2022 World Affairs Council of the Year
Network of Independent World Affairs Councils of America

Webinar | International Careers Panel | April 3, 2024

The Tennessee World Affairs Council

International Careers Panel

via Zoom

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m. CT


PANELISTS:  Dr. Sarah F. Gardial, Louis Fintor, Penelope Thomas, Soo Koo
MODERATOR: Dr. Gretchen Neisler


Do you wonder what jobs and careers there are in international affairs?  There’s more than you think.  Every Fall and Spring the World Affairs Council assembles diplomats, business people, NGO officials, returned Peace Corps volunteers and more to talk about their experiences and insights and to answer your questions at this very popular panel. 

The ICP will feature four panelists from different professions sharing hard to come by information on working in multicultural societies. This is a special opportunity to listen to distinguished professionals’ experiences and insights and to discuss: preparation and transition from colleges to careers including the tools; skills and competencies needed to enter the profession; the upsides and downsides of working in those jobs and internship opportunities in their organizations. The panel is aimed for college students, high school students and young professionals but they’re open to everyone including TNWAC members and partner institutions around Tennessee.


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Dean, Jack C. Massey College of Business

Sarah Fisher Gardial joined Belmont University in 2020 as the first woman Dean in the Massey College of Business. Prior to Belmont, she was Dean of the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, and she held college and campus leadership positions at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, including Associate Dean of the Haslam College of Business and Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs. She has had leadership positions in national/international business school associations, including president of the MBA Roundtable, and conference chairs for the Graduate Management Admissions Council and the Association for the Advancement of Collegiate Schools of Business.

Sarah has an extensive background in business and business education. For over 30 years, she has personally engaged with industry in research, consulting, and executive education roles, as well as creating mutually beneficial partnerships between higher education and industry. Her leadership awards include the Prometheus Leadership Medal (University of Tennessee Center for Educational Leadership), Leadership Knoxville, Women of Achievement in Entrepreneurship and Innovation (Iowa), the Iowa Women’s Foundation Tribute to Women and the Corridor Business Journal (Iowa) Woman of Influence.

Sarah has served on public and private for-profit and non-profit governing boards (United Fire Group, Learning Tree, GreenState Credit Union, United Way and the Tennessee Justice Center). In addition, she is an active public speaker for corporations, conferences, women’s leadership events, and industry associations. She is an outspoken advocate for women in leadership as well as organizational diversity and inclusion.

Sarah and her retired husband, Jeffrey, recently traded in their motorcycles for a pontoon boat and lake house where they enjoy time with friends, family and especially their two grandchildren.




U.S. Foreign Service (Ret)

Lou is a retired Foreign Service Officer currently serving as the Department of State’s Diplomat-in-Residence for Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee. He also served in this capacity 2019-2021 following two years as U.S. Embassy spokesperson in Kabul, Afghanistan – his second tour of duty there. Just prior to retirement he was assigned to Kosovo assisting with the relocation of Afghan evacuees in August and September 2021.

Lou began his State Department career in 2003 as a press officer at the Department’s Washington, D.C. headquarters. This was followed by assignments as Embassy Spokesperson at U.S. missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Kosovo and the U.S. Mission to NATO. Prior to the State Department, he worked as an epidemiologist for 12 years at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) followed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He also previously worked for several years as a journalist in the Washington, D.C. news bureaus of the Los Angeles Times, The Hartford Courant, The Detroit News, and later as a freelance writer for several other local and national publications. He holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and graduate degrees in journalism from Washington, D.C.’s American University and in public health from the University of California, Berkeley. He completed four years of postgraduate work at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He is a Detroit native and graduate of the Detroit’s Cass Technical High School.



United States Agency for International Development

Penelope A. Thomas is a Development Diplomat in Residence for the Office of Human Capital and Talent Management’s Office of External Outreach and Strategic Recruitment (XOSR). Ms. Thomas began her career with USAID in 2002. Prior to joining XOSR, she served as Supervisory Executive Officer in Pakistan, Nigeria, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana, Bangladesh, Mali, and Egypt. She has also served as Operations Chief in both the Command Center in the Office of Security at USAID/Washington; and the Management Bureau’s Overseas Management Division, where she was responsible for supervising, training, mentoring, coaching, and hiring new executive officers. Ms. Thomas has lived and worked abroad since 1979. She was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Gabon, Central Africa, from 1989 to 1991; and she has worked with several international development organizations, including Africare, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church Service and Development Agency. Ms. Thomas holds two bachelor’s degrees, one in French and one in Spanish, from St. Olaf College.



U.S. Department of State – Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

Soo Koo is the Domestic Outreach Coordinator for the Office of Press and Public Diplomacy at the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the U.S. Department of State. Her previous role at the Bureau was the Stakeholder Engagement Officer for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) under the Office of Economic Policy, focusing on public affairs, public diplomacy, public-private partnership building, and outreach in international trade and investment.

She previously served as the Communications Director at the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives and the Chief of Staff for Maryland’s First Lady under Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s Administration from 2019 to 2022. She covered a wide range of assignments in international relations, international procurement, media relations, multimedia marketing, and more. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she was involved in the administration’s successful crisis communication and management and anti-hate crime efforts, as well as serving and mobilizing diverse communities. Her last duty was to initiate the Governor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, the first of its kind, as its Deputy Director by creating a state-wide network of immigrant serving organizations and continuing the anti-hate crime efforts as a key program of the office.

Prior to this, as the Executive Director of the International Leadership Foundation, a national nonprofit headquartered in Washington D.C., she placed hundreds of students in federal and congressional internships and trained and consulted thousands of youths, professionals, and entrepreneurs.

In public service, politics, and the nonprofit sector, she has extensive experience in external affairs; intergovernmental affairs; public relations; public policy and administration; executive support; and community, stakeholder, business, and media engagement at local, national, and international levels.

She is also specialized in Asian (American) affairs and a frequent speaker and organizer for professional and leadership development and diversity and inclusion. Her commitment was recognized with the President’s Volunteer Service Award Gold in 2016 and an award from the Federal Asian Pacific American Council in 2018. In 2020, she was selected for the list of the top 40 Asian American and Pacific Islander political operatives and public affairs professionals under 40 by the National Association of Asian Pacifics in Politics and Public Affairs (NAAPPPA).

As a County Executive-appointee recommended by a state senator, she served as a public representative for the Montgomery County Community Development Advisory Committee from 2017 to 2019. She evaluated grant proposals from social service organizations and made recommendations for the County Executive. Since September, 2022, she has served as a board member of Maryland Humanities, the state’s official humanities council.

In her spare time, she engages voters and cultivates a pipeline of emerging leaders in politics and public service.

Soo received an M.A. in government from Georgetown University with Academic Distinction, a B.A. in political science from Ewha Women’s University in South Korea, and executive training at Harvard Kennedy School.

She is fluent in Korean and speaks basic Chinese.


About the moderator:


Member of Board of Directors, Tennessee World Affairs Council; University of Tennessee Vice Provost for International Affairs, Director, Center for Global Engagement

Gretchen Neisler, Vice Provost for International Affairs at the University of Tennessee, works with faculty, staff, students and key stakeholders to understand and deepen their engagement as global citizens. Dr. Neisler has successfully managed over $120 million in grant funding to support the work of international research and development. Gretchen believes higher education must support students in understanding their role as global citizens and use the institutional strength of knowledge creation to solve global challenges the world faces. Additionally, she feels the role of higher education in a community is to understand its societal needs and work collaboratively to meet those needs. Gretchen has worked for 20 years to build global networks that enhance research productivity and preparing a new generation of leaders to take the world’s stage by understanding that problems span geographic boundaries. Her passion is derived from the belief that science has the power to positively impact society and higher education is vital to sharing this knowledge with community stakeholders. Gretchen is an experienced leader with strengths in organizational change and team development. She holds a PhD. in higher education administration from Michigan State University.


THE MISSION of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Tennessee World Affairs Council is to promote international awareness, understanding and connections to enhance the region’s global stature and to prepare Tennesseans to thrive in our increasingly complex and connected world.

THE VISION of  the Tennessee World Affairs Council is a well-informed community that thinks critically about the world and the impact of global events.