Name: Temby Mary Caprio
UChicago Degree: BA ’91, MA ’93, PhD ’99 in Germanic Studies
Current Position: Country Director for Peace Corps/ Federated States of Micronesia and Palau
Tell us about your work. What is your current position? What do you do on a daily basis?
As Country Director for Peace Corps/ Federated States of Micronesia and Palau, no two consecutive days are alike. I lead, direct, manage, counsel, mentor and coach (staff and Volunteers), coordinate, negotiate, report, interpret policy, troubleshoot and travel (a lot!).
At Peace Corps, our post is considered small and very complex, spread out over 2,000 miles of North Pacific Ocean and 3 time zones. Our team of 18 supports 35 2-year education sector Volunteers in FSM, and 2 Peace Corps Response Volunteers in Palau. Our job is to set Volunteers up for a successful service, which includes everything from designing assignments together with host country officials, to identifying sites and host families, to training, to admin support, to managing safety and security systems and a medical unit.
How did you make the transition from doctoral study to the Peace Corps?
In 2000, when I turned down a Visiting Assistant Professor appointment at a top school and a tenure-track final interview at a state university looking to grow its German program, and I decided to become a Peace Corps Volunteer, those who didn’t know me thought I was crazy, and those who did, knew I was making the right decision for me at the time. I loved teaching, and find these aspects of my current job the most satisfying. I knew, however, that I wanted to pursue different questions and be part of different conversations.
After my Peace Corps service in Cape Verde, I was hired by the German government’s development agency for technical cooperation: giz (Gesellschaft fuer international Zusammenarbeit, www.giz.de) as a “junior” advisor for an education project in Mozambique. At giz, my learning curve went vertical again, much like in graduate school. I was able grow and learn in diverse contexts on multiple continents and with amazing, engaged colleagues. I’m the grateful recipient of generous professional development programs, including change management, leadership training, and language training. I also got lucky and had supervisors who trusted me and supported me to take on increasing responsibility.
My professional dream was to serve Peace Corps as staff, and I am currently half-way into a 5-year limited-term appointment. I started working with the agency in 2015 as the Director of Programming and Training in the Dominican Republic and have been the Country Director in Micronesia since December 2016.
What skills that you developed during your doctoral studies have proven valuable in your current role?
Critical thinking. Resiliency. Humility. And, of course, teaching! Maybe I’ll write a book: Everything I needed to know about leading a multicultural team in a complex environment in a developing country I learned teaching in the College!
What advice do you have for current Ph.D. students looking to launch a career in human services or management?
- Be willing to start at the bottom of the org chart. Be willing to volunteer. My first management experiences beyond the academy were as a volunteer for two film festivals in Chicago. One of these volunteer experiences with Chicago Filmmakers turned into a paid position with more responsibility.
- Know your questions and let them guide you. You might not know your next job title, but if you define what you are passionate about, you might have a better chance of getting there.
- Be grateful for and proud of your time at UChicago — final doctorate degree or not! Two of my best friends from graduate school chose other paths before finishing their Ph.D.s. With M.A.s in English, they moved on to have amazing careers in journalism and management consulting.