Distinguished Alumni Achievement Awards 2010
Mr. William Steuer
BA International Studies 1989
Manager, U.S. Consulate General
Johannesburg, South Africa
Remarks by Dr. Ann Marie Ellis
Dean, College of Liberal Arts
Will Steuer’s career with the U.S. Department of State has taken him to the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and Africa. He has managed budgets of more than $10 million, built secure locations for diplomatic negotiations, coordinated the activities of U.S. presidents and foreign dignitaries, and handled the emergency relocation of American refugees from a war zone. He currently manages one of the largest U.S. Consulates in the world, and his work has brought him face to face with celebrities and with danger and suffering.
Will, the youngest of four children in a military family, graduated from high school in San Antonio.
He was the first member of his family to attend college, and coming to Southwest Texas was a bit of a rebellion on his part. Most of his classmates were headed for UT or A&M, but he wanted to go to a university where he could major in international studies and meet new people. Will is certain he got a better education at SWT than he would have elsewhere because his classes were small and they were taught by professors rather than by teaching assistants.
He said his International Studies classes with Dr. Dennis Dunn were fantastic and that Dr. Robert Gorman’s experience in the U.N. and the State Department guided his interest in that direction. He also enjoyed his Anthropology classes with Dr. David Glassman. “Let’s face it,” says Will. “Good anthropology stories can be dropped at any reception.”
Will took a Sociology course with me that he says he really enjoyed—thank you, Will! But he says I’m the reason he didn’t get a master’s degree. He was only two classes short of a double major in Sociology, and he wanted to stay at SWT for two more years. So I suggested that he get a master’s degree in Sociology, explaining that it involved taking courses in statistics. When he heard the word statistics, he fled.
Sociology’s loss was the U.S. State Department’s gain. Will went to work there after graduation, and he currently manages the U.S. Consulate in Johannesburg, South Africa. The consulate, one of the 10 largest American Consulates in the world, is larger than most embassies in Africa. Will oversees 100 personnel, a large budget, facilities management, classified and unclassified information systems, and human resources. He promotes American interests through speaking publicly on topics ranging from politics to Texas rodeos. And he works on programs to strengthen American trade and political ties with South Africa.
As you might expect, his job as a high-level U.S. official is replete with excitement: he coordinates the visits of VIP delegations, and he’s preparing for an expected influx of more than 200,000 American tourists for the 2010 World Cup soccer competition.
Will gained his first experience working with VIPs as an officer in the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, where he coordinated visits by Sen. Dick Gephardt, Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell, and Bono. When President George Bush Sr., visited South Africa, Will was able to observe his interactions with Nelson Mandela. Later, on the airplane, he sat by Barbara Bush and chatted with her about her experiences as First Lady. He finished this particular tour of duty by coordinating the ground logistics for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, making sure that things went well for the U.S. delegation to what was then the largest United Nations Summit ever held.
Later, as Deputy Executive Director of Legislative Affairs for the State Department in Washington, D.C., Will led official Congressional delegations abroad. The highlight was taking his staff to Paris to coordinate the visits of the delegations attending the 60th anniversary of D-Day in France. At one event for VIPs and WWII veterans hosted by the French government, Will was asked to attend as an interpreter. He said he tried to make his Texas State French instructors Drs. Jean-Pierre Heudier and Robert Fischer proud. Later, at a commemorative event for the Battle of the Bulge, he received an unplanned introduction to heads of state when he slid on icy marble and almost bowled over the Grand Duke and Duchess of Luxembourg.
Then, in 2008, Will coordinated the logistics for President George W. Bush and the American delegation that attended the U.S.-European Union Summit in Slovenia.
It hasn’t all been brushes with celebrity, however. His first assignment after graduating from Texas State was to the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. When military mutinies forced the evacuation of 25,000 expatriates, Will, who was only 23, was asked to remain at the Embassy as one of a handful American staff members. He was held at gunpoint several times by looters and by soldiers at roadblocks. Later, in South Africa, he happily managed to avoid being stoned by students who were protesting Secretary Colin Powell’s appearance at the University of Witwatersrand.
Other assignments were less dangerous but no less difficult. In Pretoria, Will led the team that received a plane filled with U.S. evacuees from Madagascar. In Niger, he served as an election observer deep in the Sahara Desert, where he lost 10 pounds, mostly to perspiration. In Bulgaria, his neighbors were so distrustful of foreigners that it was two years before they would converse with him. And in the West African nation of Mali, Will says President Carter’s visit, fuel shortages, strikes, the closing of borders, and the occasional gas grenade that was intended for the opposition party next door made Mali an unforgettable experience.
Will credits his Liberal Arts training with enabling him to think creatively and to help his staff and others who were in need. Poverty was so extreme in Mali that he led charity drives for the local population and study halls for the children of staff members in an effort to keep the children in school. In Bulgaria, he raised funds for a student who worked in the U.S. Embassy mailroom so that he could have a sight-saving operation, and in Niger, he saved the Embassy jobs of two French-speaking Africans who were about to be fired because they didn’t understand the directions they’d been given in English.
In Pretoria, Will realized that his staff was at risk for violent crime and for HIV. So he set up a program of treatment for them with social workers and rape crisis counselors, and he worked with a free clinic to give everyone HIV testing and counseling. While a number of the staff tested positive for HIV, nine years later every one of them is still healthy and employed, thanks to his efforts.
Will’s posting in Johannesburg ends next year, and he expects to be sent to the Middle East. In the meantime, he is developing the Johannesburg consulate into the premiere training and conference facility for the U.S. Government in Africa—a convenient meeting place for government officials coming from Washington, D.C., Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
Will has won many State Department awards for meritorious service. One day, I think we may look forward to addressing Will as Ambassador Steuer. He is a tremendous asset to our foreign service—an excellent manager, a conscientious humanitarian, and a tireless promoter of the good things that America brings to the rest of the world. On behalf of the College of Liberal Arts, I am pleased to present him with the College’s highest honor, the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award.