Alumni Profile: Matt Rosenstein

MattRosensteinOriginally intending to major in chemistry at Duke University, Matt Rosenstein ended up as a Russian major through a familiar route for those in Slavic Studies: on a whim, he took a Russian language course during his first semester of college. Thanks to an enterprising history teacher at his high school in Evanston, IL, Rosenstein had been able to travel to then-Soviet Moscow and Leningrad for a short group study tour, and that experience also played a part in his initial decision to enroll in Russian. As he found himself increasingly bored in the chemistry lab at Duke, and more and more enthralled with his Russian literature courses, he decided to switch majors, and eventually landed as a Ph.D. student in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois. 

Having always been drawn to darker works such as those by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Liudmila Petrushevskaia, Rosentsein says what he loves most about the Russian, east European, and Eurasian region is the “intensity of thought, emotion, passion, and pathos that seems to underpin the great works of Russian literature, art, and philosophy.” Although he admits he is unsure what it says about him that he is captivated by works with such “pervasive suffering,” he realizes he is not alone in that, and many other people have likewise “been enticed by the complexities of the âme slave.” 

Now the Director of Global Education and Training (GET) at the University of Illinois and a recent participant in the Illinois Global Institute Career Day, Rosenstein is familiar with the challenges of pursuing alternative career paths, but also the ways in which a degree in a field such as Slavic Languages and Literatures can open up other opportunities outside of academia. Rosenstein credits his time spent as a graduate assistant at REEEC with connecting him to the interdisciplinary studies community. Although he says he did not realize it at the time, his work helping with outreach events, newsletters and other communications, Title VI grant proposals and reports, and the Summer Research Lab helped him develop skills and interests working in higher education administration, campus internationalization, and interdisciplinary global and area studies centers that would later define his career path. His Ph.D. program in Slavic Languages and Literatures likewise gave him the opportunity to teach language and literature courses, to work as a graduate editorial assistant at the Slavic Review, and to work in the Slavic Library (now part of the International and Area Studies Library), “These jobs gave me a window into different aspects of academia, and the ways that one can make an impact through service to scholarship and public engagement.”

 As a graduate student at the University of Illinois, Rosenstein most valued his faculty and student colleagues who often shared common interests despite researching disparate topics. In addition to studying Russia, east Europe, and Eurasia, Rosenstein also joined and performed with the university’s Russian folk orchestra, although, as he says, he was not particularly talented musically. One memory in particular from his early days at the University of Illinois stands out for him, though: he was able to meet Polish dissident, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and eventual President Lech Walesa during Walesa’s campus visit. 

Rosenstein, who completed his Ph.D. in 2002, explored jobs in academia before deciding on his current career trajectory. However, he entered the academic job market during an especially competitive time for someone with a degree in Slavic Studies, “The Cold War was over, Putin’s ascendancy was still in its early stages, and the perception of Russia as a threat that warranted a strong national commitment to Kremlinology and Slavic studies had ebbed…so enrollments in Russian language and literature courses had fallen off pretty dramatically.” Wanting to stay in Champaign-Urbana, he ended up applying for and was hired by the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security (ACDIS) at the University of Illinois. He also previously served as the Associate Director of the European Union Center. 

Rosenstein admits he rarely speaks Russian in his current position at GET; however, there are times when using Russian is necessary, such as when he was asked to deliver workshops during a trip to Kazakhstan at the invitation of the Ministry of Education. Although his knowledge of Pushkin’s poetry, Old Church Slavonic manuscripts, and postmodernism are not used in his current position, Rosenstein still sees the value in his graduate work for his current position: “I do think the skills I developed during my program—the ability to negotiate different global cultures thoughtfully and with sensitivity, the capacity to engage in close analysis of texts, researching a problem, producing written reports, among other things—are ones that I use in various forms as GET Director. And the broader skills of thinking critically, advocating for a particular position on an issue while also listening to others’ perspectives, which were honed during my Ph.D. program, all come into play.”

While the transition to an alternative career path is admittedly not always easy, Rosenstein fully believes that the skills students develop during their graduate programs are transferable to other fields. He recommends that students who are unsure if they want to pursue a career in academia as a professor try to gain experience in other areas during their graduate studies, which could include through RA and GA positions, as well as internships or part-time positions outside the university: “Don’t be shy in tapping the networks of support and advice that are available to you at UIUC, and carry the conviction that you will find your path if you pursue what interests you.”




Alumni Profile: Elana Jakel

ElanaJakelElana Jakel loves much about the Russian, east European, and Eurasian region, particularly the “warmth and generosity of the people, their appreciation for the arts, the region’s mix of cultures and traditions, and its often tragic but interesting history.” Although, it is only by chance that Jakel began studying this “tragic yet interesting” history of Russia. As an undergraduate, she enrolled in a two-semester Russian history course after all the other classes that interested her were closed, and only at the suggestion of her advisor who admitted her to the class above the enrollment limit. While studying Russian and Soviet history was not her original plan, according to Jakel, “by the time we hit the late imperial period, I was hooked. The following year, I started studying Russian.” Jakel went on to pursue a doctorate in history at the University of Illinois focusing on Soviet Ukraine, where she says she followed the traditional graduate career path: “coursework, summer language schools, research, writing, teaching, Netflix binge-watching, etc.” 

For her dissertation research, Jakel, who is now Program Manager of the Initiative for the Study of the Ukrainian Jewry at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), wrote on the experiences of Ukrainian Jews immediately after the Holocaust. The choice to focus on Ukraine proved to be an asset when she applied for her current position. After spending time at the Mandel Center as a Charles H. Revson Foundation Fellow, she felt a career at the Holocaust Memorial Museum might be a good alternative to academia for her, so she closely monitored the Museum’s job listings, and ended up applying for her current position shortly after defending her dissertation. 

At the Mandel Center, Jakel is part of a three-person team who work to promote the study of the Holocaust as it occurred in the former Soviet Union. They organize programs for students and scholars here and in Europe, give outreach lectures at universities, and create instructional resources. She has recently been supervising a five-year project to produce a history of Jews in Ukraine before, during, and after the Holocaust. The publication as well as an accompanying digital tool will be available in both English and Ukrainian, and is designed for use in undergraduate and M.A. classrooms in both Ukraine and North America. 

Having recently participated in the online informational interviews conducted as part of the Illinois Global Institute Career Day, and as someone who has pursued an alternative career to academia herself, Jakel believes that all graduate students should be preparing themselves for alternative career paths, especially with the current state of higher education and the academic job market. She recommends students take advantage of tuition waivers and pursue a minor field or graduate certificate outside of their home department in fields such as Public History, Museum Studies, or an interdisciplinary specialty. Pursuing other assistantships for different skills sets can also give graduates an advantage on the job market. Jakel actually spent a year working as a graduate assistant at REEEC: “[Working at REEEC] was a bit unusual for a doctoral student, but that gave me the program planning and administrative experience that set me apart from other applicants and helped me secure my position at the Museum.” She also recommends students spend time achieving fluency in their foreign languages beyond reading proficiency. As a graduate student, Jakel studied Russian, Yiddish, and Ukrainian. She says that while foreign languages are an asset outside of academia, this is only the case if you are able to converse on subjects beyond your research interests. 

Jakel completed her Ph.D. in 2014, and says despite the challenges that pursuing a doctorate can present, there are things she misses about being a graduate student: “Although grad school is often very stressful, it’s also a unique opportunity for intellectual growth, and personal and academic freedom that I sometimes miss. I also enjoyed the larger Urbana-Champaign community, which was the perfect size for me.”

Although she pursued a career outside of academia, Jakel appreciates that her work for her Ph.D. directly assists her in her current career: “I feel very fortunate to be able to apply the skills I worked so hard developing for my doctorate directly to my career. I have travelled to Ukraine several times for work, building partnerships, giving lectures, and attending conferences.” Together with her colleagues, she has also developed and led introductory seminars on the Holocaust in the USSR, as well as a Dissertation Development Workshop for international doctoral students to conduct research in USHMM’s library and archives. For Jakel, these projects allow her to use her degree in a manner she enjoys: “Programs like these allowed me to step into the ideal classroom where I can discuss the subjects I love, on my own terms, with interested and motivated participants—and no assignments to grade.”


Portions of this profile previously appeared as a part of the ASEEES member spotlight series. That complete interview can be found here



New Forthcoming Book by REEEC-Affiliated Faculty Zsuzsa Gille and UIUC Alumni Cristofer Scarboro and Diana Mincyte

9780253047762The Socialist Good Life: Desire, Development, and Standards of Living in Eastern Europe, a new book edited by Zsuszsa Gille (Professor of Sociology), Cristofer Scarboro (Ph.D., History), and Diana Mincyte (Ph.D., Sociology), is set to be published this June by Indiana University Press.

From the publisher’s website:

What does the good life mean in a “backward” place?

As communist regimes denigrated widespread unemployment and consumer excess in Western countries, socialist Eastern European states simultaneously legitimized their power through their apparent ability to satisfy consumers’ needs. Moving beyond binaries of production and consumption, the essays collected here examine the lessons consumption studies can offer about ethnic and national identity and the role of economic expertise in shaping consumer behavior. From Polish VCRs to Ukrainian fashion boutiques, tropical fruits in the GDR to cinemas in Belgrade, The Socialist Good Life explores what consumption means in a worker state where communist ideology emphasizes collective needs over individual pleasures.

More information about the book can be found here.

Alumni and current students meet online to discuss the job market

University of Illinois graduate students recently took part in online informational interviews with nine alumni working in a diversity of fields in local public programs, the government, museums, NGOs, the private sector, and universities. Students and alumni discussed everything from job searches and interviews to developing careers in particular fields. “I benefited from my interviewee’s suggestions in terms of networking, general knowledge of UIUC’s ongoing programs, and potential research opportunities,” said Cassie Pontone, a first-year graduate student in Italian Studies.

Thirteen graduate students and recent alumni from eleven departments including Linguistics, Educational Psychology, and Computer Science, took up the opportunity to talk with alumni. Some students selected alumni with particular interests in order to learn more about specific fields. One recent graduate, with a Master’s degree in Economics, chose to interview with both Annie Contractor (Executive Director of Africa’s Tomorrow) and Noriyasu Li (Program Manager for Alexa International at Amazon) because they had a similar work experience background and areas of academic interest. Dealing with the job market during the pandemic was also an important discussion topic for students. “I appreciated the advice to network during quarantine by reaching out to others in my field and asking for informational conferences,” said a student in the M.A. Law program.

The interviews were originally scheduled to take place in-person as part of the Illinois Global Institute Career Day on March 27. The first IGI Career Day, the event was designed to highlight using foreign languages, area studies expertise, and thematic studies skills on the job market and to connect current graduate students and alumni. REEEC-affiliated alumni participating in the event included Elana Jakel (Ph.D. 2014, History), who is the Program Manager of the Initiative for the Study of the Ukrainian Jewry at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; Nellie Manis (M.A. 2013, Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies), who is the Program Manager for the Critical Language Scholarship Program at American Councils for International Education; and Matt Rosenstein (Ph.D. 2002, Slavic Languages and Literatures), who is the Director of Global Education and Training (GET) at the University of Illinois. “When we had to cancel their visits due to COVID-19, our alumni immediately volunteered to conduct the interviews online,” said Maureen Marshall, Associate Director at REEEC. “Our alumni are fabulous! Not only do they have amazing careers, but they are enthusiastic to share their knowledge and give back to the international and area studies community at Illinois.”

“Although we had to postpone the full career day, we thought it was important to go ahead and offer the informational interviews for those who are graduating or on the job market now,” said Sydney Lazarus, Outreach and Programming Coordinator at the EU Center. For students the online informational interviews led to additional networking contacts and provided them with insights into how to approach the job market outside of academia

An in-person Career Diversity Day event is tentatively scheduled to take place in the Fall. In addition to informational interviews, the full program will include alumni panel discussions, a resume workshop organized by the Graduate College, and a networking reception.

Professional Development Workshop: Terrell Starr, “Covering Trump in an Age of Russian Propaganda Wars”

REEEC welcomed back journalist and REEEC MA graduate Terrell Starr for a professional development workshop on March 30 entitled “Covering Trump in an Age of Russian Propaganda Wars.” Starr argued that in order to understand how many Americans today perceive the Russian government, we need to understand how Americans perceive threats. There is overwhelming evidence that the Russian government used hacking and technological manipulation to influence and perhaps even swing the recent presidential election. And yet, when confronted with evidence of this tampering, Americans who identify as Trump supporters are indifferent, or even supportive, of the Russian involvement. How do these supporters justify such a position?

Journalist and REEEC alumnus Terrell Starr

The answer, Starr proposes, lies in the way Americans perceive threats. People will either intensify or minimize a threat depending on their positionality. In other words, the extent to which people perceive an action to be threatening is not value neutral; it is calibrated through public discourse and private identity politics. Throughout his campaign, Trump played heavily into this process, basing much of his campaign around specific kinds of threats. By focusing on the supposed dangers of spaces like the US-Mexican border or Chicago, or on the process of refugee resettlement, Trump has created a narrative in which threats emerge from people of color. The narrative that Trump has created, in short, is a narrative that protects American whiteness.

The danger of Trump’s re-centering around American whiteness—beyond its obvious deleterious effects on the American social fabric—is that it allows threats like the Russian election interference to be easily minimized. As part of Starr’s journalistic work, he has spoken extensively with Trump supporters to try to understand the way in which they recontextualize information to fit it into this narrow vision of a threat. Starr noted that compared to ISIS, refugees, and the southern border, Trump supporters do not see Russia as threatening. Because the election interference does not fit into the Trumpian narrative of what a threat is, many (even most) of his supporters are unwilling to consider it one.

Starr himself has reevaluated his role as a journalist in light of these findings. He has made it his goal to learn about hacking and other forms of interference in order to better understand them. He then acts as an educator, explaining to the public how these hacking attacks work. There are limitations to what he (or any reporter) can do, as he cannot access any secret or classified information, but he has managed to gain an idea of how this sophisticated system of hacking functions.

Yet even while Starr has expanded his job as a reporter, he wonders what effect his actions will have. If we found a smoking gun that implicated the Russian government in election hacking, would it matter to a majority of Trump’s supporters? Drawing upon his interviews with them, Starr is not sure. The narrative that Trump has created has staying power, and many of his supporters are deeply invested in its promotion of American whiteness. What use is a smoking gun in an era in which a narrative is more powerful than facts?

Starr is also pessimistic about the ability of the Russian government to continue to interfere in the American political system. The Russian government, he notes, has been particularly adept at using racial and ethnic tensions to serve its own means. For example, Russian officials launched a DDOS hack on Georgia during the 2008 war, in which they fabricated and circulated a photo of then-president Mikheil Saakashvili with Nazi imagery. Although the photo was proven to be false, the damage was already done. This is the danger of information wars: even false information can have real power when they fit into the right narratives. It is a problem, Starr says, that will continue to have a real and tangible impact on our political system for years to come.

Deirdre Ruscitti Harshman is a doctoral candidate in the History Department at the University of Illinois. Her dissertation, “A Space Called Home: Housing and the Construction of the Everyday in Russia, 1890-1935,” explores how multiple, often conflicting, understandings of the home emerged across the revolutionary divide of 1917, and what these conceptions tell us about belonging. Her article “Cooking Up a New Everyday: Communal Kitchens in the Revolutionary Era, 1890-1935” was published in the December 2016 issue of Revolutionary Russia. When she is not doing academic work, she is working on perfecting her plov recipe. 

Alumna Rebecca Mitchell Awarded W. Bruce Lincoln Prize from ASEEES

Rebecca Mitchell

Rebecca Mitchell

Congratulations to Rebecca Mitchell (PhD in History, 2011) on receiving the W. Bruce Lincoln Prize from the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES)! The prize is awarded for an author’s first published monograph or scholarly synthesis that is of exceptional merit and lasting significance for the understanding of Russia’s past, published in the previous two years. Rebecca is Assistant Professor of History at Middlebury College, where she teaches courses on the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and the relationship between music and power in history. Her book is entitled Nietzsche’s Orphans: Music, Metaphysics, and the Twilight of the Russian Empire (Yale University Press, 2016).

To view the original announcement from ASEEES, please see

Alumni News

Ryan Eavenson (MA REEES, 2015) is pursuing an MA in Modern European Studies at Columbia University. He will also continue studying Czech language, history, and culture.

Maria Cristina Galmarini-Kabala (PhD in History, 2012) has published her book The Right to Be Helped: Deviance, Entitlement, and the Soviet Moral Order from Northern Illinois University Press.

Bethany Wages on Cataloging Pre-Revolutionary Manuscripts at the Library of Congress

This summer, REEES M.A. graduate Bethany Wages has been interning at the Library of Congress European Division. Check out her blog posts on her experience, including “How to Identify Yudin Materials 101”:

“So far, my favorite way to identify a Yudin item is by Klochkov tickets. Klochkov was a dealer in rare and antique books and helped Yudin acquire much of his library. Klochkov would put his personalized book seller tickets in the front or back of books he acquired for Yudin. They are often brightly colored (I have seen bright green, pink, blue, purple) and some are quite large and often depict Klochkov himself, spiderwebs and books, or even young people reading.”

Read more at:

Prime Minister of Georgia and U of I Alum, Giorgi Kvirikashvili Visits Campus

By Maureen Marshall

On Wednesday, April 27, 2016, the Prime Minister of Georgia, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, gave a public lecture in Deloitte Auditorium in the Business Instructional Facility at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Kvirikashvili is an alumnus of Illinois, having earned a Master’s in Finance from the College of Business. After being welcomed by the College of Business Dean Jeffery Brown and introduced by Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson, he briefly reminisced on his time at the University (funded by a U.S. State Department program in the 1990’s), which he said taught him new ways to think about solving problems and gave him the skills to enter the world of finance. The Prime Minister also highlighted the importance of Georgian – American relations and then described a four- point plan for reform within his country that will focus on education, economic “liberalization,” infrastructure, and reorganizing government systems including the pension system and physical spaces.  Kvirikashvili also invited audience members not only to visit Georgia, but to invest as well, drawing attention to Georgia’s key geographic position on the “new Silk Road,” tying together economies from Beijing to Brussels.

Prime Minister Kvirikashvili then answered questions from an internationally diverse 200+ person audience. The first question was posed by a Russian student and concerned Georgian – Russian relations. Kvirikashvili reported that Georgia had worked to “cool down” tensions between the countries, while firmly stating that the normalization of relations requires that Russia recognize Georgia’s borders and respect Georgia’s sovereignty.  The second question came from an American student who asked who the Prime Minister favored in the U.S. Presidential Election – Kvirikashvili felt it best to refrain from giving his opinion. The third question came from an Armenian student asking the Prime Minister to elaborate on how Georgia had dealt with Soviet legacy of corrupt institutions, while the fourth was voiced by a South Korean student asking what steps the Prime Minister planned on taking to convince people that Georgia is a great place to invest. Professor Mohammed Babadoost asked about developing agriculture in Georgia and training scientists, while the final questions touched on issues relating to the oil market.

Prior to becoming Prime Minister in December 2015, Kvirikashvili served as Vice Prime Minister (2013-2015) while serving as Foreign Minister (2015) and Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development (2012-2015). Kvirikashvili received a Master’s degree in Finance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the United States in 1998. He obtained an undergraduate degree in Economics from Tbilisi State University (1995) and an undergraduate degree in Medicine from Tbilisi State Medical Institute (1991).

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Dr. Maureen Marshall is the Associate Director for REEEC. She earned her PhD at the University of Chicago in Anthropology in 2014 with a thesis on “Subject(ed) Bodies: A Bioarchaeological Investigation of Lived Experiences and Mobile Practices in Late Bronze-Early Iron Age (1500-800 B.C.) Armenia.” Her research focuses on the bioarchaeology of early complex polities and empires in the South Caucasus and Eurasia. She is also the Associate Director of Project ArAGATS, the joint American-Armenian project for the Archaeology and Geography for Ancient Transcaucasian Societies.

Allan Mustard – Ambassador to Turkmenistan

The following is a re-posting of an article published by the ACES Office of International Programs about Illinois alumnus Allan Mustard, who is now the Ambassador to Turkmenistan. The original posting of this article can be found by following this link.


Allan Mustard’s professional goal wasn’t to become a U.S. ambassador.  But after about a dozen career moves, Mustard is now serving in his first year as Ambassador to Turkmenistan—a country a little larger than California that shares borders with Iran and Afghanistan. He describes his career path not as one with a calculated strategy, but more as a series of encouraging nudges and a stream of opportunities that led to an unexpected outcome.

Illinois Alumnus Allan Mustard being sworn in as Ambassador to Turkmenistan

Illinois alumnus Allan Mustard being sworn in as Ambassador to Turkmenistan

“I really didn’t have anything in mind, except that I wanted to do something internationally,” Mustard says. “I studied Russian and German because those were the only foreign languages offered at the community college where I started out. Had they offered Haitian Creole, I might have ended up on a sandy beach in the Caribbean.”

Mustard, raised on a dairy farm near Brady, Washington, completed bachelor’s degrees at the University of Washington in Slavic languages and literature and political science..

That combination opened the door to his first overseas job, as a guide and as an interpreter for the U.S. International Communications Agency at an American exhibit in the Soviet Union in the late ’70s.

The training took place on the University of Illinois campus.

Then came the first nudge.

“When I got to Moscow, I met Jim Brow, a USDA agricultural attaché,” Mustard says.  “He said to me, ‘Gosh, you’re pretty smart, you speak good Russian, and you grew up on a farm.  All you’re missing is a master’s degree in agricultural economics. If you get that, you can come work for us.’  So I did.”

Mustard received another nudge while at Illinois working on his master’s. He was encouraged to take the Foreign Service exam—a test so difficult that only about 1 in 100 people pass it. But Mustard was one of them.  As a result of his test score, he accepted an invitation to Chicago for an oral assessment.

The road appeared to be a dead end when the State Department lost his paperwork, so Mustard took a job with USDA.  After a month, the State Department called: they’d found the missing papers. They wanted him to take an entry-level course, beginning almost immediately. “I said I already had a job that would lead to an overseas career as an agricultural attaché.  They asked, ‘Why would you want to do that?’ I explained that the only advantage of coming to State is that I’d be eligible for an ambassadorship, and that would never happen for me.  So I stayed with agriculture, specifically because I didn’t think that I’d ever have a shot at an ambassadorship.”

Over the next couple of decades, Mustard held positions in Istanbul, Vienna, and Mexico City, along with being posted twice each to Washington, DC, and Moscow.

It wasn’t until 2009 that Mustard entertained the ambassadorship possibility.

“Some of my State colleagues said, ‘You really should apply for this,’” Mustard recalls. “‘It doesn’t cost anything and it only takes 45 minutes to fill out the paperwork .’ So I did—and here I am.”

Without hesitation, Mustard names his Illinois ag econ degree as a key career building block.

“I took courses in analysis and marketing from faculty like Hal Everett and Phil Garcia.

I studied development under Earl Kellogg and policy with Bob Spitze and Steve Schmidt. Foreign Agricultural Service officers tend to specialize in market development or are oriented toward food aid countries, but I did a bit of everything, and U of I gave me a full array of tools.”

Using technology was one of those tools. Mustard’s comfort with computer programming at Illinois led to his being “pigeonholed as the data systems geek” at the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS).

“Rather than reject the title, I embraced it and split the difference; I did my analytical job, but I also did a fair amount of programming and tutoring.”

Years later, when he was a senior foreign service officer in Washington, DC, computer expertise came in handy again, garnering him a position as head of FAS data systems. Each career move presented new opportunities to put into practice what he learned about agricultural economics at Illinois.

Mustard points to one opportunity following the Balkans War of the 1990s as particularly meaningful. He was agricultural counselor in the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, Austria, covering seven countries in Central Europe, including Bosnia. Bosnia’s population of about 4.5 million included 2 million war refugees. Many were widows with children, receiving public assistance because their husbands were victims in the war’s ethnic cleansing. Mustard was tasked with leading a food aid effort to Bosnian refugees. According to Mustard, there is a right way and a wrong way to provide food aid to a country.

“We would not just deliver the food that was needed, but we would structure it around a program that would help get at least some Bosnians out of poverty.”

Mustard collaborated with 10 private charities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

“My goal was to lift a certain number of villages out of poverty and restart their economies,” Mustard says. He struck a deal to divide assistance between the aid organizations’ traditional programs and credit programs for the municipalities. The intent was to inject money into the village economies at multiple points—to farmers, to consumers, and to those who sell inputs to farmers—in order to get the economies moving again.

“A year later, it was astounding that we had brought to life 50 moribund municipalities,” Mustard says. “War widows who had been living off of handouts were working again at their private businesses and supporting their families. Meeting those widows was probably the most emotional experience of my life. They were so grateful. And I had done so little—provided some policy direction for the NGOs. The organizations did the heavy lifting—but without guidance, I’m not sure the aid would have had as deep an impact.”

Mustard again mentions his study of economics and development at Illinois with Earl Kellogg.

“I was reaching back to my graduate studies to come up with the constructs of how to provide relief and then figure out some way to apply them practically in order to revive the villages’ economy.  It all worked.”

Today Mustard faces new challenges as Ambassador to Turkmenistan—which he describes as “one of the most closed societies in the world.”

He believes the U.S.  embassy can help open a window for Turkmen citizens by offering English language instruction.

“We have a library of English books at the embassy,” he says. “The classes are always full, and we have a waiting list of 300. These efforts can have an outsized impact because we’re reaching the people who want to learn English and are self-selecting to become leaders.”

So, how does one become an ambassador? To students interested in international careers, Mustard recommends starting with agriculture.

“That is the only sector of the economy that runs a trade surplus.  Being an agricultural officer for the FAS is about as good as it gets.” All you need to do, he says, is look at where the growth potential for agriculture lies—and, of course, learn another language or two.

“With 96 percent of the world’s population outside the United States, that’s where the growth is—particularly in Asia,” he says.

“If I were to do this all over again, I would probably have studied Chinese rather than Russian, and Spanish instead of German.  But that said, I think you can study any foreign language and put it to good use. Think about a career with FAS, and take a shot.”

What’s his next career move?

“Right now I’m focused on being successful at this one,” he says.

Article submitted by Debra Levey Larson, 217-244-2880


Allan Mustard