Valuable Lessons

Ex-Marine Corps Professor Faces Familiar Challenges on the Hill

Posted November 26, 2003 at 10:33am

On her first day of class as an associate professor at Command and Staff College of the Marine Corps University, Evelyn Farkas stood out as a suit-clad woman in a sea of uniformed, mostly male, students.

“Visually, it was very different,” she says of the pristine attire. “It was my first time seeing so many uniforms.”

The New York native developed creative ways to identify her identically dressed students while teaching in Quantico, Va.

“I learned to recognize my students by the backs of their heads,” the 35-year-old said with a half-smile.

Now, Farkas finds herself amid a plethora of navy blue suits rather than the military attire to which she became accustomed.

[IMGCAP (1)]Working on the Democratic side of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Farkas focuses on foreign and defense policy in Latin America and the South Pacific. She also manages policy and budget for Special Operations Command, counter-drug programs and export control. Farkas is only one of three female staffers on a committee of 26.

“Security is certainly a male-dominated field,” she said. “As a woman, I’m proud of that.”

Farkas was one of only two female professors at the university when she was hired in 1997. Teaching courses in U.S. foreign policy, military history and national security policy to lecture halls packed with as many as 250 students, Farkas said her four years at the Marine Corps were some of her “most challenging.”

At the beginning of every semester she greeted a class of 16 students — usually 15 men and one woman — ready to deliver a lesson on ethnic conflict and peace operations. Having just returned from five months working in Bosnia as a human rights officer and election supervisor, Farkas was hired for the teaching job because she was considered a specialist in the field. The Marines sitting in the desks in front her didn’t immediately have the same impression of the petite woman.

“Walking in, it looked like I had zero credibility,” Farkas said, who speaks fluent Hungarian and German. “Every semester, I had to prove that I had something to offer these students.”

Two and a half years after ending her last class, Farkas still hears from former students. Several served in combat in the Middle East, and at least one was wounded in Iraq.

Farkas, who received both her master’s and doctorate degrees from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, moved into her Capitol Hill office in April 2001. The first born of Hungarian parents, she said she always had a fascination with international affairs and had dreams of working on the Hill someday. An eighth-grade trip to Washington — Farkas’ first experience with the nation’s capital — solidified her passion.

Farkas’ professional and personal travels have taken her from Vienna to Brussels, the Balkans and Southeast Asia. The globetrotter said her favorite destinations were Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast and Jerusalem.

An avid reader who belongs to a book club, Farkas just released her own book, “Fractured States and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, Ethiopia, and Bosnia in the 1990s,” which is a revised edition of her dissertation from Tufts. Farkas called writing the book an “interesting” process and said she wasn’t sure if she would add the title of “author” to her résumé.

“I think the price of my book is less than most of the insomniac treatments out there,” Farkas said jokingly.