A Life in Foreign Affairs
Raúl “David” Avalos ’06 left the piney woods of East Texas to attend the University of St. Thomas-Houston where he fell in love with the diversity of the city and UST. Intending to study ancient history, Latin, and Greek, he was swayed to major in international studies by the late former director of the Center for International Studies Dr. Gustavo Wensjoe, Prof. Bill Cunningham, and Prof. Rick Sindelar, who both previously served as directors at CIS.
“I was influenced by Rick Sindelar and the late Bill Cunningham, both of whom were retired Foreign Service Officers,” Avalos said. “And of course, Dr. Gustavo Wensjoe, who was hugely influential in my life. He was there encouraging me along, New York Times in hand.”
While at UST, Avalos polished his skills and network, to which he credits his career success.
“Just being in Houston was helpful due to its diverse population and international community,” Avalos said. “Being at UST jumpstarted many skills I have used over the years. Courses in intercultural studies, foreign policy, political economy, and history were just some of the courses that helped prepare me.
“The opportunities in Houston, many of which CIS or UST encouraged us to explore, were great in providing us exposure to the world of foreign affairs,” he said. “I also made some lifelong friends at UST who, to this day, continue to inspire me. So much of what I studied I have used in my career, and I am very grateful. The quality of education, the smaller class sizes, the importance given to travel and international awareness, and the real-life work experience of the instructors at CIS all greatly prepared me.”
Avalos holds a master’s in diplomacy from Norwich University and a B.A. in International Studies with a minor in history from UST.
Currently, Avalos is a foreign affairs specialist with the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) . He manages deployments and overseas support of DOE attachés.
“I support deploying the Department of Energy’s attachés to overseas assignments,” Avalos said. “DOE attachés represent the Department of Energy enterprise while overseas and can have a wide-ranging portfolio that covers nuclear non-proliferation, energy security, renewables, nuclear energy technology, rare earth minerals, fossil fuels, commercial energy, etc. The list goes on. I also run various support and training programs at NNSA focusing on our overseas presence at U.S. embassies.”
Previously, Avalos supported NNSA’s Office of International Nuclear Security (INS), managing the East Asia and Middle East portfolio. Before his role in INS, Avalos was posted at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, where he served as the special assistant to the DOE Attaché from 2017-2019.
The start of Avalos’ international career was accompanying his wife on her first foreign affairs assignment to Santiago, Chile.
“I initially took the Foreign Service exam for the State Department in 2010 while in graduate school,” Avalos said. “I didn’t pass, but my wife did. We then moved to Washington, D.C., where she was formally accepted, and we set off on our first overseas tour in 2011. I have held various positions both overseas and domestically, supporting the U.S. government. In 2018, I joined the Department of Energy and NNSA.”
Avalos believes in giving back to his alma mater and volunteers to talk to International Studies students about his career path and success to encourage them to take chances.
“I believe that it is valuable for students to hear about individuals who are working in the ‘real world’ and have experience,” he said. “Understand that it is okay not to know it all when you graduate and that there are opportunities outside of Houston.”
Dr. Hans Stockton, associate vice president for International Relations and Engagement and a former director of the Center for International Studies who taught Avalos in class, calls him “A superstar Celt alumnus.”
Stockton said, “David’s success in life and career embodies all that an educator could ever hope for our students. Seeing how he has flourished at each step of the way has been a true blessing and has enriched my own life.”
While on campus giving a talk, Avalos encourages graduates to explore foreign affairs as a career option.
“If you are interested in foreign affairs, leap, and go to D.C. or NYC. It can be daunting, but there are no better locations to learn about the U.S. and international foreign affairs and policies than these two cities. Know that there are many ways to serve as a civil servant and get exposure overseas. Try as many as you can because it gets harder as you get older. Lean on your friends and professional contacts. Don’t lose track of them, and support one another.”