Her career with the State Department
led her all over the diplomatic World
Story & photos by Susan Lassiter
Monique was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pa. but both of her parents, Velma Dublin Austin and Leonard Earl Austin, were from Smithfield. Her mother’s sisters, Clara Avery and Rogerlyn Smith, also lived in Smithfield and taught in Johnston County schools.
Monique and her brothers, Kenneth and Sheldon, visited relatives here while they were growing up. Both brothers now live in Smithfield. Monique thought about retiring in Washington, D.C. but family roots brought her here instead.
Her parents left Smithfield for Philadelphia after Velma Austin graduated from nursing school in Charlotte and Earl returned from the Korean War. Her mother was a pediatric nurse with the Philadelphia Public School System and her father worked in the urban planning office for Marion Township, Pa. The parents planned to return to Smithfield to retire but Mr. Austin died in 1985. Mrs. Austin came in 1987 and worked part-time at the Mental Health Center.
Monique graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in psychology and received a scholarship to attend Temple University in Philadelphia to earn a master's degree in social work with a minor in social justice. A frustrating internship with the Superior Court for the District of Columbia swayed her career path and she didn’t finish the master's program.
It was a court case that changed her direction as a social worker when a young abused child was returned to his parent rather than Monique’s recommendation of placing him in a safe environment. "I knew I couldn’t take that very long," she admitted.
Next, she received an internship to work at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. --- in the women’s program of NASA’s Equal Employment Office, training women to strive for upward mobility. When that internship ended, Monique worked as a researcher on Capitol Hill for the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress. (Her brother, Sheldon, also worked for the Library of Congress.) In 1989, she moved to Boston to attend Simmons University, a well-known school for social work and business administration. She earned an MBA degree in 1991.
In Boston and later in Washington, Monique worked in the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in the areas of public health and environmental issues. The GAO provides auditing and investigative services to Congress. It was in 1999 that the pieces of her education and career experiences jelled. She was recruited to join the Inspector General’s Office at the State Department. And that was just prior to the big "Y2K" controversy.
--- also known as the “millennium bug,” according
to National Geographic --- was a computer flaw
that could have caused problems when dealing with
dates beyond December 31, 1999. It was feared by
computer programmers and users all over the world
that it would happen on January 1, 2000. "When
complicated computer programs were being written
during the 1960s through the 1980s, computer
engineers used a two-digit code for the year. The
19 was left out to shorten the date because data
storage in computers took up a lot of space,”
explained National Geographic. In other words, New
Year's Day 2000 could have been interpreted as
January 1, 1900 and that would have caused havoc
for banks, power plants, and transportation that
depend on correct time and date.
Because of the threat, Monique’s State Department assignment was to determine if embassies were prepared for Y2K. Asia was her first portfolio. That included China, Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia, and Jakarta. When serving in China and because of her tall stature and dark complexion, "I stood out in a crowd and probably had more photos taken of me than Chairman Mao," she laughed.
the Foreign Service must pass vigorous oral and
written exams. Required clearances include
medical, suitability, and "Top Secret" security.
Members must be "worldwide available and deployed
anywhere based on the needs of embassies and
consulates." There’s always potential for
violence, civil unrest, or warfare.
Over various assignments, Monique served as a General Services Officer as well as a Management Officer. She dealt with banking officials, vendors, and service providers. That could include security, utilities, equipment and supplies, housing, and transportation.
Another treasured assignment was to Haiti for two years following the terrible earthquake there in 2010. Monique was the Deputy Director of Management for the embassy. She was assigned to find housing for Americans. It was in Haiti when she met President Jimmy Carter, who came as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, and also President and Mrs. Bill Clinton when Hillary was Secretary of State.
years during the Obama Administration, Monique
held a temporary assignment at the United Nations
coordinating UN General Assembly meetings on
behalf of the Office of International Conferences,
which accredited speakers. Monique and her staff
worked with event planning and logistics for
hotels, transportation, and conference rooms. It
was here that she met President Barack Obama at a
reception for the UN staff.
assignment was in Washington, where she sometimes
attended ceremonies in the White House Rose
Garden. Over her years of employment, she had
sensitive assignments she can’t talk about.
still getting settled in Smithfield. She
anticipates being active with her sorority, Delta
Sigma Theta, and is looking for volunteer
opportunities in the community. She has so much to
share about her fascinating life as a diplomat and