When alumna Carol Backman, a Cape Girardeau native, learned about the U.S. embassies overseas while in high school, she returned home to tell her mother about her discovery. She assumed the conversation went nowhere. However, upon graduating from Southeast Missouri State University in December 2001, her mother, who had made a mental note of the conversation, gave Carol a job application for a position with the U.S. Department of State.
“I filled out the application and sent it off, not believing for a second that the U.S. Department of State would have any interest in a 22-year-old recent college graduate from Missouri. I was happily surprised when they called for an interview a few months later and even more surprised when I was offered the position,” Carol says.
She now lives in Bristow, Virginia.
Since then, she has traveled abroad and discovered a plethora of cultures, residents and animals. Most recently she worked with the U.S. Embassy in Turkey, and has experienced many exciting adventures in other countries.
“In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, it was swimming with sea turtles in the South China Sea and being the pianist performing the national anthem at the U.S. Marine Corps Birthday Ball. In Minsk, Belarus, it was seeing the birthplace of communism and traveling to Tallinn, Estonia, for a visit by U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice,” Carol says. “In Canberra, Australia, it was directly supporting an ambassador for the first time and watching wild herds of kangaroos over lunch. In Ankara, Turkey, it was seeing the breathtaking sight of the Blue Mosque and being nominated for the Nelson B. Delavan Award.”
Carol was honored with the Nelson B. Delavan Award for Exemplary Performance this year for her work in Turkey.
“I am particularly honored to be the recipient of this award because of the award’s focus on community. I joined the Foreign Service at the age of 22, immediately after graduating from Southeast Missouri State University. The Foreign Service has been all I have ever known in my adult life, and the members of the United States Foreign Service are my family,” she said. “My husband is in the United States Foreign Service, and most of my friends are in the United States Foreign Service. It has become my home. Being recognized by your work family is a huge honor.”
The Nelson B. Delavan Award for Exemplary Performance is presented annually by the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA). The award recognizes “a Foreign Service Office Management Specialist who has made extraordinary contributions to effectiveness, professionalism and morale,” according to Carol.
Her supervisor submitted the application for the award based on work she had done to identify inconsistencies and overhaul one of the Turkish embassy’s main databases. Although not the goal, she says the outcome of the effort was that Ankara became one of the first 10 missions worldwide to implement a single database platform for several locations within one country. Carol also was honored for chairing the employee association at the Embassy, boosting and improving embassy morale and effectiveness.
Carol says these activities improved efficiency and made her job easier. She was quite surprised to learn they had been noticed and submitted for the award.
“I was encouraged to accept the award in person, and this enabled me to meet the four other award winners, which was very special,” Carol says.
Carol says the recognition will benefit her career and open new opportunities for her. An article highlighting her work appeared in the American Foreign Service Association journal, which has global subscriptions.
“The exposure will assist me by providing visual recognition and document the association between my work efforts and quality outcomes. I think it might assist others in my field in knowing that what they do can make a difference,” she says.
Carol graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in French language and literature from Southeast. She had two minors, Spanish and business administration.
“Southeast provided a very solid foundation for me,” Carol says. “I could step off that foundation in any number of directions and find success. Many of my professors dedicated time to get to know me and encouraged me to take advantage of the available opportunities, including two separate international exchange programs.”
Carol attended a French immersion program at a French-speaking university in Canada. The second was a semester of international business classes at a university in Montpellier, France.
“These offerings appealed both to my interests and to my overall goals. Integrating into a culture without speaking their language fluently and overcoming the fears of living in new places without family or friends gave me the experience and courage to join the U.S. Department of State immediately after earning my degree,” Carol says.
She also says that Southeast’s liberal arts education allowed her to participate in the U.S. Department of State’s Outreach Programs. While at Southeast, she also studied piano and dance, and participated in the Student Missouri Restaurant Association. While working overseas, she gave talks about music, political science and other topics to students learning English in the countries in which she has served. She has organized language courses for American employees at the embassy, created cakes for international celebrations, and assisted in selecting the ambassador’s new piano — all while applying what she learned at Southeast to her position with the U.S. Department of State.
“I have continued some variation of all of these activities in my personal time. It’s very fulfilling and exciting,” Carol says.
Outside of her work, she enjoys music and dancing. She taught piano for the Southeast Missouri Music Academy at Southeast while attending the University and said she still loves to play. In addition to piano, she also spends a lot of time with her family; she has a four-year-old daughter who is just beginning to explore the world, she says.
She enjoys being a mother, baking and decorating cakes, and being outdoors.
“Baking has been a source of both pleasure and frustration,” she said. “Ankara is high altitude, and that is a whole different baking world. Decorating is fun when there is time.”
Recently, she and her husband have explored “‘off-roading’ in his new jeep,” Carol says.
She also enjoys exploring France and relaxing in England with friends.
To Southeast students, Carol offers some advice.
“I was a ‘normal’ student. I had a passing but not a stellar GPA and didn’t graduate Magna Cum Laude or anything. I think the reason I wanted to share that is because I would like students to know that although they should aspire to do their best academically, it doesn’t mean they have to be ‘the best student’ to be successful in life,” she says. “Success comes from having an open, willing to learn attitude, applying what you know when you can, and treating others with honesty and respect. Listen to others, and don’t forget to smile.”
Carol continues, “Eleanor Roosevelt said, ‘Do one thing every day that scares you.’ Dr. Diane Elder said, ‘Take your good time with you.’ Don’t let fear or fears of failure stop you from trying something. Keep an open mind. Know that there isn’t anything in the world you can’t do … only things that you choose to do and things that you choose not to do. The world is full of interesting and exciting ideas and treasures.”