On March 26th, Tim Roemer, who served as US Ambassador to India from 2009 to 2011, will join the Ross School of Business for a virtual fireside chat. The event marks the finale of this year’s Michigan India Conference, which invites experts in Indian economics, policy, and government to speak at the University of Michigan.
In addition to serving as a Member of Congress and US Ambassador to India, Ambassador Roemer served on the 9/11 Commission and worked as a staffer in the US Senate. He holds an undergraduate degree from the University of California at San Diego and a Masters and PhD from the University of Notre Dame. He is currently Executive Director and Strategic Counselor at APCO Worldwide, a privately held company focused on communications and digital policy, and at Issue One, a non-profit working to repair our democracy.
CSAS had the pleasure of interviewing Ambassador Roemer ahead of his March 26th event.
Was there a moment or experience that inspired you to pursue a career in politics?
I was inspired to go into politics by my parents, who always said to me growing up that a career in public service was both noble and honorable. “Put ’country’ above all and seek to help others,” they said. I am from a Catholic family, so the belief was that if you don’t go into the profession of religion, the next best thing is to to help America from a public servant perspective. From the fifth grade, I was devoted to learning all I could about campaigns, presidents, and policy. I worked hard pursuing my dream, and with the help of mentors, served in Congress, overseas in India as Ambassador, and on the 9/11 Commission.
Can you give a brief summary of your career, including your former role as US Ambassador to India?
My career started with hard work and odd jobs to pay for college. I mowed lawns, waited tables, and cleaned up at a local zoo. I learned the value of money and appreciated the labor of difficult tasks. I eventually landed an internship with my local Congressman in Indiana, and initially drove him to events in the district. I still probably have the all-time state record for getting lost, as this was before Google Maps and Waze. I worked as a US Senate staffer after graduate school, ran for Congress at thirty-three years old and won, and was honored to represent my hometown in the US House of Representatives. I got to know Senator Barack Obama and endorsed him very early in his presidential run. He later asked me to serve as the American Ambassador to India. This turned out to be one of the best jobs in all of government. The position of Ambassador is the pivotal role in bringing key governmental leaders together, achieving policy results on a day-to-day basis, and representing America’s values abroad. These two countries, India and the United States, are the largest and oldest democracies on the planet, and showing the world that open societies with representative governments deliver progress for their citizens is vitally important.
Over the course of your congressional career, many of your efforts centered education and education policy. Can you speak a little bit about these efforts?
I sought to serve on the Education and Labor Committee as my first choice for two reasons. First, I knew how hard it was to pay for college and hold down jobs throughout your education. I wanted to address this and make the path a more accessible one, especially for first-generation and low-income students. Second, I had nine universities or community colleges in my Northern Indiana Congressional district. I believed helping them and planning future legislation to assist with higher education was one of the primary ways to improve the United States as a whole. I reached across the aisle to pass bipartisan legislation several times during my Congressional years on Capitol Hill. We successfully created Americorps and provided more funding for early education efforts like Headstart. We have much to do today to make higher education more affordable.
What advice do you have for young people with an interest in diplomacy?
My advice for people pursuing a career in diplomacy or international affairs is to know the lessons of history; learn how to work in teams to collaborate and effectively achieve results; study abroad in college in Asia, Africa or Latin America; and assiduously push yourself to improve your writing and communications skills. Be open to different experiences in foreign policy, from working for a business to a non-profit or university. It doesn’t have to be the worn path of graduating from a traditional foreign service school and immediately applying to the Foreign Service. There are a myriad of ways to achieve a career in foreign policy or diplomacy, and using your imagination and creativity is key to a promising future.