Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Keeping the peace–one country at a time

If she had a uniform—maybe something in a nice Army green or navy—Meg Riggs ’97, a foreign service officer, might have an easier time explaining her job.

She works for the U.S. Department of State helping to build important relationships that promote peace, but she is the first to admit that educating friends and family at home about what she does is sometimes the hardest job.

”I, like my family and friends, share in the pride and appreciation for the members of our community in the military,  who ‘serve’ the country in uniform. Unfortunately, that same pride doesn’t always extend to the civilians serving the country overseas,” she says.

Currently, she is the chief of the Public Diplomacy Section at the U.S. Embassy in Burkina Faso, a small, landlocked country in West Africa. Her office is responsible for being a liaison with the media; managing the Fulbright and other exchange programs offered by the U.S. government there; providing the resources available to the public in an American library; and, overall, developing people-to-people relationships between the U.S. and Burkina Faso.

“Diplomacy is the foundation of peace,” says Riggs, who double majored in political science and Italian studies at Wheaton. “Wars throughout history have been driven by the need for sustainable economics and individual liberty. Diplomacy aims to avoid these impasses by maintaining friendships between nations to ensure respect is the foundation underneath difficult policy conversations.”

She has worked for the State Department since 2000. Her assignments have taken her to live in the Republic of Georgia (2004–2005), the Republic of Liberia (2005–2009), and now in Burkina Faso, since 2010. (She received a Meritorious Honor Award and a Superior Honor Award for her service in Liberia.)

Riggs has been interested in the field of diplomacy since high school. “The protests in Poland for independence and then the fall of the Berlin Wall were extremely influential. I knew then that I wanted to play a role in the process of bringing two sides together. It was a simplistic teenager’s dream, but the concept of working to find a common ground for peace and prosperity still holds true. I enjoy knowing that what I have done matters and contributes in some way, even if it is small.”

Working in foreign countries has been a family affair. Riggs’s husband, Greg Brown, is an educator who works on U.S.–funded projects that aim to increase the quality of education in developing countries. And they have a 2-year-old daughter who goes everywhere they go.

The entire family was on campus in November when Riggs returned to speak to students about her work, at the invitation of Professor of Political Science Darlene Boroviak, who still serves as her mentor.

“Wheaton is one of the most meaningful experiences in my life. The connection with the college, my professors and friends are a cornerstone to who I am,” says Riggs.

It was here that she figured out what she needed to succeed in her work, or any work for that matter. “I learned that skills and creativity trump memorized knowledge. To be prepared for new assignments and a changing world, it is more important to know how to learn, where to go to find information, and that you have a solid foundation of knowledge upon which to apply that data. We have no way of knowing what jobs will be available to us in the years to come, but Wheaton makes sure you are ready to prepare yourself for that job market.”

About Sandy Coleman

Sandy Coleman is the editor of the Wheaton Quarterly and Senior Associate Director in the Communications Office.