Alumni Board Scholar Profile: Q&A with 1992 scholar Mary Margaret Knudson Hesse

Alumni Board Scholar Profile: Q&A with 1992 scholar Mary Margaret Knudson Hesse

Members of the Boettcher Scholar Alumni Board are interviewing their fellow Boettcher Scholars to help the community get to know one another better. The following Q&A was compiled by Boettcher Scholar Gergana Kostadinova.

Scholar Year: 1992
Hometown: Colorado Springs
College(s), Degree(s), and Graduation Year(s): University of Colorado at Boulder, B.A. in Spanish and English, minor in Mathematics, 1997; M.A. Georgetown University, Security Studies and International Security, 2004

Tell us about your current work and how long you’ve been doing it. What is your favorite aspect of your current occupation?

My primary focus in recent years has been on raising my children. I currently also work part-time with a local nonprofit, Raising a Reader, promoting early childhood literacy for low-income, at-risk, and immigrant families on Colorado’s western slope. I formerly served as a foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State overseas and in Washington, D.C., as a civil servant with the U.S. Department of Defense, and for a defense contracting company working for NATO and the U.S. Joint Forces Command. I continue to serve as a senior foreign affairs consultant for a global defense company.

What role has being a Boettcher Scholar played into where you are and what you are doing now?

Receiving the Boettcher Scholarship was life-changing. The freedom from financial pressures that came along with the scholarship allowed me to pursue international study and work experiences as well as a heavy course load in college, helping to jump-start my career in foreign affairs. I appreciate the Boettcher Foundation’s ethos of service and community and believe we all have roles to play in supporting and uplifting our communities.

Tell us about your involvement in activities, organizations, or groups outside of work.

I support my children’s school as a weekly volunteer providing math enrichment, serve on the school’s accountability board, and enjoy speaking with high school students about the college scholarship and admissions process as a Boettcher Ambassador. I serve periodically as a volunteer interpreter on international medical brigades, and am working to expose my children to the broader world through Spanish instruction at home and annual language/immersion trips to Guatemala. Living in rural western Colorado, I enjoy participating in many outdoor mountain activities. In the summer I coax a few vegetables out of a community garden plot.

What’s the best advice you’ve received and what advice do you have for new graduates entering your career field?

Concise, incisive writing and speaking are highly valued skills in many careers, including the Foreign Service. A mentor once counseled me to always consider the question, “So what?” (why does this matter?) in my writing. I would advise students to keep this question in mind in life in general as well as in work. It is useful periodically to take stock of what we are doing and to consider, “So what? How is who I am and what I am doing making the world, or the day, better for someone? Is this the best way to use my time and talents?”

If you could have dinner with one person or a few people from history, whom would you choose and why?

I recently read Guatemalan human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Rigoberta Menchu’s autobiography, and I admire her work to support the rights of women and indigenous people. She came from an extremely humble background and had very little education and few resources. Despite suffering though persecution as well as the torture and murder of several family members at the hands of the military regime, through her tenacity and dedication she drew worldwide attention to the plight of indigenous Guatemalans and has supported an international movement for peace, justice, and equality.

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