By Melea Reicks Licht
As a foreign service officer for the U.S. Department of State, Nancy (Barickman) Brannaman has experienced several moments during her career that have driven home the importance of her work.
One such moment came in September when the U.S. Consulate in Libya was attacked.
“I was anguished for all of the families of Americans and Libyan staff who worked in the Consulate. What a tragic loss of innocent lives,” she says. “This event illuminates the dangers that can exist for diplomats overseas. ”
Another was 9/11. Brannaman was conducting visa interviews in Ukraine ensuring those requesting to enter the United States were who they claimed to be.
“That historic event drove home the importance of keeping the U.S. safe through qualified access like visas, and striking a balance so that business people, students and visitors may travel to the U.S.,” she says.
Brannaman (’83 agricultural business and farm operations, MS ’85 agricultural economics), has been stationed in Islamic countries for the majority of her 12-year service. She says she felt welcomed and appreciated at each of her posts.
Motivated by a desire to help others, Brannaman and her husband John (’78 animal science, MS ’82), an officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development, find their work gratifying.
“When we visit places we worked 10 years ago and see the improvements made in the area thanks to our effort—that is what it is all about,” says John. “And you can’t deny the sense of adventure.”
John works in Food for Peace providing food aid to refugees in developing nations.
Nancy manages operations, finance and human resources in embassies and finances in the State Department in Washington, D.C.
“In management we want to make sure the rest of the diplomats at our embassy aren’t distracted by the little details and can focus on their jobs,” she says. “I help them find ways to stretch tight budgets, or accomplish special projects. For me, finance is all about helping people meet their goals.”
The two have been fortunate to be placed together since she signed up with the State Department. Their first post was Ukraine in 2000. Following Ukraine, they landed in Baku, Azerbaijan; then Tashkent, Uzbekistan; then Tirana, Albania.
State Department postings last, at most, three years before requiring personnel to move to another assignment, including jobs stateside. Currently, Nancy is a financial management officer for the International Cooperative Administrative Support Service in Washington, D.C.
Thanks to rigorous language training at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Va., Nancy speaks Russian and Albanian proficiently. She says her ability to communicate with local embassy employees is essential to making connections and developing an esprit de corps.
Traveling and experiencing the culture and countryside of their host nations has been the biggest perk of working abroad, Brannaman says.
“Azerbaijan was especially enjoyable. I loved the culture, the friendly, hospitable people and the food,” she says. “I traveled freely throughout the country exploring Christian ruins, monasteries and mosques.”
Prior to working with the State Department Nancy worked with John on agricultural development projects for the State of Iowa and Land O’ Lakes Inc. in rural Ukraine and Russia for three years following the break-up of the Soviet Union. She first gained experience living abroad as an exchange student in her teens. In total, Nancy has worked in or visited more than 25 countries.
While traveling the globe Nancy, a third-generation Iowa Stater, has kept her alma mater close to heart.
She has fond memories of her time on campus, including meeting her husband while both were enrolled in macroeconomics.
After graduation, Nancy worked for Iowa State University Extension as an area management specialist. She and economics professor William Edwards traveled the
state with 40-pound “portable” computers to perform financial analysis and scenario planning with farmers in the 1980s.
“We would set up our machines on their kitchen tables,” she recalls. “For many we were trying to find ways to save the family farm.”
Nancy is a recipient of Iowa State University’s Outstanding Young Alumna Award, Outstanding Agribusiness Alumna Award and an ISU Extension New Professional Award. She is a member of Cardinal Key and received the William G. Murray Award for outstanding Senior in Agricultural Business.
Ron Dieter, economics professor, uses her as an example when talking to prospective students.
“Nancy went from farm management to Amana Appliances to a career in foreign service,” he says. “She shows students a degree in agricultural business provides skills that are transferable. With an education like hers you can work anywhere.”
Nancy was a guest lecturer in one of Dieter’s classes this fall. She and John returned to campus to share their experiences with several classes and encourage students to consider a “richly rewarding” career in foreign service.
“Working with citizens of the host country and speaking their language we learn their history, traditions and perspectives while we progress U.S. foreign policy,” she says. “We also put a human face on American values and ideals.”