Alumna’s Degree Takes Her Around The World

Marlene photo 2_editedTo say that Marlene Nilsson, ’97, is well traveled would be putting things mildly. Working in places like Chad, Egypt, Sudan, Libya and Saudi Arabia this alumna has been all over the world. Her career is what allowed her to become so worldly, but Marlene credits her education at UCF for helping her succeed in her role with the United Nations.

“My degrees have given me the analytical skills and tools to become an effective generalist, and as such I have had the great fortune to work in many different areas throughout my career with the United Nations.”

Nilsson graduated in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in psychology. She received her master’s degree in political science from UCF in 1999. She worked as a peer advisor at the UCF Office of Academic Support and Information Services and was a graduate teaching assistant for the women’s studies program. Nilsson was also president of the UCF model UN club.

She was an international student and remembers her first political science class sparking her curiosity about political theories and foreign affairs. Nilsson said, “I would, without a doubt, say that my studies at UCF and my subsequent interest and study of women’s role in peacekeeping and peace processes led to my first job with the United Nations.”

She often applies skills she acquired from her courses at UCF to many of her assignments for the United Nations. For example, in her recent assignment with the African Union/United Nations mediation team for Darfur she often referred to discussions from her classes on the different theories on how and why political violence occurs. It helped her to understand the complexity of political violence and grasp the various layers that need to be addressed in solving a violent conflict.

Nilsson has held various positions with the United Nations since 1999 and currently works as the special assistant to the division director of the division of environmental policy implementation (DEPI) for the United Nations Environment Programme in Kenya. She manages the director’s office for DEPI which works with international and national partners, providing technical assistance and advisory services for the implementation of environmental policy, strengthening the environmental management capacity of developing countries and countries with economies in transition.

Although her work has taken her all over the world Nilsson still manages to stay connected to UCF by keeping in contact with her professors, some of whom were excellent mentors to her during her student years and have continued to give her personal and professional guidance and support.

She has many fond memories from her experience at UCF but says her favorite was the time she spent with Model UN.

“It was such a wonderful experience to come together and learn about different countries and foreign affairs.  We even brought back an award from the model UN conference in Atlanta! Those conferences taught me about diplomacy and achieving resolutions to global issues. But more importantly, some of the friendships that came out of my time with model UN are still some of my closest and dearest friends.”

Her advice to current students and alumni is to learn a foreign language.

“Knowing more than one language will open up so many doors for you in both your personal and professional life.”

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