Alumna serves Americans in Israel as first line of border defense
By Billi London-Gray
“You need to have maximum flexibility for this type of work,” says Jen McAndrew.
The 2007 master’s graduate of Texas State’s mass communication program is now a member of the U.S. Foreign Service, currently representing the State Department in Israel. As a vice consul at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, McAndrew does everything from approving visa applications to managing the consulate section’s social media outreach.
McAndrew received her bachelor’s degree in Irish Studies from Southwestern University. She interned at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin before starting a career in public relations. After she started her master’s program at Texas State, McAndrew began the application process for the Foreign Service in 2006. The process lasted more than two years: she was hired in 2009 and, after nearly a year of training, departed for her first assignment.
“I feel very lucky that I didn’t join the Foreign Service right out of college,” McAndrew says. “Having a master’s degree and seven years of work experience when I joined meant that I could immediately bring a lot of expertise to the table.”
Although McAndrew enrolled in the mass communications graduate program at Texas State to support her public relations career, she has found the training “invaluable” to her work at the consulate.
“Since my background is in PR and writing, I knew I wanted to enter the public diplomacy career track,” McAndrew says. “My constituents are Americans living in Israel and Israelis needing visas for work, travel or study.”
McAndrew is using her social media savvy – one of her many mass communications skills – to get out the State Department’s message. She issues warden messages, or security alerts, to U.S. citizens through Facebook and Twitter. She also uses social media to receive and answer questions from foreign nationals.
“Nearly fifty percent of Israelis are on Facebook,” McAndrew says. “It’s by far the most-used social network here. I spend a lot of time answering questions that way.”
McAndrew also spends a lot of her time interacting face-to-face with visa applicants, both through outreach events at universities and through applicant interviews at the embassy.
“I interview at least a hundred people per day. It is intense and very personal,” McAndrew says. “When I’m interviewing people for visas, I make the decision whether they get the visa to come or not. It’s the first part of border control, the first point of protection for the American people.”
But the responsibility is one that makes McAndrew’s work meaningful to her.
“There’s nothing like the satisfaction of doing your job, serving your country and helping American citizens living abroad, and knowing you’re a form of protection for your family and friends back home,” McAndrew says. “I never experienced that kind of satisfaction before I came to work for the State Department.”