Judith Kaufmann

photo of Judith Kaufmann

My Profession

"After I graduated from Miami and taught seniors in high school for a year, I went on to get a masters in Latin American studies from the University of New Mexico. While I was there, I took the U.S. Foreign Service exam and passed. I thought I would do that for a couple of years, but ultimately I made a whole career out of it!

"The Foreign Service offers a stable career but with constant growth as we move from post to post and job to job. That permitted me to experiment and learn new things. I took assignments that, even if they were not always specifically career-enhancing, I felt passionate about and could give my all.

"Becoming an ambassador is the normal goal for foreign service officers, but it really was never one of mine. I had some personal reasons for this, but ultimately I felt I could achieve my goals and those of the U.S. government without the title, especially once I got involved in global health.

"Global health was one of those subjects that I discovered by accident and became passionate about. At the time, I was living in Geneva, Switzerland with my husband, and I found a job with the joint UN program focused on HIV/AIDS. I spent a year there, then another year at the World Health Organization, and then finally came back to Washington to resume my foreign service career with the State Department in 2001. This was a time where there was a lot of interest in health, and so a very small office of international health affairs was being revitalized. I was recruited to help with that.

"We had a lot of political support from the George W. Bush administration to work on the issue of HIV/AIDS, but we also crafted diplomatic responses to emerging pandemics such as SARS and influenza. We convened interagency meetings on zoonotic diseases and worked intensively with other agencies to jumpstart the polio eradication initiative in Nigeria."

Best Miami Experiences

"When I was an undergraduate at Miami in the late 1960s, many women were majoring in education, as careers were much more limited for women than they are today. I was interested in government and politics but also what were then called area studies. There weren't any formal programs in international affairs at Miami so I cobbled together one myself by taking courses in government, history, and language. A career in government seemed like a good option for me.

"Remember, this was back in the era of curfews for women and single-sex dorms. I've never quite understood that, because it was usually the guys who normally caused the problems!

"In the end, I feel I've been quite lucky with how I've fallen into my career, as I'm not typically a person who plans things 5-10 years ahead. I suppose if things hadn't worked out maybe I would have focused on teaching, and that would have had its own rewards, but I loved my Foreign Service career and the opportunities it gave me to travel, learn about new cultures, and use the analytical skills Miami gave me."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"Liberal arts was not a buzzword when I was a Miami student. I remember when I walked in to see my faculty advisor, he said, 'I don't know why you're here — get an education degree, because women don't have many options in government.' Fortunately, I also had other professors here who were a little more enlightened.

"I think it's important to be a fully rounded human being, and I would argue that even if you're an engineer or business major, you need to be well-rounded. This is why I was delighted when I learned that Miami added a global requirement, which I think is very important.

"A true liberal arts education provides that broader view of the human condition, focused on what the real issues are. The liberal arts should lead the way in this. The ways in which the liberal arts teach you to do research, understand a problem, synthesize the problem, and apply newfound knowledge in ways that are not just regurgitating old facts onto pieces of paper is vital.

"The career field for liberal arts majors is wide open. Some fields require further knowledge-based study, but it's a question of packaging what you know, understanding the needs of an employer, and being able to see how you can help. It is sometimes more difficult to sell an undergraduate degree in liberal arts than in certain other fields, but I think that setting yourself on only a single path will limit yourself. You have to be open to possibilities."

Advice to Students

"Stay humble and be kind. That's not just up but also sideways and down! Ask questions, keep learning, and recognize that you're probably not the smartest person in the room. Others have things they can offer you, both to achieve a common goal but also to help you have fun.

"Ultimately, I believe it's about using your knowledge to help find solutions and bringing together teams to identify new ways of doing things creatively, critically, and analytically. Written and oral communication also needs to be emphasized. Miami has the advantage of focusing on undergraduates — and therefore, I feel Miami can look beyond just 'book learning' to focus on a whole range of skills, including communications, analysis based on knowledge, and problem solving especially at CAS.

"Despite some ambivalent feelings about my time at Miami that are based on a more old-fashioned era, I feel proud that I received such a good education. Miami set me on the right path."

[April 2018]