By Caroline Hershey
On Friday, former ambassador of the United States and member of Union alumnus class of 1962 Vern Penner addressed students and faculty in Lippman Hall at the final Pizza and Politics program of the term. He shared stories from his impressive career and helped students understand more about what it means to work in international policy.
“Penner coming to campus is an exciting opportunity for students to hear first-hand experience from a retired ambassador,” said Becker Career Center Senior Associate Director of Employer Relations Rochelle Caruso. Penner was honored to be invited back and credited Union’s Political Science Department for sparking his interest in foreign politics and helping to guide him to receive his masters degree from Maxwell Graduate School at Syracuse University. In 1980, Penner graduated as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow from Princeton University.
Penner’s talk illustrated the timeline of his long and accomplished career in Foreign Service. After joining the U.S. Department of State as a career diplomat in 1963, Penner’s career led him to serve seven tours across Europe, including assignments in Germany, Poland and Switzerland. Fluent in German and Portuguese, Penner served as a linguist and translator in Poland and specialized in political and military relations.
He also spent time in Japan and Vietnam, where he was appointed chief liason to the International Control Commission. In 1986, he was confirmed Ambassador to the Republic of Cape Verde where he served until 1990.
“The best aspect of a career in the foreign service is the foreign aspect. I have a love for foreign countries,” said Penner, showing his true passion for international affairs.
He also noted the downsides of the commitment, mentioning the personal toll of having to relocate constantly and be ready to take on a new and unpredictable assignment at any time.
Since his retirement in 2001, Penner has lectured and wrote articles on security affairs and international relations and has received a number of prestigious awards, including the Secretary of Defense Award for Excellence.
At the end of the talk, Penner answered questions about how he got started with his career and what he would recommend to students considering this kind of path. “If you are interested in how the world views you and how you view the world, join Foreign Service,” was his final advice.