Foreign service officer Lisa Petzold '00 grew up a mile from the Brooks campus, and she says she always really liked school. "I was always sort of a nerdy bookworm and into school," she says. "Now that I'm older, I'm very proud of being nerdy and a bookworm, and I think I was proud of that when I was at Brooks, too." Petzold was attracted to the academic challenge that Brooks posed, and she entered Brooks determined to chase down those opportunities. Her brother, John Petzold '03, joined her on campus three years later.
One of the first opportunities Petzold found waiting for her at Brooks was a choice of languages to study; her decision, and its consequences, resonates through her life now. "Taking French sounded exotic and exciting and fun," she says. Petzold took third-form French classes with former faculty Susan Wilmer. Although she entered school expecting to focus on math and science courses — she once dreamed of being a marine biologist — Petzold found herself falling in love with the cultural and linguistic aspects of learning French.
"French did not come easily to me when I started," Petzold says, "but Mrs. Wilmer made French class so exciting and fun. I loved it." Petzold's experience led her, she says, to School Year Abroad, a study abroad program that allows students to study in a foreign country for a full academic year.
"I wasn't really looking for something like School Year Abroad," Petzold says. "I was a day student at Brooks, so I wasn't even living away from home like the boarders. I hadn't spent more than two weeks away from home, and I think I really shocked my parents when I came home one day and told them I wanted to apply for School Year Abroad."
A Pivotal Experience
"School Year Abroad happened, and it completely changed my future plans and my outlook," Petzold says. Her year abroad in Rennes, France, gave her an opportunity, at the age of 16, "to experience being a cultural diplomat." She made that her career: She's worked for the United States Department of State for almost 13 years, and she's currently a foreign service officer posted to London.
"The first experience I had doing that work, being drawn to it, was when I was in Rennes," Petzold remembers. "Having to explain and defend the United States while sitting around a dinner table with my host family, all while speaking a different language. It gave me a taste for travel, for that kind of cultural debate. As soon as School Year Abroad ended, I started looking at international affairs programs because I had the bug and I felt ready."
Petzold's career at the State Department has seen her perform a variety of roles in a variety of locations. She's worked as a consular officer in San Salvador, El Salvador; as a cultural attaché in Beirut, Lebanon; and as a political affairs officer in Paris. Now, in London, Petzold works as a deputy cultural attaché. Petzold explains that her current role focuses on public diplomacy and working with the British public.
"I'm just incredibly proud to be able to do this. I think the opportunity to represent the United States overseas is not a job; it's a privilege."
"Each job has been different and each has had its excitement and challenges," Petzold says. "I'm just incredibly proud to be able to do this. I think the opportunity to represent the United States overseas is not a job; it's a privilege. It's also a way for me to stay intellectually challenged and stimulated, and to try living somewhere new every few years."
Working for Equity
In addition to her work abroad on behalf of the United States, Petzold has also worked to ensure that the State Department itself is a welcoming and inclusive work environment for women. She recently served as a mid-level board member of Executive Women @ State, the employee affinity group focused on achieving gender parity at the State Department.
"I think the State Department is currently in a big push for diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, which is wonderful," Petzold says. "It has been great to hear that gender fits into that strategy for diversity. However, and unfortunately, I've been at the State Department for almost 13 years, and the change in the number of women at the most senior levels between 13 years ago and now is statistically negligible. Much work is being put in to change this."
Petzold has always been invested in human rights and gender equality. She's proud, she says, that even with its own challenges the United States is a model for so many.
Petzold says that she loves that the State Department seeks out "well-rounded thinkers and writers and communicators. You don't have to have a certain degree," she says. "You don't have to have this many years of experience. The Department really looks for people who are interested in the work. You've got to read the newspapers and know what's going on. You've got to be able to talk about and explain and reason through things. If you're a student who likes language, who likes travel, who is excited by the chance to think and debate and write, and above all to represent the United States to the people of the world, this is an amazing career that can offer you so much opportunity."