Content Block Preview: Bios (1:00 pm) ClassAtState: U.S. Commitment to Economic Prosperity for All

ClassAtState: U.S. Commitment to Economic Prosperity for All

Heather Joy Thompson is a diplomat, international affairs expert and attorney. She has spent a decade as a career Foreign Service officer at the State Department. Thompson has lived, worked and traveled in nearly 40 countries on six continents. She has received numerous commendations from the State Department and has twice received its prestigious Meritorious Honor Award. She is currently a diplomat in residence and senior fellow at UCLA, where she provides guidance on careers, internships and educational fellowships to students and professionals who aspire to careers in diplomacy. Thompson is a 2018 State Department International Career Advancement Program Fellow at the Aspen Institute. Thompson served for two years at U.S. Embassy Mexico City, where she worked as an economic officer focusing on Mexico’s booming automotive sector, the North American Free Trade Agreement and bilateral trade. In addition, she covered the structural, educational and social barriers stifling Mexico’s economic growth. Thompson previously served at the State Department’s headquarters in Washington as staff assistant to Thomas Kelly (now ambassador to the Republic of Djibouti) in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, where she managed operations and outreach. Her first assignment took her to the U.S. Consulate General Johannesburg, where she served as the chief of American Citizen Services and cofounded Abafazi Ambassadors, a mentorship program between female diplomats from the U.S. Diplomatic Mission to South Africa and students from the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls.

Thompson is a native of Southfield, Michigan. Her interest in international affairs began in early childhood, during summer trips abroad, and took root during her junior year at Spelman College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree and completed studies in Renaissance art and Italian in Florence, Italy. Thompson started her career as a Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso. Thompson earned a juris doctorate from Wayne State University Law School, where she was the Kenneth V. Cockrel Scholar, and worked under the tutelage of famed attorney Geoffrey Fieger after winning a prestigious summer internship. As a law student, she studied international trade and negotiations in Thessaloniki, Greece, and Passau, Germany. She is a member of the Michigan Bar Association.

Prior to joining the State Department, Thompson worked for Sean “Diddy” Combs, a position she won after beating out thousands of competitors in a nationwide YouTube search to find his next personal assistant. She went on to lead his “Vote or Die!” get-out-the-vote campaign. Thompson has appeared on Oprah: Where Are They Now? and in the pages of The New York Times, Town & Country Magazine, EBONY, JET, Essence and Thompson has worked for two decades on programs to increase diversity, equity, inclusion and access. She has advocated for health awareness, safeguarded reproductive rights and expanded educational opportunities for marginalized communities. In 2017, she was recognized by Ambassador Roberta S. Jacobson for her mentorship of young diplomats and for her leadership of U.S. Embassy Mexico City’s Black History Month Committee. During Thompson’s presidency, the Committee expanded its programs and sponsored a robust year-long schedule of events, which included bringing the Southern Poverty Law Center to Mexico City for a week-long slate of activities focused on race and equality at the Museum of Memory and Tolerance and the National Autonomous University of Mexico — Mexico’s premier public university. Thompson is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated; in 2011, she cohosted “Reintroducing Rosa,” a celebration at the National Press Club which reexamined the civil rights movement and the pivotal role Rosa Parks played as an NAACP investigator and champion for women. Thompson is passionate about the arts, design and food, and speaks fluent Spanish, conversational French and some Italian.


Rodrigo Garza is currently a special assistant to the Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, which leads policy on economic, energy and environmental issues. He is responsible for the Western Hemisphere, department-wide administrative/management issues and special projects as assigned by the under secretary. Prior to joining the Under Secretary team, Rodrigo served as the director for the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Section (INL) at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras. His immediate assignment prior to INL director was the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Affairs senior officer in the office of Multilateral Affairs in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department in Washington.

He joined the State Department’s Foreign Service as an economic officer in September 2003 and completed his first assignment at the U.S Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City as the sole general services officer, akin to a deputy chief of operations at a mid-size company. Rodrigo subsequently served as vice-consul at the U.S. Embassy in Peru from November 2006 to June 2008; energy, extractive industries, and natural resources officer at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan (2008–2009); and served a three-year assignment at the U.S. Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (USNATO) in Brussels (2009–2012), concentrating on energy security, de-mining, women in peace and security, and partnerships with non-NATO members from the Caucasus and Western Europe. Rodrigo has also spearheaded trade policy at the State Department, coordinating its participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement while in the Department’s Economic Bureau (2012–2014).

Before joining the Foreign Service, Rodrigo worked in the private sector as a regional sales manager for Raltron Electronics, a privately owned manufacturer of electronic components, where his main customer accounts were Honeywell, Bose, Garmin and Scientific-Atlanta.

Rodrigo received his bachelor’s degree in history from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, and a master’s degree in international relations from the School of International Studies at the University of Miami, in Coral Gables, Florida. Rodrigo speaks fluent Spanish and some Vietnamese and French. Rodrigo is active physically, participating in basketball, weightlifting, running and softball. His other interests include reading, computers, and the technology and renewable energy sectors. He is married with a 15-year-old son.


Karl Rios is the director of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere’s Office of Economic Policy and Summit Coordination. He was previously the deputy director of the Office of Investment Affairs in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. Prior to that, Rios served as a political and economic counselor in San Jose, Costa Rica; deputy director in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere’s Office of Central American Affairs; and U.S. team lead in a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Logar province, Afghanistan. He served in Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Guinea, and as a Pearson Fellow on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He has received five State Department Superior Honor Awards and is the recipient of the U.S. Army Commander’s Award for Civilian Service and the Secretary of State Award for Expeditionary Diplomacy. He has a master’s degree from the College of William & Mary and a bachelor’s degree in finance from Virginia Tech University. He speaks Spanish, French and Dari. Rios is married to Faith Corneille Rios and has two children.