Assistant Secretary & Director General
U.S. and Foreign and Commercial Service
U.S. Department of Commerce
Harford Community College, Maryland
By Madeline Patton
Rather than go to college right after high school, Awilda R. Marquez — senior policy adviser to the Secretary of Commerce - sold her belongings and bought a one-way ticket to Rome. She chose Rome using the planning method favored by the most intrepid of adventurers. She closed her eyes and put her finger down on a map.
"I had some absolutely wonderful and some absolutely horrid experiences," she says. "It was just a great time."
After she returned to the United States and a dead-end job 11 years later, Marquez accepted an offer from her mother to pay the $250 tuition for a semester at Harford Community College in her hometown of Bel Air, Md.
"I still feel the thrill of their open-arm welcome of someone different," Marquez says of the college. "I wasn’t an 18-year-old coming in."
But she immersed herself in campus life regardless and was elected student body president. She studied business administration in hopes that it would lead to a job overseas. Harford officials nominated her for a Harry S. Truman scholarship, which she used to pay for two years at Georgetown University, where she graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in foreign service.
The scholarship also paid for graduate school, but Marquez deferred the graduate school portion for six years to work in the U.S. Foreign Service in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Nairobi, Kenya. Upon her return, she attended the University of Maryland Law School, where she earned a juris doctor degree and was an assistant editor of the law review.
After law school, Marquez worked six years at the Baltimore law firm of Piper and Marbury, where she practiced in the litigation division. While there, she helped found the Women Entrepreneurs of Baltimore, a non-profit organization that lends women small amounts of money to start their own businesses. She was honored for those and other efforts in the community with the J.C. Penney National Golden Rule Award in 1994.
A year earlier, Marquez had been tapped by the Clinton Administration to be a White House liaison at the State Department. She later became chief counsel of the commerce department’s economic development administration. She was appointed Assistant Secretary and Director General of the U.S. Foreign and Commercial Service at the Department in 1998 and recently became senior adviser to William M. Daley.
As Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Director General of U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, Marquez was responsible for managing a network of 100 domestic export assistance centers and over 140 commercial service offices in 70 countries abroad.
"Because our economy right now is global, it is imperative for students at all levels to understand the international dynamics, the variety of cultures outside our borders, and the challenge of communicating with other cultures," says Marquez, who speaks French, Spanish and Bengali. "I believe every student should take an opportunity to visit and travel abroad. It changes your perspective instantly and forever."