addition to her overseas assignments, Ms. Pishko served as the OMS for the Engineering Services Center in the Florida Regional Center in Fort Lauderdale and for the Southern European Office in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs in Washington, D.C.
Ms. Pishko served as the Foreign Service Representative for the Disability Action Group (DAG) for two years, then assumed the position of Chair in March 2020. During her service in DAG, she successfully advocated on behalf of employees with disabilities in collaboration with various entities, to include the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee of Oversight and Investigations (entering the reinstatement of the gap memo into law under the Promotions Accessibility Act), the Overseas Briefing Center (creating a new resource in Post Info to Go that describes accessibility at each post), and Overseas Buildings Operations (initiating the Adaptable-Accessible Housing Acquisition Program whereby every housing pool includes an accessible government-owned residence). She stepped down as Chair in September 2022 in order to focus on language training.
Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Ms. Pishko worked as a patent secretary for various intellectual property boutique law firms in Chicago.
Ms. Pishko received a BA in Russian and International Relations from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota and a JD from DePaul University College of Law in Chicago, Illinois. Ms. Pishko enjoys traveling, reading, coloring, and is an avid NASCAR fan.