When Jerry Mitchell ’67 returned to his alma mater earlier this fall as part of Monmouth College’s Distinguished Visitors Program, he brought with him several messages.
Chief among the thoughts he shared with two classes and in a forum discussion was, “There is no such thing as domestic or international anymore. It’s a worldwide competition. If you’re on the Internet, you’re global. They can find you. This is the world we live in – a global environment. It’s naïve not to think that way.”
Mitchell was the perfect visitor to help students understand the way the world has changed and how important it is to have a global perspective. He spent nearly 30 years with the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service, helping U.S. business overseas, most recently as senior commercial officer in Mexico from 2002 to 2004. Prior to that, he served two years in Washington, D.C., as a deputy director general, the top career position in the service. Mitchell has also been posted in Korea, Belgium, Greece, Canada and Africa.
He described the role of the Commercial Service as “We don’t sell your product, we open the doors for you. We represent the companies, doing things like meeting with ambassadors, advising companies about labor situations in the foreign countries and helping them operate within labor laws. We help keep the playing field equal.”
Mitchell said one of his main responsibilities was to educate business and the public about international trade.
“U.S. exports used to be a small percentage of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product), but now equal 13 percent … Going it alone for the U.S. isn’t possible anymore.”
Living and working abroad and being fluent in French, Greek and Spanish was probably the farthest thing from Mitchell’s mind when he grew up on a farm outside Maquon, about 25 miles from of Monmouth.
He originally attended Carthage College (when it was still located in Carthage, Ill.), but transferred to Monmouth because he felt it would be “more of an academic challenge, and I’d get a stronger education. I liked what I had heard and seen about Monmouth.”
He fondly recalls faculty member James Pate, who was also the adviser for his Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, and remembers having classes with other legendary MC professors such as Mary Crow, Adele Kennedy, Sam Thompson and Roy McClintock. He majored in comparative government and was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow.
“That’s the quality of education I received at Monmouth,” Mitchell said of the Wilson honor. “It really prepared me and my classmates.”
When Mitchell left Monmouth, he taught at the junior high and high school level. He had thought about going to graduate school and eventually did, receiving the equivalent of an MBA in international management at the Thunderbird School in Glendale, Ariz.
Mitchell passed the Foreign Service exam “after a couple of tries,” then went to work for the State Department in 1975, moving to the Commerce Department in 1980.
Of his career, he pointed to his time in Greece as a highlight “for family reasons.” From a career perspective, he said he enjoyed Mexico and Korea.
“I was in Korea during the Asian financial crisis,” he said. “We turned that around with the help of the Korean government. We kept banks from leaving. Korea was the first country to come out of the crisis.”
Currently, Mitchell is an adjunct professor of international business at Austin Community College, which has 40,000 students at eight campuses. He also serves as associate director of the college’s Export Education Program.
“Our students do market research,” he said. “They’re graded on the work they do for particular companies. The students visit the companies, and we take them all the way through the process. It’s pretty rewarding.”
Mitchell has also served as executive director of the International Center of Austin (Texas), a non-profit organization that works to promote international educational, cultural and business activities in the Greater Austin area. In cooperation with a number of partners, Mitchell developed an active business outreach program, focused on educating small businesses about the skills and knowledge needed for successfully conducting international business.
“San Antonio, Houston and Dallas are all pretty involved in the global marketplace, but Austin is not,” he said.
The potential is there, though.
“Austin is really booming as a high tech and education center. There are 50,000 students at the University of Texas and another 30,000 at Texas State in nearby San Marcos.”
MC development officer Steve Bloomer, who helped organize Mitchell’s visit, was very pleased with the result.
“Jerry’s willingness to return to Monmouth College to share his thoughts on a number of hot U.S. foreign policy issues and to discuss potential careers in U.S. diplomatic services will benefit both political science students and other students who are seeking career options serving their nation abroad,” he observed.