WPU Alumna to serve as Foreign Service Officer

June 30, 2022

Becoming a Foreign Service Officer is no simple task. You must take a written test, submit a personal narrative essay, complete an oral assessment, receive medical and security clearance and have your application approved by a panel — just to be put on the registration list for the role.

That’s why Deja Gainey ’20 beams as she shares that she will start her career as a Foreign Service Officer in a few months. The William Peace University (WPU) alumna spent years working to have her dream job. 

Gainey’s passion for the role started with an interest in public service in high school. From there, she went to WPU to study Political Science and Global Studies. At WPU, she had the opportunity to meet a recruiter for the U.S. Department of State and through him, she discovered her dream to be a Foreign Service Officer.  

Gainey had always known she wanted to go overseas and represent her country — becoming a Foreign Service Officer would give her the opportunity to make do just this while making an impact. 

At WPU, she learned the foundational skills needed to pursue the competitive job. She recalls how her professors in the Global Studies program pushed her to enroll in immersive learning courses, including an internship with the State Department in Washington, DC. Gainey also grew as she studied abroad and served as the student body president — a role that helped her to create close connections with faculty, staff, and WPU’s President.

 “I had the pleasure of getting to know Deja over her time here at WPU, and in particular, working closely with her due to her role as student body president,” said Dr. Brian C. Ralph, WPU President. “I am not at all surprised that Deja has reached yet another goal, and I am really proud of her hard work and constant hunger to make a difference for her country.”

These connections with WPU faculty and staff pushed Gainey to grow. They encouraged Gainey that her dreams were never out of reach.

“Peace empowered me to step outside of my comfort zone and take on roles I might not have taken on if I had not been at the school. My time at Peace allowed me to grow as a person both professionally and personally,” Gainey said. “I was surrounded by people who believed in me and told me to branch out and keep pushing.”

In her senior year at WPU, Gainey wondered what her next step should be — she searched for an option that would help her stand out when she applied to be a Foreign Service Officer. Gainey discovered the opportunity to apply to the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship with the U.S. State Department. This fellowship could help her through graduate school, offer her internship experiences, and provide her with employment as a Foreign Service Officer. 

While Gainey felt it was a “long shot” for her to get the fellowship, she worked tirelessly on the application materials. “When I found out I got the fellowship, it was one of the best Christmas gifts I have ever had,” she said. 

Gainey then attended The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) through the Rangel Fellowship. There, she studied International Economics and American Foreign Policy. While Gainey loved the program, she attended it at the height of the pandemic and had to navigate virtual internships and classes. 

“Graduate school was a challenging experience, especially during COVID. During my first year at SAIS, I spent 10 hours a day online,” said Gainey, who is also a member of the Alumni Association Board. “I’d love to give a shoutout to WPU’s Dr. Vincent Melomo and his class on globalization. All of my classes at SAIS touched on the things he taught in that class.”

Melomo, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Department Chair of Culture, History, and Politics, is not surprised by Gainey’s continuing success.

“She was an exceptionally focused student, who took advantage of every opportunity available to her to be successful. She maximized every opportunity provided by WPU, faculty, student services, and Raleigh’s downtown and Triangle area community,” Melomo said. “I am so grateful to see all of her hard work paying off. Deja’s success represents the best that Peace can be. Deja’s success has elevated us all.”

When Gainey graduated, she was honored to receive the Johns Hopkins SAIS William C. Foster Award at her commencement. This student-nominated award recognizes a student who has demonstrated scholarship, leadership and distinguished service. 

Now, Gainey is excited to be a U.S. Foreign Service Consular Officer — her dream career. 

I’m excited to start because it’s something I’ve been working for the past six years and to achieve everything in such a short time is truly an honor,” Gainey said. “I’m excited to start working at my dream job and put everything I’ve learned into practice.”

To support students like Gainey and help them achieve their dream careers, visit www.peace.edu/give.