Alina Blevins printed out nine questions for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in preparation for Friday’s talk at the Woodman Alumni Center. She admitted to being “super-duper nervous” before introducing herself and asking a question.
A few minutes later, she asked another.
“I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to ask him, but after hearing him answer a few of the other questions, he was really just like a regular person,” said Blevins, a junior finance major from Salina.
Pompeo spent almost an hour on Friday morning taking questions from around 30 students from Wichita State University’s W. Frank Barton School of Business. Questions ranged from obstacles faced in his life to gaining trust from new co-workers to advice for a student considering law school.
“It was a really next experience and I’m glad I had the opportunity,” said Tatum Benway, a senior integrated marketing communication major from Derby.
Pompeo drew on his education at the U.S. Military Academy and Harvard Law School, his time as a small businessman in Wichita and his position as a U.S. Representative from Kansas’ 4th District from 2011-2017. He served as director of the CIA from January 2017 to April 2018 before taking on his current post as the country’s top diplomat.
Susan Pompeo, his wife, is a Wichita State graduate in communication and former president of the WSU Alumni Association.
“He talked a lot of being able to block out the noise,” said Kaitlyn Owens, a junior entrepreneurship major from Hesston. “I thought it was really cool that he was able to, at the base of everything, remember who he was and what his values were. He mentioned a lot that he was a servant of the United States and, more than anything, that’s his job. It really instilled a lot of faith in our country.”
Pompeo distilled much of his advice into three thoughts – stay focused on things that matter, use information to set realistic goals and consider serving their country in some capacity.
“Think about service here in America,” he said. “It’s incredibly important. This nation gave an awful lot to me. It is a powerful and important thing and we each have an obligation to deliver for the next generation.”
Many of the students took notes. Each of them received a button emblazoned: United States Department of State and #Swagger.
“Over and over again, he kept saying, ‘Keep focused on your priorities. Define what success means to you,’” Blevins said.
Owens, with an eye on the business world, paid particular attention to his thoughts on working with people and running an organization. She asked Pompeo about balancing work and family.
“The biggest thing for me is he mentioned, and gave a lot of advice, as to what a good leader does,” she said. “He specifically mentioned you have to treat every member of your team and every individual that you come in contact with with honor, dignity and respect.”
After meeting with the business students, Pompeo met with coaches and student-athletes from the Wichita State men’s basketball team in the Champions Club at Charles Koch Arena. He took pictures with members of the men’s and women’s team on the court.
Pompeo said he and his family are Shocker season-ticket holders and he tries to avoid scheduling dinners on nights the team plays. Last season, he hosted the Shockers on a visit to the White House and a meeting with President Donald Trump.
“There’s nothing more joyous than being in Koch Arena for a basketball game,” he said.
The Shockers asked questions about Pompeo’s mode of travel, his favorite places to visit (Israel and Bangkok), his security detail and how he deals with stress. Pompeo told the Shockers that the president asked about their prospects for the season. Pompeo said he told the president he would know more after his visit to Wichita.
“It’s all about that preparation and it will all come back and pay off for you,” he said.