September 24, 2019


Guillermo Vásquez de Velasco and David Wellman Introduce The Grace School of Applied Diplomacy

A wide range of professionals must practice diplomacy in today’s complex world. Can you imagine a school in which a Chicago community organizer studies alongside a peer in the foreign service? Established with an anonymous $20 million gift, DePaul’s new Grace School of Applied Diplomacy is making that a reality. The school aims to empower a diverse generation of diplomats from a wide range of professions with the education and skills needed to develop solutions to society’s most vexing challenges. Learn more about The Grace School—the first of its kind in the U.S.—from two DePaul leaders who helped create it.



LINDA BLAKLEY: Welcome to DePaul Download, a podcast featuring DePaul’s faculty experts and discussions with our president. I’m your host, Linda Blakley.

Today, we’ll tackle a bit of mind bending as we introduce an innovative DePaul program designed to train a new generation of diplomats.

This month, DePaul announced the opening of The Grace School of Applied Diplomacy, funded by a multi-million-dollar anonymous gift.

The Grace School was the first of its kind in the United States. The difference is in The Grace School’s interdisciplinary approach with faculty drawn from more than 20 different DePaul departments and programs.

Not only for those who aspire to be the next Condi Rice or John Kerry, The Grace School looks at diplomacy from more than the international point of view. Let’s learn more from two people who are closer to The Grace School than probably anyone else.

Guillermo Vásquez de Velasco, the Dean of DePaul’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, and [its director] David Wellman join us today. Welcome, Guillermo and David.


DAVID WELLMAN: Thank you very much.

LINDA BLAKLEY: I would like to start with you, Guillermo. Can you tell me about how the school was created and why?

GUILLERMO VÁSQUEZ DE VELASCO: Well, for that I need to probably go a couple of years into the past and remember when our new president, Dr. Esteban, came into campus. One of the first things he did was to do a tour of our academic units, a listening tour. We were not the first, not the last, but he came to our college, and during that morning meeting, I tried to provide an understanding of the things we were doing, and one of the things we were very proud and continue to be very proud is that we are trying to build bridges between our traditional silos.

As you know, in the liberal arts, there are a lot of – there is a lot of granularity. Every discipline has its own identity. So, it was very important for us to do that.

So, what we created, shortly before his arrival, we created the sandboxes which are multidisciplinary spaces in an interdepartmental space where faculty can collaborate, truly collaborate, not just contribute but collaborate. And we had just started a program in criminology, a BA in criminology that was developed in one of those sandboxes.

So, kind of branching out of that conversation, he looked at all of our disciplines and he mentioned that at Seton Hall, he had experience with the diplomacy, which was highly multidisciplinary.

And of course, as a diligent you know, dean, I heard the president and immediately put it in my to-do list to explore that possibility.

So, that was basically the jumpstart, and then, of course, the next step was to bring this to the attention of our faculty and of course, our Enrollment Management and Marketing unit to kind of look at what was not only the level of desirability, but also feasibility and viability of a program in diplomacy. So, that was the very beginning of it.

LINDA BLAKLEY: So, the school is named The Grace School of Applied Diplomacy. How does applied diplomacy differ from diplomacy?

GUILLERMO VÁSQUEZ DE VELASCO: Well, it refers to the actionable side of diplomacy. As you know, we – we were born in a way following the question, the Vincentian question, ‘what is to be done?’ It is something that we always keep in our mind. And we have responded to that by our, you now, we all know our tagline: ‘Here, We Do.’ So, it is our way of responding to that question. What is to be done here? Yes, here we do.

And I think that when we talk about our disciplines, especially those that are connected to you know, the city around us for instance, we have a wonderful opportunity to actually be actionable.

I always mention that in liberal arts schools, usually we raise awareness, provide understanding about the issues, but in many instances, we don’t cross the line into action. At DePaul, we do. So, we cross that line and become actionable based on that understanding. So, in our classes, we bring awareness, understanding, and action and that is, you know, applied, applied to the reality out there. So, we thought it was only very fitting to call it applied diplomacy.

But, of course, we will address theory and all of the aspects that build on the ability to be actionable.

LINDA BLAKLEY: So, David, when I think of a diplomat, I immediately think of Condi Rice standing at an airfield looking like she can come into a country and change the world. But the school won’t be able to help educate and prepare those who have that kind of career, but many others. Is that correct?

DAVID WELLMAN: That’s right. The design of our curriculum reflects the concept that is called transprofessional diplomacy, and that is to say that while diplomacy is practiced by nation state, diplomatic core representatives, diplomacy is also practiced by scientists and business people and artists, educators, clergy, community organizers, and activists. And so, we have designed a curriculum that can train people in all of those different vocations.

But I think the one thing that really binds it all together is that we’re – our understanding of what a diplomat is, is somebody who is a bridge builder but also somebody that has the capacity to not only represent the group of people that they are speaking on behalf of but also people who have the capacity to put their feet into the shoes of others and to see that the well-being of their own group is intrinsically connected to the well-being of others.

And so, in that regard, I think the work of a diplomat is really a higher calling and it is looking beyond short-term gains and goals and it is looking to see that, you know, the future is about our interconnectedness and seeing a commitment to the totality of our working together.

LINDA BLAKLEY: I understand as well that the contribution from the donor includes funds earmarked for teaching and learning enhancements. Can you tell me a little bit about some of those enhancements?

GUILLERMO VÁSQUEZ DE VELASCO: Well, there are two that I feel very strongly about. One relates to your previous question about, you know, becoming actionable, to be able to apply, and that has to do with my belief and the belief of many that project-based learning in the liberal arts has great potential. It’s an enhancer of our learning environment.

Of course, DePaul has a long history of service-based learning. We have many faculty that are already operating in that experiential framework.

So, but of course, bringing that kind of teaching into the liberal arts, it is going to be challenging. For one, for instance, we need to get out faculty to be able to teach together, team teaching. No faculty member has all of the disciplines embedded in one person to address what we call wicked problems, you know? The big, complex problems of the 21st Century. So, for that matter, yes, we need funding so that we can buy the time of some faculty so that they can collaborate together with their students, so that we can move students closer to the understanding of those problems, and sometimes that requires mobility.

So, to bring project-based learning into our classrooms in the liberal arts, that is a very important enhancement. The other one, of course, is the world around us and because of our mission, we have many students that cannot, you know, visit the world, see the world around them. And with this amazing gift, we will be able to provide them with that opportunity so that all of our students will be able to go and visit the world, understand it better, and therefore act globally.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Tell me a little bit more about wicked problems. Can you give me an example of what you mean by the wicked type of problems that we think our graduates will be able to address?

GUILLERMO VÁSQUEZ DE VELASCO: If we go for kind of a simple definition of it, it is very complex problems that are systemic where sometimes solving part of the problem may generate more problems. They are very fluid and by nature, they are multidisciplinary.

Good examples are all of the problems stemming from poverty, homelessness, problems like gun violence, problems like climate change, extremely complex problems where a single discipline is just not enough.

LINDA BLAKLEY: So, David, we like to say that Chicago is our classroom. How will being located in an international city help as we prepare this next generation of diplomats?

DAVID WELLMAN: I think we’re extraordinarily lucky to be situated in the city of Chicago because it provides so many opportunities and presents so many of the most important challenges that our country faces. So, starting with the opportunities, I would say that one, there are over 80 consular corps offices in our city and I am happy to say that we have been in conversations with a number of representatives who have expressed an interest in partnering with us and helping us. So, we are looking forward to looking at the fact that there are many, many countries in the world represented in terms of diplomatic corps, but also when we look around the city of Chicago, I think it is safe to say that the sons and daughters of just about every country on earth live here.

So, we have an – and I would say at the same time that DePaul University has the privilege of getting to educate the sons and daughters of just about every country on earth here. So, those are some of the extraordinary advantages.

Of course, some of the challenges, of course, is that we live in one of the most segregated cities in the United States, and I think that this program can be a very concrete response to the need to learn how to build bridges across all of those multiple boundaries of difference and be they racial, ethnic, religious, economic, or cultural. Those are the opportunities there.

With regards to the city of Chicago as our laboratory, I think one of the more exciting concentrations that both our MA and BA program offer are in the field of what we are calling urban diplomacy. And that is to say, looking at diplomatic acts that take place within the boundaries of a single city which have both local and global implications.

And so, I would submit that you know, if we want to try to understand what is going on in Pilsen and look at the issue of gentrification or look at the issue of building bridges between the Mexican American community and other communities in the city, we are also looking in a microcosm of the relationship between the United States and Mexico or the United States and Latin America because I think it is safe to say that if you ask the average DePaul student, you know, where their family is from, they are not just going to name people who live in the United States. They are going to name people that live in a lot of other countries. Maybe some of our students – many of our students were born in other countries.

So, I think all of those –all of those factors figure in. And then of course, I would also go on to say that there are a number of extraordinary examples of citizen diplomats or urban diplomats who reside in the city of Chicago and who we are really looking forward to working with.

One such example would be a DePaul grad by the name of Rami Nashashibi who was one of the cofounders of the Inner City Muslim Action Network, which is an organization devoted to building bridges across multiple boundaries of differences and their work is involved founding a health clinic, creating arts programs, creating programs which help shepherd people post-incarceration into jobs and living situations.

So, looking at somebody like Rami Nashashibi as an urban diplomat, as a citizen diplomat, is a perfect example of somebody who I am looking forward to working with as a mentor to our students, which of course, he already is. But I think with regards to The Grace School, he is going to have an opportunity to play another role in the life of our university.

LINDA BLAKLEY: So, we’ve talked about training those who are thinking of the foreign service as their profession, urban diplomats. Are there other tracks and courses that folks should be thinking about?

DAVID WELLMAN: Absolutely. In fact, between the BA and MA program, we have 16 different concentrations that you can focus on. So, with regards to those people who would like to sit for the foreign service exam, they could take more traditional concentrations and diplomatic studies, such as diplomacy and international relations or diplomacy and international political economy. You can also study the history of diplomacy. You could study diplomacy and the arts. You could look at the work of a future museum director who absolutely is engaging in multiple acts of diplomacy, be they negotiating the transfer of priceless objects across international boundaries or the creation of a conversation and a language that draws together a different community here in Chicago when an exhibit is being given.

We have a concentration in diplomacy, non-governmental organizations, and peace building for people who would like to work in what is called track two diplomacy which is non-state actor, NGO diplomacy.

We have a concentration in diplomacy, culture, and identity. One of the important dimensions of becoming an effective diplomat is to acquire cultural literacy. So, this concentration speaks to that.

We have a concentration in diplomacy and critical theory for those who might want to prepare for graduate work in diplomatic studies.

We have a concentration in diplomacy and religion, which is of course prepared – preparing people to do interreligious work, interfaith work for future clergy or lay leaders but also for people who aspire to the foreign service because frankly, there is a certain level of religious illiteracy among the cadre of diplomatic – diplomatic representatives that I think could really be addressed by looking at how religion and religious culture impacts the way people interact with each other, the way people understand community and moral formation.

We also have a concentration at the undergraduate level in diplomacy and international law. At the graduate level, we have six concentrations and one of them is in diplomacy and international public service and we have a fabulous School of Public Service here at DePaul that is contributing a number of classes to that.

We have a concentration in critical approaches to diplomacy, which our international studies program is supplying a lot of classes to that and again, that is a way to intellectually engage the field of diplomacy, perhaps in preparation of graduate work.

We have a concentration in diplomacy and migration that is being – a number of classes that are being offered by our very innovative MA program in forced migration studies.

We have a concentration in diplomacy and critical ethnic studies from our critical ethnic studies MA which once again addresses all of the cultural and ethnic dimensions of relationships between different communities and individuals.

We also have an MA concentration in diplomacy and global public health, which of course health, a common denominator, a common need, and a critical problem that can only be addressed comprehensively by many different communities of people working together.

And then finally, we also have at the MA level, a concentration in urban diplomacy which brings us back to that extraordinary laboratory that we get to work in here in Chicago.

GUILLERMO VÁSQUEZ DE VELASCO: And it’s an open-ended list as you can imagine. We look at these areas of concentration, perhaps in the future becoming minors, becoming certificates as we start to credential those as well. But the list, I think, is going to continue to grow as we bridge into other colleges, into business, into law, into sport, you know, the diplomacy of sport. If you look at the Olympics, many say it is the most diplomatic event in the world in terms of its magnitude. So, I think that this is just the beginning.

DAVID WELLMAN: I should say this about the concentrations that we’re looking at putting together now include environmental diplomacy, include digital diplomacy which of course goes to the area called public diplomacy which is, you know, how is diplomacy conducted through social media, how is diplomacy understood in multiple communication platforms and formats.

And we’re also looking at a graduate concentration in diplomacy and law in conjunction with our law school and commerce and diplomacy with our business school.

So, I think one of the greatest strengths of our program is that from the get-go, we’re saying that no one discipline is in possession of all of the knowledge required for the successful practice of diplomacy. And so, we’re looking at everybody and saying we know that what you are doing in your concentration is in possession of very critical knowledge that can inform the practice of diplomacy. How can you language that in conversation with this school that we are doing?

So, I am – I am so excited at drawing on the richness of our university and I do not think there is a discipline on our campus that could not contribute to this project.

LINDA BLAKLEY: So, Guillermo, it sounds like from the get-go, we have a director who is a believer.


LINDA BLAKLEY: So, I would like to ask you, what makes you know that David was the guy to lead this as we launch this school?

GUILLERMO VÁSQUEZ DE VELASCO: That is a beautiful question. Thank you, because you know, one of the things that the liberal arts gives us is that ability to be empathic. We frequently explain that the liberal arts provide us with that ability to understand each other, to put ourselves in the shoes of someone else, see things from their perspective. That is critical in the skillset of a diplomat.

And David is the most empathic person I know. He is just – has that ability and, of course, his background in diplomacy and in many ways, he actually embodies what we would like our students to mimic as they go through this program.

LINDA BLAKLEY: I can’t let you go without spending some time talking about the name of this school, The Grace School for Applied Diplomacy. You know, I took my first Cursillo a few years ago and one of the talks was on grace and this whole notion of unmerited favor is a mind bender for me.

How did you come to name this school The Grace School of Applied Diplomacy?

GUILLERMO VÁSQUEZ DE VELASCO: I think the name of the school is significant in many ways and it is almost perhaps a personal level that that may be significant.

I know that of course, it is significant to our donors. It is also significant from the perspective of our faculty, our students. David can probably give you a good definition of it.

From my perspective, just to kind of illustrate how personal it may be, as you know, my background is in Spanish and when we receive something from someone, we say muchas gracias which is connected to that concept of receiving grace and giving grace.

So, in a program that has the objective of giving, I think it is only fitting to call it that way.

DAVID WELLMAN: I have to say that I really – I love the name of the school on so many levels and I think that the first meaning of the school for me is the way in which the school came together and all of the people who came from all of the different departments and programs have said we want to be a part of this and who clearly brought all of these different gifts to the table that subsequently in our conversations, our work in the taskforce, and our work in building the curriculum, it became obvious that we could not possibly have created this school in the absence of all of the contributors. It would not have been what it is and I think that is the essence of really, diplomacy, and since no one person can dictate how diplomacy is to be practiced, it is a conversation, it is a community-building exercise.

The second thing I would say is that with regard to at this moment in our country’s and our world’s history, I submit that you know, what a tremendous amount of grace, one that a donor was so extraordinarily generous as to give us this opportunity to work on this scale. The fact that we have a dean whose grandfather was the Peruvian Ambassador to France, so somebody who came to the table already with an understanding of diplomacy and diplomatic culture from their own family.

But I also think that – I think it is undebatable that we are currently in a period, both in our country’s and the world’s history, of increasing factionalization, and I cannot think of a more constructive, concrete and positive response to that, as to say that we have a school now that is designed to equip people with the tools to address cleavages, to address misunderstanding, to address fear of the other, which of course is being leveraged by certain people in this world for their own gains but at the end of the day, which is destroying community.

So, when I think about the idea of practicing diplomacy in the 21st Century, the thing about the transprofessional view of diplomacy, which is to say that all of these different vocations have the capacity and are in fact practicing diplomacy, what that means to me is that our school is charged with giving people the tools to in fact, practice diplomacy in their own vocational, cultural, religious, ethnic, economic contexts and to practice it in a way that makes sense in their own community, using language that makes sense to them because I can offer you one particular language of diplomacy that comes from my own study and my own background and my own perspective. My perspective alone is not adequate, nor will it ever be.

So, this idea of all of these things coming together in this moment to me, exemplifies the concept of grace because there is no way that any of us individually could have made this happen and there is no way even if all of the players came together, if we weren’t willing to listen to each other and be inspired by one another, we still couldn’t have done this.

So, my – my sincere hope for this program is that the spirit that created this program is going to be foundational for how we go forward in how we practice – practice diplomacy, how we teach diplomacy and how we learn from and learn with each other.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Guillermo and David, thank you both for joining this conversation and telling us a little more about how we will be helping to train agents of grace.

If any of our listeners would like to learn more about The Grace School of Applied Diplomacy, please visit DePaul’s website and search for applied diplomacy at depaul.edu.

And if you have feedback for us or ideas for future podcast episodes, reach out to us at depauldownload@depaul.edu. I’m Linda Blakley. Thank you for listening to this episode of DePaul Download, presented by DePaul’s Office of Public Relations and Communications.​