SIA adviser wins Penn State Distinguished Alumni Award, looks back on illustrious career

SIA advisory board member Mary Beth Long

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- As a Penn State undergrad on the cusp of her 1985 graduation, Penn State School of International Affairs advisory board member Mary Beth Long had “absolutely no idea” her career would take her around the world and to the highest levels of government and industry—ultimately earning her the Penn State Distinguished Alumni Award, the University’s highest alumni honor.

But before she was founding major international companies or serving as the first female assistant secretary of defense confirmed by the U.S. Senate, she was a communications student studying abroad in Taiwan. But when her semester in Taiwan was coming to a close, the Clearfield, Pennsylvania, native still felt she had more to learn before returning home. Interested in expanding her horizons, she worked with Penn State, who helped extend her time abroad to study in China—a decision that opened her eyes to a world of possibilities.

“It was mind-blowing to me, and made me want to take bites out of things I had never thought about before,” Long said. “So that’s what I’ve tried to spend my life doing: following interesting things.”

And those interesting things have led her to some interesting places—the CIA, working on terrorism and security issues; the Department of Defense, where she worked on counter narcoterrorism and regional issues in the Middle East, Africa, and beyond; the offices of Fortune 500 companies, which she regularly advises on international defense markets; and the boardrooms of Metis Solutions LLC, the M B Long and Associates international law firm, and Global Alliance Advisors, all of which she founded and helped guide to global success.

“There was a period where I was the assistant secretary of defense and was negotiating an agreement among Middle East countries and the Israelis, and at the same time chairing a very difficult negotiation with the nuclear participants within NATO’s nuclear posture,” Long said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever be doing either of those things—and here I was doing both!”

Mary Beth Long and SIA Director Scott Gartner on July 2, 2017.

Long joked that throughout her career she’s had “a thousand moments where I was waiting for the fraud police to come for me,” but her hard work and diligence have made her one of the nation’s leading figures in the fields of intelligence, defense, and international relations. Long said being selected for the Penn State Distinguished Alumni Award, formally presented during a ceremony earlier this month, was both an incredible honor and an incredible surprise.

“I spent so much time away from Clearfield and State College. I didn’t think anyone had noticed what I’d been doing or that it mattered,” Long said. “I always just thought of my career as ‘Mary Beth exploring life,’ and certainly never thought I would get an award for it. I’ve always thought of life as an apple, and I’m just trying to take as big of a bite as I can while I’m here.”

As a member of the SIA advisory board, Long brings an wealth of knowledge and unparalleled level of experience that help guide SIA’s strategic planning and decision making to ensure the program is reflective of the current state of international affairs and responsive to the needs of students pursuing global careers.

“Mary Beth Long is an invaluable member of the SIA family,” said SIA Director Scott Gartner. “We’re proud to have nominated her for this honor in recognition of achievements, and we’re grateful to her dedication to helping make SIA the best program for our students it can be.”

Long, in addition to her normal duties on the SIA advisory board, has spoken with students alongside fellow advisory board member and former CIA officer Valerie Plame on their careers in the intelligence field and how students can pursue similar opportunities. And for those students looking to pursue the same kinds of careers in which Long has found such success, she has a few words of advice.

“Don’t let yourself get stuck because you’re intimidated by how fast the world is changing. Dive into the deep end of the pool while the rest of the world is still dipping their toes in the water,” Long said. “If you do, at a minimum you’ll learn something new every day, which is one of the great gifts of life.”