UMSL alum David Drinkard has built nearly two-decade-long career in U.S. Foreign Service

by | Jun 12, 2024

Drinkard currently serves as the economic unit security chief for the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels, Belgium.
David Drinkard (center), UMSL alum and economic unit security chief for the U.S. Mission to the European Union, stands with a group of UMSL students and faculty members at the embassy in Brussels, Belgium

David Drinkard (center), an UMSL alum and the economic unit security chief for the U.S. Mission to the European Union, met with a group of UMSL students visiting Brussels last January during a short-term study abroad trip. (Photo courtesy of Michael Costello)

Faculty members Michael Costello and Stephen Bagwell led a group of business, political science and honors students from the University of Missouri–St. Louis on a short-term study abroad trip to Belgium and the Netherlands during winter break.

Costello, a teaching professor in the College of Business Administration who has lived and worked in both countries and practiced law in the European Union, arranged a meeting for the students with the economic unit security chief at the U.S. Embassy to the EU in Brussels.

He didn’t tell the students until they met David Drinkard that he was also an UMSL graduate.

“I have to say, it was too short,” Drinkard said, recalling the encounter from the first week of January. “I was really impressed with everyone. They had a lot of energy and interest. They had a lot of questions about the foreign service and what we do, what a typical day is like, what an embassy does essentially.”

But Drinkard remembered one other question that seemed to be top of mind for everyone in the group.

“How did I go from a student at UMSL at one time to joining the foreign service?” he said.

Drinkard followed a circuitous route to working for the U.S. Department of State and his current posting to the U.S. Mission to the EU.

His story began like a lot of other UMSL students, working his way through school in the 1980s. He’d grown up in St. Charles and already had his eye on going abroad when he enrolled at the university, making friends with a number of international students throughout his tenure.

“There were some Iranians who came when their family escaped Iran,” Drinkard said. “I became good friends with a guy who was from Turkey. There were people I knew from South America and even Mexico. Those were some of the students I remember.”

Drinkard also took advantage of several foreign-language classes offered by the university.

“I studied French in high school and at UMSL,” he said. “I learned Spanish at UMSL and speak it well. I’ve given interviews, presentations and meetings in both languages. So, I was very grateful for the language experience I learned at UMSL.”

He would go on to add Italian, Portuguese, Turkish, and Hebrew to his list of languages.

Drinkard earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology, but he also took courses in management information systems along the way, which helped him break into the computer industry even before graduation.

He went to work for a firm in Washington, D.C. and eventually found his way into several jobs working abroad.

“The majority of my time in the computer industry was spent overseas in Hong Kong, Dubai and Istanbul,” Drinkard said. “I travelled an awful lot, so I worked in over 55 countries in the private sector doing training, presentations, consulting, whatever was needed. The jobs were always regional in that regard.”

Drinkard had been living for more than four years in Istanbul, working as the product sales and marketing manager for Sun Microsystems, when he decided to apply for the foreign service officer test.

The application is the first step in a highly selective five-step process to become a commissioned officer of the U.S. Foreign Service. Fewer than 40 percent of the people who take the test wind up passing, and far fewer – less than 2 percent of initial applicants – end up becoming foreign service officers.

Drinkard appreciated how long the odds were, having applied unsuccessfully while still an undergraduate student at UMSL, but with more than 15 years of additional life experience, much of it gained while living abroad, he proved a much stronger candidate the second time around. He received an offer to join the foreign service as an economic officer in 2005.

“I had no idea where I was going to end up,” Drinkard said. “But I knew that I wanted to stay in the areas where I had already been working, which was mainly Europe and Africa and the Middle East.”

His first tour involved just over two years as a general services officer in Ankara, Turkey. From there, he moved to Tel Aviv, Israel, where he spent two years as a consular officer, working on nonimmigrant visas and supporting American citizens through American Citizen Services.

He’s gone on to posts in Kenya, South Africa, Luxembourg and, for the past three years, Brussels, with one two-year stint in Washington from 2010-2012.

“I did a management tour my first tour and a consular tour my second tour in Israel,” Drinkard said. “All the other jobs have been economic focused. It depends on the place as to what I did.”

In Kenya, he met with a lot of American firms looking to begin doing business in that developing economy.  In his role at the Embassy to the EU, he spends time working on issues such as economic sanctions, responding to financial crimes and working on macroeconomic policy, particularly as it  relates to the EU budget.

“A big part of our job is information gathering,” he said. “Every embassy in the world prepares congressionally mandated reports, like the Human Rights Report, the Religious Freedom Report, Trafficking in Persons Report, counterterrorism – it goes on. We gather a lot of information and provide that back to Washington, to decision-makers there.”

Some of that information gets catalogued on, a website that provides useful information for anyone traveling overseas. People visiting the site can take advantage of the STEP Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and receive updates from the U.S. Embassy on issues occurring in whatever country they’re visiting.

Drinkard’s time in the foreign service has brought him and his family – including a daughter now in college – experiences he never could have imagined.

“It can be hard on the family, for sure, to move to different places and have a lot of things out of your control,” he said. “But this lifestyle is what my daughter grew up with. She would recognize that she’s been able to meet some wonderful people. She spent eight years of her childhood in Africa, which is pretty amazing.”

Drinkard had the opportunity to relay all of that to the UMSL students he met in Belgium in January.

“He was incredibly generous with his time for our students, and I think it was probably one of the best and most engaging meetings we had on a trip that was full of good ones,” said Bagwell, an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science.

Drinkard also talked to the students about how they might find their way into similar roles in the future, pointing them to the State Department’s website,

“It elevated the student’s aspirations for themselves,” Costello said. “I think a lot of our students don’t see themselves as eligible for these kinds of roles, and they don’t set their sights high enough. I love when I have the opportunity in the study short-term study abroad trips to introduce them to UMSL alums, and David was not unusual as someone who worked his way through school. I was delighted to have taken the students and given them that opportunity.”

Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik