How A Short Conversation Led To A Career Path
“I remember the first time I walked into his office, having no idea what direction I wanted to take. I walked out with a path for my life for the next four years,” recalls Leslie Marbury (BSES ’98, Environmental Economics & Management with a Certificate in International Agriculture; MS ’04, Environmental Economics) of her first meeting with Ed Kanamasu, who served as director of the Office of Global Programs from 1995 to 2006.
“I grew up on a farm in Leesburg, Georgia, and went to UGA where I majored in environmental and agricultural economics,” says Marbury. “I knew I wanted to work in agriculture, and I wanted to know what an international career might look like.”
During that first meeting, Kanemasu explained to Marbury that she could earn a Certificate in International Agriculture by completing an internship that summer in Morocco and a few additional courses.
But that was just the first step.
“Ed was putting together the Peace Corps Master’s International Program in Agriculture that allowed students to complete the first year of their master’s program—with an assistantship—join the Peace Corps for two years and then return to UGA for their final year,” says Marbury. “I had some idea I wanted to complete a master’s degree, and I had some idea that the Peace Corps was something I wanted to do, but Ed showed me how both things could happen.”
Marbury was accepted into the program and served in Ghana with the Peace Corps, focusing on agribusiness and ecotourism.
“After completing my master’s, I applied for a job with the U.S. Agency for International Development and that’s what I’m still doing 11 years later,” she says.
Marbury’s first posting with USAID was as an agricultural officer in Honduras. She also held positions in Bolivia and South Africa before her current assignment in Burma, where she serves as director of the economic growth and agriculture program for USAID, Burma.
“One of both the benefits and challenges is that you move every two-to-four years,” Marbury says of her career. “For someone who lived in the same neighborhood until I left for college, that’s been a very different experience.”
The benefits, however, have far outweighed the challenges, she says, explaining that her work generally involves working with government leaders to determine how to allocate U.S. resources to benefit small farmers in the countries where she is stationed.
“For countries like Burma that have been cut off from technology and international know-how for so long, the training and U.S. volunteers you bring in and the international expertise you introduce can have quite a big impact and reach a lot of lives,” she says.
In reflecting on that first visit to the Office of Global Programs, Marbury says, “I have never had such a short conversation that basically charted my entire career path.”