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Cutchogue woman travels the world working for U.S. state department

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Cairo, Egypt. 

These are just a few the favorite locations Cutchogue resident Jennifer Monahan has traveled to over the course of her career as a licensed architect. 

Ms. Monahan, who has worked at embassies and consulates in over 60 countries during more than 80 postings around the globe, was sworn in as a foreign service specialist construction engineer by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in August.

“It was an incredible honor,” said Ms. Monahan. “He really captivates a room.” 

Reaching that pinnacle in her career was no easy task, she said. 

“The vetting process for most foreign service officers is long,” she said. “But this whole process took me roughly 18 months.”

Specialists must complete a series of background checks, exams, essays and oral assessments — even before their first formal interview. Ms. Monahan said she believes the length of this process is related to the endurance and devotion required to do the job. 

“They want to be sure you’re committed to the position,” she said. “I spent hours upon hours writing and editing those papers.”

Because Department of State construction engineers tackle large scale projects that can cost upwards of $100 million, Ms. Monahan said, after getting the position, employees are not deployed right away. 

“They don’t just write you a check and say, ‘Go have fun,’ ” she said. “It’s more complex than that.” 

Employee placements, she explained, are determined at the time they are needed. Even if an employee is deployed to focus on one project, it could easily be canceled. 

“It could be canceled for security reasons, evolving budget considerations,” she said. “Or, you could be asked to finish another project that was started by someone else. The safety of Americans always comes first.” 

Ms. Monahan works at taming a golden eagle on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, while on temporary duty as a foreign service specialist construction engineer. (Jennifer Monahan courtesy photo)

Ms. Monahan is currently working in the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (OBO) in Rosslyn, Va., which she said is responsible for identifying, acquiring, planning, constructing, purchasing and maintaining buildings in other countries. The 16,000 buildings managed by the OBO are intended for embassies, consulates, residencies and many other government buildings around the globe.

The official OBO website says its their mission is to provide “safe, secure and functional facilities that represent the U.S. government to the host nation and support our staff in the achievement of U.S. foreign policy objectives.”

OBO houses several offices, divisions, and branches. Ms. Monahan works in construction management inside the Construction, Securities and Management Directorate, which is charge of maintaining buildings. 

Ms. Monahan keeps her branch chief updated routinely on security and safety. She also speaks with regularly project architects, design managers and financial representatives.

Ms. Monahan previously worked for the government as an alternate contracting officer representative for five years, during which she traveled frequently on temporary duty for nonpermanent assignments. Her favorite location during this time, she said, was Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.

“It was so exotic, and very exciting,” she said. “But hard for a vegetarian.” 

Ms. Monahan said she has been interested in architecture since she was a student at Garden City High School. 

“Design work isn’t my thing,” she said. “I specialize in construction and building contract management only.” 

She earned a degree in architecture from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., before becoming a Peace Corps volunteer in western Kenya. For three years, Ms. Monahan focused on large-scale projects that included constructing buildings out of green and locally produced materials.

“It allowed me to develop architectural skills,” she said. 

After returning to the U.S., Ms. Monahan earned her architectural license in New York, and received an MBA from Columbia Business School in Manhattan. Later, she married Michael Kretschman, an engineer, and moved to Cutchogue, where they’ve been for roughly 20 years. Her husband, she said, is her biggest support system. 

“He holds down the house and takes care of our pooch in Cutchogue,” she said. “I couldn’t do this job without him.” 

Ms. Monahan said she travels between Virginia and New York weekly, but doesn’t mind the hefty commute.

“I’m used to the travel back and forth,” she said. “It doesn’t faze me so much.” 

Ms. Monahan said she is eager to learn as much as she can in her new position. 

“I am proud and honored to work in this capacity. We have to deliver a sense of security to people and to think that’d be entrusted to me is very humbling.”

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Photo caption: Jennifer Monahan rides a camel outside the pyramids in Cairo, Egypt, while on temporary duty at Embassy Cairo. (Courtesy photo)