Cedarville University’s name appears on a national scale once again as alumna Jerica Ward is currently in a two-year program culminating in her becoming a U.S. diplomat. Ward will not be the first Cedarville graduate to attain this position, however. Professor of international studies Frank Jenista served as a U.S. diplomat for 25 years before returning to Cedarville, his alma mater, to teach.
The Early Years
Jenista was raised in a missionary family. His parents were Baptist missionaries in the Philippines and Hong Kong. Jenista attended Cedarville for his undergraduate studies. Because he grew up in Asia, spoke the language and was comfortable with the culture, he pursued Asian studies as a major.
He credits professors Murray Murdoch, who still teaches at Cedarville, and Alan Monroe with giving him the opportunity to pursue this field, since Cedarville did not offer an Asian studies program.
“This is the advantage of a small college with professors who really care about their students,” Jenista said. “When I explained what I wanted to do, they said this makes the most sense in the world. They basically created courses for me.”
After graduating from Cedarville in 1968, Jenista went to the University of Dayton to get his master’s in Asian history and then to the University of Michigan to get his doctorate, also in Asian history. He said he feels his professors at Cedarville excellently prepared him for his graduate education.
“I could never have done that if (my professors) hadn’t been willing to go completely out of their field and completely out of their way to do this,” he said. “But they did, and when I arrived at University of Dayton, I was as prepared as anybody who came out of a formal Asian studies program. That’s an immense shout-out to professors who are of the type that we have here at Cedarville.
They’re not here just for the job, they are here for a sense of calling and mission.”
Newly married, Jenista traveled to the Philippines to conduct research for his dissertation. He said when he went, he fully intended to return to Cedarville after receiving his doctorate to teach Asian studies. While there, he ran into diplomats from the U.S. Embassy and learned about what they did. After this encounter, he realized this was the job he wanted. Jenista was accepted into the Foreign Services when he was 29.
In his 25 years of service as a U.S. diplomat, Jenista took assignments in Tokyo, Indonesia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Uruguay and Washington, D.C. His assignments dealt mostly with education and cultural exchange programs and the media. He often acted as the spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy, explained U.S. policies when necessary, participated in seminars and classes at local universities, brought American professors or American performing groups to foreign countries and set up programs for foreign students to attend graduate school in the U.S.
“Since I was coming in with an academic background, this was a natural fit for me,” he said.
Jenista speaks Ilonggo and Tagalog, languages of the Philippines; Japanese; Indonesian and Spanish.
The most meaningful historical event for Jenista during his time of service, he said, was the Yellow Revolution, or People Power Revolution, in the Philippines in 1968. At the time, dictator Ferdinand Marcos had taken away the people’s democracy. This revolution was the world’s first instance in which the people threw out a dictator, not through a bloody revolution, but through uniting and refusing to let the oppression continue. Jenista said this was an example for the rest of the world, and he was able to watch it happen.
Jenista’s wife Barbara is also a Cedarville graduate and majored in elementary education. Growing up in Buffalo, New York, she had never left the country except to visit Canada, and she joked that Jenista’s proposal was, “marry me and see the world.” Her first exposure to the traveling life was when she and Jenista went to the Philippines for his dissertation research.
“After that first exposure, there was no doubt in my mind that this was our life, and I really enjoyed it,” she said.
While living around the world, she stayed involved in education, teaching in every country they lived in except New Zealand. Barbara taught second through fifth grade, preschool and special education in various countries, and she also directed a preschool. Since her students were not all American and she didn’t have a strict American curriculum to follow, she had to adjust her teaching styles and lessons for children of different nationalities and situations.
The Jenistas had a son while in the Philippines and a daughter while in Indonesia. Jenista and his wife made a rule that both of them would avoid going out two nights in a row, so their children wouldn’t be left alone too much. Their two children went to an international school and, once, to a missionary school.
Following in their parents’ footsteps, the Jenista’s two children also graduated from Cedarville.
A new perspective
An important part of the Jenistas’ life overseas, they said, was meeting new people and entertaining in their home. Barbara said they frequently entertained guests, and the family enjoyed meeting newsmen, academics and even a few presidents, both American and foreign. She said that living in different cultures for so long gave her and her family a new perspective.
“As Americans, we can so easily think that our way is the only way, or the right way,” she said. “When you live overseas, you realize that there are a variety of ways you can accomplish things.”
Barbara also enjoyed getting to know missionaries in foreign countries, especially because they understood the culture. It gave the Jenistas an opportunity to both learn and serve, as she would often minister to these families and their children by opening her house to them.
“God had blessed us, and it was so easy then to continue on that blessing,” she said.
Jenista said that for each assignment change, he entrusted God with the next steps.
“That’s the key to the whole thing, is knowing that God has a plan and being open to the plan,” he said, “and when opportunities open, then you assume that it’s because God wants you in that place at that time.”
Jenista said the most important thing as a U.S. diplomat was to maintain connections, as diplomacy is largely working with people.
“Never slam doors, and never burn bridges,” he said. “You might have to walk back through them.”
Another Cedarville-bred diplomat
Jerica Ward, a 2009 alumna, studied international studies at Cedarville and will become a U.S. diplomat once she completes a fellowship program at Texas A&M University.
Jenista was Ward’s advisor while she was at Cedarville, and after she graduated, he encouraged her to volunteer for the Peace Corps in the Philippines. Jenista said Ward’s success in her work for the Peace Corps greatly improved her prospects when she applied for the Foreign Services.
After taking rigorous tests, Ward was chosen for the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship at Texas A&M. She will complete this program in May 2016 and become a U.S. diplomat.
Tips for aspiring diplomats
Jenista encourages students who are interested in diplomacy to be involved and informed. The average entrance age for the Foreign Services is 30 years old, so he advises students to get involved in journalism, the Peace Corps, or other academic or volunteer positions to give them international experience after graduating.
Jenista also encourages students to be creative, be innovative and show initiative to prepare for a job like his. He has colleagues who entered the Foreign Services after studying theology and anthropology, so this career is not limited to international studies majors, he said.
After serving his country for 25 years as a U.S. diplomat, Jenista returned to Cedarville in 2000 where he continues to serve as a professor.
“As I like to say, I’m back at Cedarville doing what I thought I would be doing when I graduated,” he said, “except I took this minor 25-year detour into the service of Uncle Sam before getting here.”
Kjersti Fry is a freshman pharmacy major and reporter for Cedars. She is from Cincinnati, Ohio, and she enjoys playing the piano, playing ultimate frisbee and spending time with friends and family.