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U.S. Ambassador reflects on her roots in Citrus Heights

By Sara Beth Williams–
United States Ambassador Tracey Jacobson (Thomas) counts it a privilege to be a part of the U.S. Foreign Service.


Jacobson, a San Juan High School alumnae class of 1983, was recently inducted into the San Juan Education Foundation Hall of Fame in early October at an Evening with the Stars gala, along with two other honorees.

“Ambassador Jacobson was chosen for her long contributions to a more peaceful world,” San Juan Education Foundation Executive Director Colleen Cadwallader said in an email to The Sentinel.

During the gala, Jacobson gave her remarks via video and thanked one of her language teachers, Donna Altieri, for helping to inspire her toward a career path in foreign affairs.

“I was very honored to be nominated, and the whole process brought back many happy memories of my time in Citrus Heights,” Jacobson said in an interview with the Sentinel.

Jacobson has had many accomplishments over the last 30 years, but her roots are grounded in Citrus Heights. Her family moved to Longwood Way in Citrus Heights when she was six and she recalled growing up with her parents, sister and classmates from first grade through high school. She attended Kingswood Elementary, Carnegie Middle School and San Juan High School before graduating in 1983, according to her biography on the San Juan Education Foundation website.

In high school, Jacobson met Altieri, who taught at San Juan High School while Jacobson attended.

“She was a force of nature whose good humor and energy permeated the whole language program with a sense of fun and adventure,” Jacobson said, recalling that Altieri organized trips to foreign restaurants, cultural events and movies, and encouraged students to speak the language they were studying. Jacobson said Altieri taught her students that language was a tool that could be used to build relationships with people.

“Her memory and her inspiration are still alive in every one of us whose lives she touched,” Jacobson said, after noting that she had heard Altieri had passed away.

Jacobson would go on to major in International Relations at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and then pursue a Master of Arts with an emphasis in Soviet Studies from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Nearing graduation, she took the Foreign Service Officer test and joined the Foreign Service afterward, in 1988.

Jacobson’s career in foreign affairs has now spanned over 30 years, and in that time she has experienced many challenges and many successes.

“I have worked in authoritarian regimes, nascent democracies,” Jacobson said, adding that moving around every two years presents its own set of challenges. “But it appeals to my love of new experiences.”

Amidst the challenges, Jacobson was fortunate enough to be involved with many foreign affairs successes, including helping Latvia prepare for its NATO and EU candidacy, convincing Turkmenistan’s President for Life to improve human rights, and supporting dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia after the war.

Jacobson has been the recipient of several awards, including several State Department Meritorious and Superior Honor Awards, as well as the Presidential Meritorious Service Award, according to her biography. Jacobson has served as U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, and served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Latvia.

“The United States, with its rich democratic traditions and incredible capabilities has an important role to play in the world, and it is a privilege to be a part of that,” said Jacobson, when asked about why she chose to pursue foreign affairs.

All of Jacobson’s experiences have made her life “richer,” she said, adding that some of the most rewarding experiences now involve watching young officers she helped mentor rise up through the ranks. Much like she mentors them, Jacobson had her own set of mentors, one of whom would send her to senior meetings in his place “so there would be a woman at the table.”

Ten years ago, Jacobson married British Diplomat David Baugh and the two have served both together and separately in their respective positions. In 2017, Jacobson retired from the State Department, along with several other key officials. In 2021, Jacobson was appointed as Afghanistan Task Force Director during the Department’s Operation Allies Refuge. Currently, Jacobson serves in the U.S. Senior Foreign Service as Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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