Diplomat-in-residence plans to use experience to aid students

Mackenzie Mathews

The upcoming diplomat-in-residence, Michael McClellan, plans to use his numerous qualifications and experiences to bring a new form of international exposure to WKU. 

McClellan began his work in Public Diplomacy with the Foreign Service during his doctoral studies at Indiana University in 1984. His job was to raise awareness and understanding of US policy in a particular country by living abroad, experiencing the culture. 

He said that cultural involvement was one of the greatest aspects of his work.

“I think the main thing is having a much greater understanding and appreciation of international affairs: working internationally, living internationally… really being able to get to know other cultures through their people and their politics and their history and issues,” McClellan said. “And to me that’s the best part of this work — all of that international exposure that you get.”

Sana’a, Yemen was McClellan’s first assignment in 1985. He then made it to Egypt, Russia, Serbia, Germany, Kosovo, Ireland, Iraq, Ethiopia and South Sudan, witnessing transformations in several countries.

While in Kosovo, the nation was dealing with the aftermath of the Kosovo War and NATO bombing campaign. He was in Iraq right after the fall of Saddam Hussein, then again during the withdrawal of US forces. His final assignment was as  deputy chief of mission, or the second-in-command diplomat assigned to an embassy, in South Sudan — two years after they established independence.

McClellan said it was ultimately gratifying, but could be difficult and sometimes dangerous. He was almost killed twice.

“These were challenging and interesting assignments, very rewarding — difficult — but rewarding,” he said.

In addition to the years of work in the Foreign Service, McClellan has also written a book. “Monasticism in Egypt: Images and Words of the Desert Fathers” was published in 2011 and focuses on Egyptian monasteries. His second book, which focuses on Ireland and Ethiopia, is still in progress.

Craig Cobane, executive director of the Honors College, said McClellan has a particular expertise in that he can give first-hand information that can aid students in gaining international opportunities.

“He can talk to students about what it was like to live in Cairo or Moscow,” Cobane said. “He can give real-world, hands on the ground, feet in the dirt experience.”

Growing up in and around Bowling Green, McClellan had to find experience and appreciation for the world in his family and teachers. He said he wants to be able to provide support for students with international objectives.

“I wanted to come back and work with students to help prepare them better for international careers, and to have a better idea of the many opportunities that are available to them internationally, especially those that want to pursue a career in diplomacy,” he said.  

Cobane said there are probably less than 20 universities across the United States that have a diplomat-in-residence.

“We’re getting a steal of a deal for what he is bringing to WKU,” he said.

McClellan has been a diplomat-in-residence at the University of Michigan, where he supervised all universities in Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky and in the Rocky Mountain region. There, he was responsible for universities in Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. His time at WKU, however, will be solely spent with WKU. 

He said he is excited to be a part of the international initiative of WKU.

“It’s clear the university is pushing, in a major way, to give the students there a lot more international exposure and opportunities,” McClellan said. “I want students to be able to have a lot of that same experience I’ve been blessed to have, so I thought it was time to give back in whatever way I could.”