People

Robert W. Carlson, MPA '88

August 8, 2016

Robert Carlson, MPA '88, recently finished up his time in Accra, Ghana as the Political Counselor for the U.S. Embassy there. Robert kindly answered the following questions regarding his time as a Foreign Service officer and his Fels experience. In the picture, Robert (on left) is receiving an award from former Ambassador to Ghana Gene Cretz.

Please describe your organization and its mission.

The U.S. Embassy in Accra is a relatively large overseas mission, with 19 US. Government agencies represented and around 145 U.S. direct hire Americans.  Many of those have regional responsibilities, covering several West African countries.The overall mission is to implement U.S. foreign policy and development objectives in Ghana (and for some employees, other countries).

What is your current role for your organization?

I was the Political Counselor (Chief of the Political Section).  Among the section's responsibilities:  monitoring and reporting on political developments (this year, in particular, Ghana's national elections in December are garnering a lot of attention in Washington); conveying demarches (diplomatic requests) on various issues to the Ghanaian government; monitoring and combating trafficking in persons; managing programs to combat transnational organized crime and to strengthen Ghana's capacity to investigate and prosecute crime; report on Ghana's foreign relations; and help Ghana to reinforce its national security.  As the Political Counselor, I am a member of the Country Team, advising and assisting the Ambassador. 

How has Fels helped you in your career so far?

My Fels experience helped prepare me in many ways.  Many Foreign Service officers tend to be substantive experts (in a certain geographical area, for instance), but not many had learned management and leadership precepts prior to their government service.  Fels exposed me not only to policy principles, but also to practical matters such as finance, accounting and supervisory principles.  It was a great, all-around education for someone entering Federal Government service.

What was your favorite Fels course and why?

I think it was the introductory "Government" course taught by Jim Spady.  Dr. Spady had a very engaging teaching style that helped us develop a deep understanding and vision of why governments exist and how they provide public goods and services.  I also really enjoyed the "International Workshop," which was co-taught by Professor William Kintner (who had founded the Foreign Policy Research Institute and was the U.S. Ambassador to Thailand) and Penn's President Emeritus, Martin Meyerson.  It was a practical course where both the instructors and guest speakers told us about their careers and offered advice for those of us who were looking for jobs in the area of international affairs.

What advice do you have for incoming students?

Enjoy your opportunity to learn from the terrific professors at Penn and Fels.  Absorb as much as you can from their experience and wisdom and strive to apply what you have learned as you begin your career.  Fels grads can make a real difference in the world.

Anything else you would like to share?

It's easier now than it was before to stay in touch with Fels classmates.  You will make some lifelong friends at Fels, and I hope your shared experience and values will stay with you as you assume positions of responsibility and have the chance to effect change.

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Contact Information

Fels Institute of Government
University of Pennsylvania
3814 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Phone: (215) 898-2600
Fax: (215) 746-2829

felsinstitute@sas.upenn.edu