Taugher ’06 tackles WMD with State Department

Ryan Taugher’s life has been filled with adventures around the world since he finished his degree at Cornell College, including his current role as the director of the Office of Cooperative Threat Reduction for the U.S. Department of State.

The 2006 graduate, who majored in international relations, now leads an office that works with other countries to keep the U.S. and its partners secure from the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

“We work with countries around the world to do trainings, workshops, and other capacity-building efforts. Our work helps prevent countries, like North Korea, or terrorist groups like ISIS, from acquiring or using WMD that could harm the U.S. or our allies around the world,” Taugher said. 

The job involves a lot of challenges, including working in partnership with other counties to ensure that weaponizable chemicals or biological pathogens are stored in secure locations, or helping countries take steps to enforce U.S. or United Nations sanctions. 

Taugher’s desire to learn more about different countries and explore new places started in high school and took hold in college. He studied abroad and traveled off-campus. While at Cornell, he spent a semester living and studying in Jordan and another semester working as an intern in Washington, D.C., at National Defense University. Then, he was awarded a Fulbright to Turkey when he graduated.

“Even though I didn’t always realize it at the time, my experiences at Cornell, both internationally and through an internship in D.C., really built a foundation for lots of experiences and prepared me well for the adventures that have followed.”

But the path Taugher took to his current position wasn’t always easy. He had to adjust his plans after graduate school, when he passed the written but not oral exam to become a foreign service officer with the Department of State.

“One of the lessons of Cornell and life, in general, is even if you don’t succeed, persist and keep following your passions,” Taugher said. “Even though I didn’t become a foreign service officer as I’d initially hoped, I was still able to join the Department of State, and now I’m able to do really exciting work, and feel like I’m making a difference around the world.” 

The Wisconsin native says learning on the block plan, taking One Course At A Time for 3 ½ weeks before transitioning to another course, helped him prepare for his career. He says he often needs to rapidly get up to speed on a topic that he didn’t know anything about until the issue surfaced. 

Cornell also ignited in Taugher a desire to learn and keep learning. The liberal arts curriculum introduced a variety of courses on topics such as history, English, science, and languages.

“By being comfortable with and interested in always learning more and getting to study more, hear more, learn more at Cornell, that continues to serve me well because I never know what topic, what country, what issue, I’ll be focusing on next.”

In addition to his courses and fond memories of his favorite professor–Dave Loebsack–he also still keeps in touch with many of his Cornell friends.

“I think it’s a good reminder about how Cornell not only helps prepare you for the world and you learn about all sorts of topics, but it provides you the opportunity to build life-long friendships and to really meet some interesting and amazing people from around the U.S.”