Distant lands, complex assignments, challenging work – these have been the hallmarks of Mark Henderson’s career since he joined the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2010. It’s been an odyssey of great experiences dotted with significant successes, and it began at SUNY Cobleskill, where Mark graduated in 2002 with an associate degree in what was then called Agricultural Science and Business.
Those two years served to launch him into the type of work that he knew even then he wanted to pursue. He went on to earn a B.S. from Cornell and a master’s degree from the University of California at Davis, both in International Agricultural Development. “The UC Davis curriculum had a Peace Corps component attached,” Mark says. “The Corps turned out to be great preparation for my later work at USAID. On a personal note, it’s also where I met my wife.”
His USAID postings as a Foreign Service Officer (“Another term for ‘diplomat,’” he explains) have included two years in Tanzania and a year in Afghanistan. He is currently finishing up a three-and-a-half year assignment in East Timor in the Indonesian archipelago. “I’ll be coming back to the U.S. for a while,” Mark reports, “then we’ll head off to a 4-year posting in Ethiopia.”
Not surprisingly, Mark’s work principally revolves around agricultural policies and practices. In one recent effort, the USAID team was able, through greatly improved growing methods and market connections, to triple the income of thousands of Timorese farm families, as well as to improve their nutritional status.
As to the role his time at SUNY Cobleskill has played in his career, Mark credits the practical, hands-on experience he received at the College, both in agricultural science and in how businesses are best run. “What I learned there still helps me assess the progress of our programs and to deal successfully with the sorts of contractors who are inevitably involved in our work.”
“I’d also encourage current Coby students to get involved in the extracurriculars that are available,” he says. “For instance, little did I know that my taking part in student government on campus would help me so much in working with my agency itself and with foreign governments. Cobleskill could not have given me a better foundation for the sort of rewarding work I’m doing now.”
Feature photo courtesy of Mark Henderson ’02