May 29, 2024

Q-and-A with Bryan Marcus ‘99

Your home: Washington, D.C.

Your hometown: Marion

Tell us about your family. My husband, Richard, works here in Washington. He’s a research fellow at a think tank. I have two older sisters who both attended Montevallo. My parents still live in Marion.

What is your profession? I am a State Department Foreign Service officer. The Foreign Service represents the United States overseas, and we also work in Washington. The State Department’s mission is to protect and promote U.S. security, prosperity and democratic values and to shape an international environment in which all Americans can thrive.

What do you find most rewarding about working in Foreign Service? I picked a profession that requires me to learn, and I learn something new every single day. We are constantly reminded of how the world changes and we must keep learning as it changes. I was fortunate to study several foreign languages to prepare for overseas assignments, and that is another layer of responsibility because you have to attain proficiency in very difficult languages sometimes. But it’s a great gift because languages teach you more than just grammar — they teach you about cultures.

How did it feel to receive UM’s Department of Behavioral & Social Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award this year? It meant so much to me because I was nominated by two former professors. One of the things I said at the award presentation was how important my background turned out to be for the work that I went into, especially the importance of understanding relationships across cultures. Growing up in a small town in the Black Belt was an important lesson in interdependence, but so was being on a small campus. I had professors who did not think it was unusual to include, for example, a novel in a history class. It was just something that happened at Montevallo because of faculty who looked at their subjects through a multidisciplinary lens. I was around when Montevallo had the first of the Life Raft Debates. It was a competition, but there was also a sense of acknowledgment among the faculty of the profound respect they had for each other across fields. I’ve always remembered that as part of my formation at Montevallo, and that’s a very good lesson for any student or professional — to know that there are other ways to approach problems and to think about creative solutions.

What is the best advice you have received in your career? My first ambassador once said that the people she knew who had not achieved their potential were the people who stopped taking calculated risks. My own path and the opportunities that opened up for me happened because I was prepared to take those calculated risks. Even going to graduate school in Pittsburgh was a big change for somebody like me who had never been outside of Alabama. Change is stressful, and you just have to know that that’s part of the process of growing. It comes back to having faith that you have the foundation that you need to approach problems, and the value of such a deep grounding in critical thinking and all of the elements that make up an education at Montevallo. Our graduates can compete against anyone. We can do whatever we set out to do. I am so glad to know that other Montevallo graduates are here in Washington working across a range of fields. We’re proof that it really is a function of being open to those opportunities and being open to those risks.

Were you involved in any campus clubs or organizations? I was a member of Phi Alpha Theta, the history honor society, and Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society.

What makes Montevallo alumni special? Our diversity — I can tell you just from my own family what a diverse group we are. My oldest sister was a business major at UM and has had a very successful career in banking and insurance. My middle sister was an art major and now works for a nonprofit. The fact that this small place is able to nurture the ambitions of such a diverse group of students, even within a single family, speaks to the strength of the institution.

What advice would you give to current students? Try to enjoy the entire journey — and that’s a tough one because we’re under such pressure as young people to get a job and a house, to move up within organizations, to be successful and to prove ourselves. I wish the younger me had been a little more intentional about enjoying the journey, but I think I was always so focused on the next thing. Try to enjoy each chapter.

The views expressed are not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.