Alumna’s foreign service success earns her a new post as U.S. Ambassador

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Claire Pierangelo (Kresge College, History ’82) will serve as US Ambassador to Madagascar.

Claire Pierangelo (Kresge College, History ’82) was confirmed on March 2, 2022 by the United States Senate as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Madagascar and the Union of the Comoros. A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Pierangelo has served across four continents, most recently as the Principal Officer of the United States Consulate General, Lagos, Nigeria. 

When she arrived at UC Santa Cruz, Pierangelo planned to follow her family’s legacy and become a medical professional, but she recalibrated after studying abroad in Italy her junior year. Combining her passion for history and economics with her enthusiasm for international travel, she found her niche as a European history major intent on pursuing international finance. After earning a master’s degree in international studies and economics at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies she took some time off to teach scuba diving (a skill she honed while attending UCSC) in the Caribbean. When she returned, she had a job waiting for her in international banking with an opportunity for a global post within five years. However, an invitation by the U.S. Department of State promising an immediate post abroad was more appealing. 

“When I took my first assignment, I thought I would try it, and if I didn’t like it, I would go into international banking,” said Pierangelo. “That moment never came. I liked it a lot. I’ve been sent to great places. It’s been a really interesting career.” 

For the past 30 years, as a member of the U.S. Department of State, Pierangelo has led teams that have managed America’s relationships with foreign governments, carried out multiple Presidents’ foreign policies, and advocated the interests of the U.S. to the world. 

“In my role, I help ensure the U.S. and its people succeed. I am working for the people of the United States,” said Pierangelo.” My work adds to the U.S. educational bounty, helps take care of Americans who get into trouble and promotes economic and commercial growth. Doing something good for the U.S. and its people is our ultimate goal.” 

Pierangelo later earned her second master’s degree in national security and resource strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces/National Defense University in 2004.

Pomp and Peril: All in a Day’s Work

Pierangelo speaks Vietnamese, French, Italian, Indonesian, basic Spanish and Creole. She has had numerous leadership positions across multiple bureaus in 11 countries in Central Europe, England, Haiti, Italy, Malta, Indonesia and Japan. She has negotiated significant international trade agreements and facilitated logistics during global healthcare crises and humanitarian efforts. Protecting the U.S. from afar also means close encounters with dangerous situations like navigating terrorist attacks, maritime security threats, and natural disasters. 

“Every day is different, based on what is going on in the world,” she said. “I’ve lived in lovely countries that were extremely dangerous. We understand the risks when we go overseas, and we do it willingly. It can be gritty and heart wrenching, like searching for Americans after the second bombing in Bali, but you always keep in mind the goal of protecting American lives and the interests of the United States.”

While managing crises is part of her responsibilities, she also presides over ceremonies and momentous occasions, negotiates peace agreements and assists with transformational initiatives, such as the EducationUSA Opportunity Funds Program, a $4.35 million initiative that enabled 30 Nigerian undergraduate and graduate students to attend United States universities. According to Pierangelo, her combined seven years of work in Vietnam, when serving as Deputy Chief of Mission and Charge d’Affaires, as well as economic counselor, ranks top among her personal and professional accomplishments. 

“I worked in Vietnam right after it reopened, negotiating the first bilateral trade agreement and textile agreements that opened its economy to the world and helped them in their bid to join the World Trade Organization. These were absolutely transformational. The achievements we made in opening up that country and helping them engage in a more fulsome way in the world is one of my greatest achievements.”

These, and many other significant professional successes, earned her the Joint Meritorious Civilian Service Award from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and multiple State Department performance awards. They also elevated her nomination for the post of ambassador, the highest ranking diplomatic official.

 

Lessons Learned in UCSC Classrooms 

Her work with leaders of countries, dignitaries and people in prominent political positions has been made easier, says Pierangelo, because of her ability as a student to easily interact with faculty at UC Santa Cruz. 

“I learned how to not be afraid of authority. The educational model at UC Santa Cruz allows for so much interaction with professors. Our small classes presented opportunities to really get to know the professors. They would join us for coffee after class where we’d continue the classroom dialogue and get to know them and their personal stories.” 

She recalls one professor who, during a youth revolution, escaped Hungary by walking over the mountains to Switzerland; another invited the class to his home for an authentic Indian meal. 

“The beauty in UC Santa Cruz is the promised difference in the approach to education. It instilled a love of learning, a love of life and a love of conversation in me. It gave me the ability to discuss freely, in a way that would not have happened if I had been sitting in a classroom of 400 students doing rote work.”   


The Journey to the Highest-Ranking Diplomatic Post

The road to the confirmation was quite lengthy; the process began nearly two years ago. Upon approval from the State Department, her application underwent an extensive vetting process at the White House. In June of 2021, President Biden announced his intent to nominate Pierangelo to replace Michael Pelletier to the ambassador post. In September she appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and it reported favorably in October. Her nomination was presented to the U.S. Senate for confirmation, which was approved on March 2, 2022.

She has been serving in West Africa since 2019, assisting Nigerian companies seeking U.S. partners; however, her new post, overseeing U.S. diplomatic relations on the islands of Madagascar and Comoros, will provide different challenges and opportunities. The two countries are strategically significant for the United States as they sit at the maritime crossroads of the Indian Ocean, Africa and the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, the largest deep-water port is situated at the northern tip of Madagascar.  

“There is much less infrastructure and political stability in these countries than there is in Nigeria,” said Pierangelo. “The region is threatened by climate change, which is creating serious humanitarian, economic, and environmental crises.” 

She stated in her Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that extended drought in Southern Madagascar has created food insecurity and internal migration that threatens unique ecosystems, and COVID-19 has exacerbated health and economic challenges. Her work will focus on providing basic healthcare, primary education and emergency food aid, as well as addressing economic development and wildlife trafficking and corruption. She also plans to work with the Peace Corps to resume its historically vibrant programs in the two countries. 

Pierangelo, who will oversee more than 400 foreign service employees in her new role,  will be sworn in as Ambassador to the Republic of Madagascar and the Union of the Comoros on May 2, 2022.