By Chase Rossman, C’17
Larry Dumlao, C’09, is a 2009 graduate of the School of Professional and Continuing Studies Weekend College program in Fredericksburg, Va. Out of high school he joined up with the Air Force Pararescue division where he served for many years. With an 80% attrition rate, Pararescue training is one of the toughest regimens in the whole special operations community. But going back to school came with its own set of challenges. Larry’s scholarly pursuits eventually took him to SPCS Weekend College, law school, and beyond. Currently, he plans on working as a foreign service officer and travelling the globe.
How did your experience at SPCS Weekend College differ from your experience at Germanna Community College?
The first difference I would note is that the SPCS class was very diverse in terms of ages and backgrounds. I was in my forties, and I wasn’t alone. At the community college level I was generally the lone “old guy” in the room surrounded by students younger than my own children. I also got closer to the members of my cohort than I did with fellow students at Germanna, due to the consistency of the cohort system (the cohort system groups students together throughout their time at Weekend College to foster shared experiences and relationships).
How well-prepared did you feel coming out of Weekend College and going into law school? Would you say you were as well-prepared as more “traditional” law school students?
That is a tough one. I think that if you polled the average law student halfway through their first year, almost all of them would say that their school didn’t prepare them for this. Law school is an academically-strenuous environment, as it must be. That being said, the Weekend College program’s focus on teaching its students to “read, write, and reason” served me well. The only unforeseen challenge was my mother passing away at the beginning of my last semester of law school. However, I was able to take the fall semester off, and finish the following summer.
So what led you to wish to both go to law school and become a FSO in the first place, and is this an option you’ve always considered?
I knew going into the SPCS program that I was not planning on any sort of career change, but at that point, I knew that I was going to pursue my law degree as a personal goal (my colleagues in law school thought I was nuts). As happens in life, I was presented with an opportunity to travel to the country of Georgia and work in the Embassy managing logistics. This was my first actual taste of life in the Foreign Service and I was hooked! I’ve always enjoyed traveling, and one of the most exciting feelings is stepping off a plane in a place you’ve never been before — nothing but adventure and opportunity. Having spent most of my adult life overseas in the military, I also saw this as a way to continue serving the American people who have given me and my family so much. My father’s parents came to Hawai’i in the 1930s to work in the sugarcane fields. Two generations later, their grandson is going to be a diplomat. How cool is that?
Can you reflect on process required to become a FSO?
The Foreign Service entry process begins with the FSOT, which is a written exam covering American Government, History, and Culture. There is also an essay and biographic section. There is no cost to take the exam, and you can take it as many times as you want. If you pass that then the next step is to provide answers to several Personal Narrative Questions (PNQ), which are then reviewed by a Qualifications Evaluation Panel. After I made it through the PNQs, I was invited to the Oral Assessment up in Washington, DC. All told, the process took about nine months from the time I took the FSOT to the time I passed the Oral Assessment.
So where will your duty assignment(s) be? What are the typical duties and responsibilities of a foreign service officer?
I just found out that my first posting will be in Dhaka, Bangladesh, as a Consular Officer. I can tell you that in my three years in Georgia, I helped foster a nascent democracy by monitoring national and local elections; supported various NGO’s seeking to assist Georgians; planned a couple 4th of July receptions for a thousand guests; coordinated for customs clearance, housing, and transportation for my coworkers; and even had my photography exhibited at the Tbilisi Museum of Modern Art! I also have to point out that I was thoroughly trounced by the Georgian Female Chess Grand Master as part of an exhibition match.
What are some expectations you have about your job and working in a new country/environment?
Every assignment is different. One tour I may serve as a Consular Officer, processing visa applications and assisting Americans, the next may find me performing HR or financial management functions. Yet another assignment may be as a Human Rights officer. Added to that is the fact that every Embassy is different. There’s an old saying that goes, “When you’ve been to one Embassy, you’ve been to one Embassy.” On that note, one of the things I look forward to is the challenge of adapting to the changing environments and tasks.
What skills and experiences gained through Weekend College did you find useful while applying to law school and to become a Foreign Service Officer?
There were a number of things that I took with me from my Weekend College experience into both law school and the foreign service. First was the intellectual rigor that my professors insisted on. Weekend College was no cake-walk! I would also say that the ability to collaborate with the members of my cohort was also critical in fostering a cooperative spirit that was not only helpful in law school, but critical in the FS. Of course, the ability to think and communicate, even when your position is contrary to the majority’s, is a key to success in any endeavor.
Lastly, do you have any advice for people who were in your position as a non-traditional student?
My advice would be the same advice I’d give to any student. The syllabus is a roadmap to success in any course, a contract between the student and the professor. If you don’t understand it, ask. Communicate with your professors and cultivate a relationship. They have lives and experiences beyond the classroom environment and all the ones I’ve met are truly there for the student. If you have unique requirements, talk them through with your professors before class begins, if possible. My job at the time took me away from home quite a bit. On more than one occasion, I Skyped into a class session or wrote papers on the road.
Author’s note: Larry graduated SPCS in 2009 at the age of 44 having already served in Pararescue for years. Now, his degree has helped him find excitement in his new career with the Department of Defense. Larry credits Weekend College for allowing him to work towards a degree while balancing a full-time job and family. If you would like to learn more about Larry’s story, check out a previous write-up on his SPCS experience.