The Diplocats


One day when he was about 10 years out of school, Eric Collings ’96 realized he had never been to a Davidson alumni chapter event. “Then I realized, ‘I’ll never have an alumni chapter, because I’ll never be in one place long enough to do that!’” he said.

Today, Collings has already served three U.S. State Department foreign service tours, in Minsk, Belarus; Belgrade, Serbia; and Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

“I started this journey as an unworldly college freshman who found himself in Lou Ortmayer’s International Relations 101 class,” Collings said. “Now I can proudly say that I have watched or listened to or followed online Davidson sports from all those places, at all hours of the day and night!”

Over time, Collings came to know he was not alone in his farflung ’Cattitude, so he compiled a contact list of fellow alumni. That list would become a virtual alumni chapter for the foreign service known as the Diplocats.

Collings is back in the United States—for now—as deputy director of the Office for Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Maldives in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs in the State Department, Washington, D.C.

Where are the Diplocats now? Let’s find out

Meredith Strong Hiemstra ’97
Foreign Service Information Technology Specialist
Department of State, Washington, D.C.

Cemetery Beach, in Timor-Leste's capital city, Dili

Cemetery Beach, in Timor-Leste’s capital city, Dili, is where expat families often gather for evening picnics to enjoy the shallow, calm, clean and temperate waters. Photo by Meredith Hiemstra ’97, information management officer, U.S. Embassy, Timor-Leste, 2009–12.

“Though I was a math major, it was a thrill-seeking Davidson English professor who influenced me to pursue this wandering lifestyle. [Professor Emeritus of English] Gill Holland hosted my study abroad program in Beijing in 1995, which was the start of a 15-year journey from graduation to South Korea, Germany, Haiti, Iraq, Belgium, East Timor, and finally back to the United States just last year, with a family in tow.

“Davidson’s supremely professional Army ROTC program also deserves a shout-out. From my military posting in Wurzburg, to the Davidson gal who happened to sit next to me on a C-130 flying out of Iraq in 2005, to the young Davidson grad whose platoon led my armored convoy down Route Irish from the Green Zone to the Baghdad International Airport—I bring pride in Davidson, wherever we go.”

James Koloditch ’76
Counselor for Commercial Affairs/Regional Senior Commercial Officer
U.S. Embassy, Buenos Aires, Argentina (Also covering Uruguay and Paraguay)

Koloditch’s Foreign service assignments include Mexico City; Santiago, Chile; Oslo, Norway; Paris; Caracas, Venezuela; and Washington, D.C. as regional director for Europe. His work is to promote and assist U.S exports and provide support to American subsidiaries in other countries.


Tom Engle ’79, Bamyan, Afganistan

Tom Engle, ’79
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Affairs, Bureau for Economic and Business Affairs
Department of State, Washington, D.C.

In the course of a 28-year career in the Foreign Service, Engle has had overseas assignments in China, Japan, Pakistan, Singapore, Germany and Afghanistan.

John Ballard ’96
Just completed: Division Chief, Office of Fraud Prevention Programs, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Onward assignment: Consular Chief, U.S. Embassy, Brasilia, Brazil

“My wife Juliana and I both joined the foreign service in 2000, and we have served in Mexico, Uzbekistan and India. Studying abroad my junior year in Spain sparked my interest in an international career, and my father’s service to the country as an Air Force officer inspired my desire to serve the American people.

“In my 14 years in the foreign service, I have identified remains following a plane crash in the Yucatan, led the consular response to a suicide bombing in front of the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan, and broken up fraud rings aimed at undermining U.S. immigration law….”

Margaret (Carolla) Maes ’01
Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment
United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Washington, D.C.

“A lot of people think of the foreign service only as the State Department, when there are also foreign service opportunities with USAID to do international development work in developing countries. I’ve also served in Lima, Peru, and Mexico City, Mexico.”

Steve Neff ’89
Resident Legal Advisor
U.S. Embassy, Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia

“I suppose I should be considered an adjunct member of Diplocats. I am an Assistant United States Attorney (federal prosecutor) in Chattanooga, Tenn., but I have been temporarily detailed by the Department of Justice to serve as the resident legal advisor at the U.S. Embassy in the Republic of Georgia, the city of Tbilisi. My job is to train prosecutors, judges and law enforcement officers in Georgia on criminal justice issues, advise the Georgian government on criminal justice legislative reforms, and act as a legal advisor for the U.S. Ambassador at the embassy.

“I have to say, this experience has been quite an interesting diversion, and because I’m not known to be very diplomatic at all, many (including me) were surprised that I was selected to do this!”

Jillian Clayton Burns ’86
Director, Near East Affairs Office, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Department of State, Washington, D.C.

“After 21 years, my last position is director of the Near East Affairs office in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, where Syria, Iraq, ISIL, Libya, Egypt and Bahrain have kept me busy for the past year.

“Prior to this I was U.S. Consul in Herat, Afghanistan, at a fascinating time when we were drawing down much of our presence…. The consulate sustained a major terrorist attack in September 2013, and my team performed honorably in the heat of battle. Prior to that, I worked on Iran issues in a variety of offices for about 12 years.

“I doubt it would have occurred to me to take the foreign service exam if I hadn’t taken a class with the late Ambassador Jack Perry [inaugural director of today’s Dean Rusk International Studies Program]…. The other important influence in my career has been Dr. Lou Ortmayer. I remember how skillfully he could present a very difficult policy issue to us without revealing his own view, allowing us to formulate our positions, which we would then have to defend.”

Michael Cathey ’92
Consular Section Chief (May 2015)
U.S. Consulate, Recife, Brazil

“Dr. Jack Perry was the person who first suggested that I be a foreign service officer, when I was a freshman in 1988. After 9/11, I thought about ways that I could better serve my country and remembered Dr. Perry’s recommendation. Being a foreign service officer is my dream job, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else! Mostly I love how my family gets to experience the world and become interwoven in the global fabric.”


Laura Malenas ’93 in Muscat, Oman

Laura Malenas ’93
Political-Economic Section Chief
U.S. Embassy, Muscat, Oman

“Oman is a mountainous, rocky desert, with not a tree in sight. I know this might be hard to believe, but it’s true: I keep a framed post card on my desk which is a photo of the beautiful trees lining Main Street at Davidson with the Carolina Inn in the background. Jack Perry sent me the postcard several years ago, and I keep it on my desk to have his words of encouragement nearby, and to look at the beautiful scene, which brings me back many warm memories of the special place I called home during my student days and as a staff member at the Dean Rusk Program, where I worked as Jack’s assistant. From where I sit now it indeed feels like a ‘world away.’”

David Bruns ’83
Education Office Director
United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Tanzania

“A number of Davidson graduates back in the 1980s spent the year(s) after graduation teaching in Kenya. I’ve continued to work on education in Africa, though at a larger scale. The challenges are significant, but so are the rewards.”

Richmond Blake ’09
Current: Arabic language training, Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Onward assignment: Pending

The 2013 winner of the State Department’s Human Rights and Democracy Achievement Award, Blake overcame Bolivian government hostility and intimidation tactics to advance key U.S. human rights priorities while posted in La Paz. He did so through a series of creative, low-cost initiatives, including a 21-episode radio soap opera to raise awareness about human trafficking. He also pursued action through the private sector to encourage businesses to adopt disability-inclusive corporate policies.

“If you implement projects well and spend government resources wisely, you can represent the United States in the best light,” said Blake, who was a 2008 Truman Scholar.

Greta Marie Stults ’05
U.S. Embassy, Bern, Switzerland

“My first encounter with the foreign service occurred during my senior year at Davidson, when I attended a small group session with the diplomat-in-residence assigned to North Carolina. Departing the meeting that day, I knew I had discovered a potential career in line with my academic interests and passions, but was also well aware of just how challenging it would be to obtain such a position. Ten years and a very circuitous route later, I am serving as a consular officer in Bern, Switzerland, my first tour as a foreign service officer. Having majored in German and participated in Davidson’s Junior Year Abroad program (then in Wuerzburg, Germany), I am thrilled to be using my German language skills in my service.”

Matt Petit in Zambia

Matt Petit ’08 in Zambia

Matt Petit ’08
Political Officer
U.S. Embassy, Lusaka, Zambia

A Plott music scholar at Davidson, Petit pursued a double major in political science and music. For his “day job,” he works as a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Zambia, focused on internal political dynamics and human rights, including prison conditions, rule of law, corruption, equal rights for vulnerable groups, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly. And in his spare time, he practices a little freedom of expression, performing classical and jazz music for official functions and sharing the art form with young Zambians.

“Outreach on cultural affairs is not exactly in my job description, but the State [Department] encourages all of us to use our talents and abilities to further U.S. policy in other areas,” Petit said. “For me, I do it through music.”

Andy Allen ’02
Consular Officer, U.S. Embassy
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

“I joined the Peace Corps two years after graduating Davidson and served in Morocco working on small business development. My time in Morocco led me to join the foreign service. I really enjoyed the diverse and challenging curriculum at Davidson. My career choice continues to provide that same diversity and challenge, as I work on different assignments in different countries and cultures.”

Allen served previously as political officer in Antananarivo, Madagascar.

Find out more about what it’s like to be a career diplomat in this Q&A with U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria James Entwistle ’78.


About Author

John Syme '85

Senior Writer John Syme graduated from Davidson with a French degree in 1985. After gigs in newspaper, advertising, translation in France and cross-country travel writing in the United States, he returned to alma mater in 2001. He has no immediate plans to graduate again.

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