Alumni Spotlight

Jose Garzon ’77
Deputy Director
Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation
US Agency for International Development (WA)

Major:  Political Science

Minor: Economics, Communication

Activities: Pi Sigma Alpha (political science honor society). I served as president my senior year.

What first attracted you to Whittier College?  I was impressed by the personal attention to students. I was able to get an interview with political science professors Fred Bergerson and Mike McBride while still a high school senior. Even the telephone operator remembered me when I called! 

Why did you choose to study political science?  I was fascinated by politics since I was about 13, which was 1968, a tumultuous year in American politics. Except for the first few years after getting my Ph.D. (and burning out on the topic), I never lost interest in political science. My specific interests within the field and with other social sciences evolved over time, but I remain a poli sci geek.

Describe your experience at Whittier College. What was your favorite class? Any class with Professor Fred Bergerson! He was always funny, captivating, and passionate about public administration and politics.

What was your first job after Whittier? What are you currently up to? How has your Whittier education benefited you professionally? After Whittier, I studied political science (what else?) in graduate school. After receiving a Fulbright grant to do work on decentralization in Southern Peru, I was hired by the US Agency for International Development in Peru to monitor food aid and drought conditions in the south, which meant I got paid to do my field work! What started as a three month contract became a lifelong career in international development. I joined the USAID Foreign Service in 1988 and have completed 25 years of service.

What Whittier taught me was the virtue of personal care, attention to young students and professionals trying to break into the profession, and the virtue of personal integrity. I also learned to look at a problem through multiple perspectives and think differently from the conventional wisdom. I often find myself saying, or writing, that "conventional wisdom is always wrong."

What advice would you give to future political science alumni?  Hmm... I think what I tell every young person is to pursue what you love and be true to yourself. For political science alumni, I recommend supplementing political science courses with rigorous courses in statistical and survey methods, foreign languages, and English writing. A sensitivity to the arts -- music, art, communication -- goes a long way as well. When you write, or speak, please do not bore!  Produce interesting, high-quality science and present it with an artistic flair.

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