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Alumni Spotlight: Carmen Conley

Posted by: andrewst | November 9, 2020 | No Comment |

Carmen Conley (’88) may not have been the top student in her first two years at CofC, but once she discovered her passion for political science, things started to click.  Dr. Jack Parsons (emeritus professor) had a lot to do with that.  He piqued Carmen’s interest in Africa and got her involved with the Model Organization of African Unity program, a conference that took place annually at Howard University.

Carmen began her career domestically, working four years as a staff member to a U.S. Senator. Carmen then pursued her master’s degree in Africa Regional Studies, with a concentration in Peace and Conflict Resolution at American University School of International Service in Washington, D.C.

As a huge proponent of internships “to get your foot in the door at organizations you (think) you want to work with,” Carmen targeted the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs as a grad student, worked as an intern and upon graduation secured a long-term job.  She also worked as a consultant for the United Nations Development Program.  “Seeing that (organization) up close,” Carmen admits, “made me realize that I did not want a career in the UN system.”  She also worked for two years in public relations for the private sector, which confirmed that her “heart was really in the development field.”  Glad for these “comparative experiences,” and using them to evaluate her own aspirations, needs and desires, Carmen eventually landed at Development Alternatives Global (DAI), a large, for-profit, development organization based in Bethesda, Maryland, with project offices in 60 countries.  The organization’s focus is on political and economic development in developing countries, and includes climate mitigation.

Obviously, the work agrees with Carmen; she has been employed there for 17 years, all within the realm of Democracy and Governance, which at times has been combined with a focus on “rapid response in post-conflict environments.”  Her work is very fulfilling and Carmen loves the “highly collaborative environment” modeled within the company and around the globe. Though it can be very deadline driven and at times challenging when responding to clients (like the US government and other European Donor agencies), Carmen has learned how to “walk the tightrope” and “manage expectations.”

Though her position typically requires a lot of travel, COVID-19 has put a temporary halt to that and Carmen misses the interaction that she typically has “in the field” or at the home office in Maryland.  Though she works from her home in Charleston, and has for the last seven years, the company is now managing now remote staff in countries that span the globe during this pandemic.

Carmen volunteers as a mentor in our mentoring program here at CofC and happily shares her support and guidance to juniors and seniors who seek her input.  Her main piece of advice for everyone to take in is to “have a little humility” and do whatever it takes to get your foot in the door – she once applied to be a receptionist for a Senator, making a “barely livable” wage in D.C.  Though she did not get that job, they did call her several months later to offer her a temporary position answering constituent mail.  She accepted the position, lived with relatives and waitressed to make ends meet, and was offered full-time employment when the temp job ended.  When she left (four years later), her title was Director of Constituency Relations, which definitely enhanced her resume.  So, although you may not find exactly what you want initially, having those experiences – both positive and negative – will give you insights that will either confirm your path or cause a change in course, and only good can come from that.

under: Mentorship Program

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