Two people sitting in chairs on a stage facing each other and speaking. On the left is a man wearing a suit and on the right is a woman wearing a dress.
At right, Dame Karen Pierce, DCMG, British Ambassador to the United States, speaks with Chris Burdett, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences, at the "Democracy and Diplomacy: Cultivating Our Future" event on Monday in the Commonwealth Ballroom at VCU's University Student Commons. (Joe Mahoney, L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU)

British ambassador to the U.S. visits VCU on tour of Richmond

From classroom visits to discussions with students about U.S.-U.K. relations, Dame Karen Pierce and representatives from the U.K. embassy gave VCU students a global perspective this week.

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Dame Karen Pierce, DCMG, British ambassador to the United States, this week joined Virginia Commonwealth University students for an insightful discussion exploring U.S.-U.K. relations, the challenges of global diplomacy and her extensive international career ranging from the United Nations to Afghanistan and beyond.

Pierce’s presentation, “Democracy and Diplomacy: Cultivating Our Future,” moderated by Chris Burdett, Ph.D., an assistant professor of political science at VCU, provided an in-depth look at the intricate collaboration and partnership between the United States and the United Kingdom. She shared the key processes for successful diplomatic policies, using the New Atlantic Charter — signed in 2021 — as a prime example of multilateral collaboration between the U.S. and U.K.

“It was a privilege for me — and our traveling team of British embassy diplomats — to engage with such a diverse range of young leaders and thinkers at VCU,” Pierce told the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU. “Our rich discussions with students and faculty reaffirmed the relevance and value of the dynamic ties Virginia and the U.K. enjoy — across education, innovation, defense, business and beyond.”

Dame Karen Pierce DCMG, British Ambassador to the United States of America, recently joined Wilder School students for an insightful discussion exploring US/UK relations, the challenges of global diplomacy and her extensive international career ranging from the United Nations to Afghanistan, and beyond.

Pierce’s presentation to students was one of several events, including classroom visits and information sessions on ways to study in the U.K., held at VCU this week as part of a U.K. Embassy Pop-Up program in Richmond. The activities were co-sponsored and supported by VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciencesda Vinci Center for InnovationDivision of Student AffairsGlobal Education OfficeHonors CollegeL. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs and School of Business.

“The ‘Pop-Up UK Embassy’ was an innovative way to connect, share valuable information, and inspire hundreds of students from many different majors and programs at VCU,” said Jill Blondin, Ph.D., associate vice provost for global initiatives. “The visit also gave students the opportunity to consider the global nature of whatever career they choose.”

Pierce’s discussion on Monday explored diplomacy efforts between the U.K. and European Union, perspectives on the United Nations and other key experiences that have shaped her storied career. She fielded questions ranging from career advice to international business relationships and the strains challenging the future of global diplomacy. 

“Our university emphasizes experiential learning, and your presence here really helps broaden the classroom for us and is tremendously valuable,” Burdett told Pierce at Monday’s event.

As the first female British ambassador to the United States, Pierce also discussed her unprecedented appointment and the occasional challenges she has faced in breaking gender stereotypes. 

Her fellow British diplomats Paul Rennie and Phil Dickinson fielded additional questions, providing details on the best ways to develop skills and prepare a plan for a career in international diplomacy. 

Catherine Ingrassia, Ph.D., interim dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences, who studies British literature and introduced Pierce at Monday’s event, said the event gave students a perspective they might not have had before.

“Ambassador Pierce’s visit is emblematic of the transformational learning that happens at VCU and in the College of Humanities and Sciences,” Ingrassia said. “Our students gained firsthand knowledge about careers in diplomacy, made connections with those currently working in that field, and expanded their thinking on issues of global importance. I couldn’t imagine a better opportunity for our students.”

During the two-day visit, representatives of the U.K. embassy spoke to students in a variety of courses, including Global Communications; Intercultural Communications; International Marketing; Introduction to Public Policy; Environmental and Resource Economics; Principles of Macroeconomics; Public Relations Research, Crisis Communications and Diplomacy; and Sociology, Global Societies and Comparative Social Justice. They also discussed Brexit, the U.K.’s role in the war in Ukraine and other international matters at a roundtable discussion with the School of World Studies on Tuesday.

“The visit was an innovative complement to our other numerous efforts to engage VCU students in global learning experiences abroad, online and in our campus and community,” said Stephanie Tignor, director of global learning, who helped organize the visit. “Through this ‘Pop-Up UK Embassy,’ students engaged in meaningful conversations with the visiting diplomats that exposed them to British culture, helped them develop global self-awareness and inspired them to consider how they can personally participate in solutions to the problems facing our world, now as students, and as future professionals.

“It was particularly exciting to see our students being introduced to and learning more about pathways to careers in public service and diplomacy as a result of hearing about the diplomats’ personal career trajectories.”

Pierce and diplomats also joined VCU faculty for a luncheon, including L. Douglas Wilder, a distinguished professor at VCU who served as Virginia’s 66th governor. “Ambassador Pierce’s decision to visit the Wilder School during her short time in the United States is emblematic of the stature she affords us,” Wilder said.

“Governor Wilder’s diplomatic ties span the globe and help create unparalleled opportunities for our students,” said Susan Gooden, Ph.D., dean of the Wilder School. “It’s been an exceptional collaboration and the breadth of experiences these diplomats revealed was extremely thought-provoking and engaging.”

Alexis Finc and Nicol Tinsley contributed to this article.