Jackie Wolcott left northwest Ohio for Washington in 1975 - a college junior heading to what she thought would be a short Capitol Hill internship she took for a change of scenery.
Instead, it became the starting point in a career that would take the woman who grew up in an Ottawa County farmhouse into roles as a congressional staffer and a U.S. negotiator at the United Nations.
Now, she ll be heading to Switzerland for a new role - an ambassador aiming to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
Jackie Wolcott Sanders - the last name is from marriage - is set to be sworn in Tuesday as an ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament and special representative of the President for Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
The title will make Ms. Sanders, 49, one of the top Bush administration advisers on the issue. She ll be a front-line negotiator framing pacts with other countries to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of America s enemies.
It s an increasingly tough challenge. No longer are diplomats worried about reducing Communists arsenals. Rather, they fear those arsenals, or the technology, will spread to rogue states or terrorists.
“As the President has often said, it s a new world after 9/11,” Ms. Sanders said.
Her backers say she s more than qualified for the challenge.
“As soon as she gets in there working on the issue of disarmament and nonproliferation, she will hit the ground running with her competence and experience,” Sen. George Allen (R., Va.) said at a hearing in July.
The youngest of four children, Ms. Sanders grew up in Martin, a small village about 10 miles southeast of Toledo.
After graduating from Genoa Area High School in 1972, she headed to Bowling Green State University, working a third-shift job in a dormitory office to help pay for tuition.
As winter approached her junior year, she asked her adviser to help her find something she could do to get away from another northwest Ohio winter.
“I just wanted to do something different and not get blown across the Bowling Green fields and snow one more time,” she recalled with a laugh.
He suggested a congressional internship, and she landed one in the office of Sen. Robert Taft, Jr., (R., Ohio), who died in 1993 and was the father of Gov. Bob Taft.
She did mostly clerical duties, but the Capitol Hill experience was addictive. “I had studied political science, but to deal in the real issues that Congress faced made it very interesting to me,” she said.
Still, she graduated from Bowling Green in 1976 without a job. Three weeks later, while on a trip to visit her sister in Canada, she got the news that the senator s office wanted her for a full-time job.
Her aunt, Lou Fairbanks, recalled that the decision was easy. “My gosh, we got her packed up and away we went, and she s been there ever since.”
Ms. Sanders spent nine years as a Republican congressional staffer before joining the State Department in 1984. She rose to help negotiate U.S. positions on various issues within the United Nations before Democrats took over the White House.
She left the government to help run a think tank for two years and sell real estate in suburban Washington.
She returned to the State Department on Sept. 10, 2001.
Her first day, of course, was a breeze. But “it s been very busy since my second day.”
She became the deputy assistant secretary of state for international organizational affairs - three rungs down the administrative ladder from Secretary of State Colin Powell.
In June the President personally signed off on her nomination for the ambassadorship. And the Senate approved her appointment Tuesday.
She and her husband, an attorney, will clean out their suburban Virginia home this weekend and prepare to ship many of their belongings to Geneva. After being sworn in, she and her husband will leave Thursday for Europe.
She ll be the top U.S. delegate at the Conference on Disarmament, a major international body that s loosely affiliated with the United Nations. The annual conference meets for 24 weeks, spread over three sessions. In between sessions, she expects to shuttle to New York to continue diplomatic efforts.
She also will become an administration point-person to ensure countries stand by their promises in the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Ms. Sanders will become the first person to hold both job duties, an effort to raise the U.S. profile in Geneva.
She said she ll rely on her experience negotiating with governments through the United Nations, as well as manners learned as a child from growing up in the Midwest.
“People from the Midwest ... they re normal people, and I say that in the very best way,” she said. “They re polite. They re down-to-earth. And they re hard-working. And those are all traits that are very valuable in the work that I do.”