BY VALENTINE J. BRKICH
Graduate students earning master’s degrees and doctorates last month got an opportunity to broaden their global perspective, thanks to a commencement address from one of their own, ROBIN RENEE SANDERS D‘10.
The career diplomat and former ambassador to both Nigeria and the Republic of the Congo is currently on loan from the U.S. State Department, working as the international relations advisor and communication and outreach director for Africare, a nonprofit organization that focuses on the issues of food security, agriculture, health, education, and women’s empowerment on the continent.
We asked Sanders, a new member of the RMU Board of Trustees, to share some of her global perspective with readers.
WHAT DID YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT WORKING IN AFRICA?
I was proud to serve the American people in several African countries as a diplomat, as I believe that Africa is so important to the United States and to the American people.
WHAT DID YOU DO YOUR DOCTORAL THESIS ON AT RMU?
How various artifacts and cultural signs and symbols are used to communicate political and social issues about a particular culture.
HOW HAS YOUR RMU EDUCATION BENEFITTED YOU?
I came to Africare as its international relations advisor, but given my extensive academic experience in communications and information systems, they have asked me to also serve as their communication and outreach director. I could not have done that without the benefit of the doctorate from RMU.
I HEAR YOU SPEAK FRENCH, AS WELL AS SOME SPANISH, PORTUGUESE, AND ARABIC. HOW DID YOU COME TO BE MULTI-LINGUAL?
I studied these languages as part of my training as a diplomat.
LOOKING BACK ON YOUR CHILDHOOD, WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GREW UP?
Anything that I have become today or that I have done today is a reflection of the commitment to public service my parents taught me as a kid growing up in a military family. I learned to respect other people and their cultures as a part of living abroad with my family. The best part of anyone’s life is what they can contribute to society to help the next generation, and my time in the U.S. diplomatic corps has allowed me to do this, particularly in Africa.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO TODAY’S STUDENTS?
Live your passion and choose a career that will let you do that. I never saw my job as work, but rather as my passion.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO IN YOUR FREE TIME?
I am avid about sports and I like to not only watch sporting events, but I also try to keep active myself (squash, golf, dance, etc.). In fact the U.S. Embassy Congo-Brazzaville soccer club is named after me; the team is called "Les Sanders."
WHAT WOULD PEOPLE BE SURPRISED TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?
That I love certain cartoons, particularly the old and new creative ones that have a message as part of the show. I really like “Kim Possible,” “The Wild Thornberries,” and “American Dragon,” and some of the olders ones like “Tom & Jerry.” I also love the arts and almost any cultural activity.
WHAT TYPE OF MUSIC DO YOU LISTEN TO?
Jazz mostly. One of my favorite artists today is Asha, a fantastic Nigerian singer. The other is a cultural artist, Chief Nike Okundaye. In all my travels and in my fascination with the arts, she is one of the most profound and talented artists I have ever met.
HAS ANYONE EVER HAD A POSITIVE, LIFE-CHANGING EFFECT ON YOU?
Lots of people…and I always thank them for coming into my life, including President Dell’Omo and Dr. Fred Kohun, who encouraged me to graduate and also get my doctorate at RMU. In general, though, I give all accolades to my parents, as they have always been my biggest fans and supporters along with my two sisters and my aunt.
For me, life is about concentric circles, instead of just one circle. And I have been fortunate enough to have many circles of really good friends that have all contributed to my life in some way, as I hope that I have done in theirs.