Elizabeth Twerdahl Stankus '98

As a Senior Policy Advisor for the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Elizabeth Twerdahl Stankus ’98 develops policy, operational, and strategic plans within the Domestic Operations Directorate. The Bureau of Diplomatic Security is the most widely represented U.S. law enforcement and security organization worldwide, operating at 275 Embassies and Consulates and 29 offices throughout the U.S.

What drew you to government work?

I have been interested in politics and government as long as I can remember. Through my Marlborough years, I participated in the California Youth and Government Program, which is a model legislature program, emphasizing leadership and civic responsibilities. Throughout college and immediately after graduation I worked as an intern on Congressional and Presidential campaigns, eventually ending up as an intern in Congressman Adam Schiff's office here in DC. It was through contacts on the Hill that eventually led me to the State Department. 

Why is this work important to you?

The State Department builds bridges, not walls, and our nation traditionally favors diplomatic engagement ahead of military intervention, which means sending more diplomats directly into high risk situations. While I"m not on the front lines overseas, the work I"m doing in Washington is directly supporting our ability to keep diplomats safe, allowing them the opportunity to create a more peaceful world. I like to joke that my job is "other duties as assigned" since no two days and no two projects are alike. Like any good bureaucrat, the red tape is equal parts daunting and frustrating when trying to get things done, but successes are sweeter once you get there. 

What challenges have you faced with the state department? 

The attacks on our facilities in Benghazi were some of the toughest times I've seen. There was initially a lot of uncertainty about what had happened; there was a turnover of senior management within the Bureau; and there was a sense of failure to overcome. Externally we were fighting Congressional oversight and an onslaught of press coverage. My office received a lot of support from other parts of the government, to include additional funding and personnel. As an organization, we had to take a hard look at adopting best practices from across a spectrum of missions to ensure that we had what we needed to avoid future incidents. IN the years following the Benghazi attacks, we made a number of changes to security policies and programs to ensure that our personnel can safely perform their jobs. There is inherent risk with keeping a visible diplomatic presence in some of the world's most dangerous places. The balance is to make reasonable choices to mitigate risk, while facilitating the necessary engagement on the ground, and that's what allows us to remain in place in most parts of the world. 

How did your Marlborough education support your work in the government?

Marlborough taught me that there is enormous potential and power in being a woman. Working in a male-dominated profession, I am often forced to use my voice to offer a minority opinion. I attribute my confidence in doing so to my Marlborough education where I was often pushed out of my comfort zone.

What advice do you have for current students interested in pursuing work in government?

The two best things I did early in my career were to intern in a variety of offices/programs, which gave me basic skills and an understanding of various work environments; and building a network of people not only who are well connected, but those who can serve as mentors - and not just in your field of study, since those with different perspectives are equally important when weighing decisions.

 

 


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