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 Serve & Protect

Serving America via government and defense work yields satisfying career growth and professional success as you work to protect the nation.
Whereas you can serve your country through the US. military, there are myriad other ways to serve, and to protect our resources and citizens, both in the public and private sectors.
Service might happen through keeping the country’s nuclear power plant operating safely, protecting our wildlife and wild lands, or developing those weapons used by America’s troops.
Here are some of those workers who serve in these diverse ways, and as a result, have built thriving careers.
NRC’s Maldonado Keeps the Lights On & America Safe
Marilyn Diaz Maldonado, a chemical engineer at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), has proactive responsibilities in keeping America’s nuclear power plants safe.
“I serve as a chemical engineer for the NRC. To ensure safety and adherence to our regulations, I review the analyses related to the chemical process that produces uranium pellets (fuel for nuclear power plants) in the fuel cycle facilities the NRC regulates,” she explains.
“I conduct chemical safety reviews of new applications, amendments, exemptions and renewal for nuclear fuel cycle facilities, which make nuclear fuel for nuclear power plants. I also serve as a project manager for various special projects and lead a team of seven employees.”
However, there’s also a potentially reactive component to Maldonado’s responsibilities.
“As part of my responsibilities, I also serve as a technical expert on the agency’s emergency fuel cycle safety team,” she notes.
“I would be part of the response the NRC would initiate in our operations center to respond an accident or incident. To ensure I’m ready to respond, I also participate in exercises that simulate an accident.”
As if Maldonado’s manifold responsibilities weren’t enough, she also volunteers in a leadership role.
“In addition to those responsibilities, I also serve as the chair of the Hispanic Employment Professional Advisory Committee, which supports the agency in identifying issues of concern to Hispanic Americans in the NRC, implements initiatives to increase their representation at all levels in the agency, and eliminates barriers that may hinder their equal opportunity in hiring, training, retention and career advancement. As the HEPAC Chair, I lead a group of 13 employees.”
Whatever she’s tasked to do, Maldonado is bolstered by the importance of her work.
“I’m always challenged by new issues to resolve. I enjoy the challenge, as well as being part of an agency with a mission to protect public health and the environment. That gives me a great deal of satisfaction,” she points out.
“The best part of the job is when I get to solve problems, whether it has to do with regulating a new process or technology, licensing a new, unique facility and/or ensuring that a plant gets back on track after a process deviation or an event,” she shares.
“I also enjoy learning something new every day, whether it’s something technical or a skill such as managing others.”
It was that last skill - managing others - that was new to Maldonado as her responsibilities grew. But she’s been able to skillfully master it, learning something new about how best to manage and motivate others via an experience she had in 2017.
“Last year I had the opportunity to work as a manager supervising eight employees. I had experience leading projects, but did not have formal training or experience supervising employees. At first, it was intimidating. There were times when I feared I could not get the job done,” she recalls.
“However, I soon realized my fear was really fear of the unknown. It was a new job, and new subjects, topics and challenges. I started working with what I knew, itemized what I still needed to learn and focused on learning the new things one step at a time. I held many one-on-one meetings with the staff to discuss their projects, and I prepared for these interactions ahead of time.”
All of this helped Maldonado overcome her concerns and to ultimately achieve success. “I even ended up enjoying the time spent supervising my group,” she adds.
Maldonado might be breathtakingly busy, but the agile work schedule at the NRC gives her a breather here and there.
“I love the flexibility that comes with working for a federal government agency in terms of work-life balance, as well as my agency’s focus and emphasis on promoting diversity,” she remarks.
Maldonado joined the NRC in 2008 and holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Puerto Rico and a master’s degree in environmental and occupational health from George Washington University. She’s risen far in a single decade, and encourages others to step up and volunteer for new roles and duties.
“Don’t wait for an opportunity to arise. Make your own opportunities. If you want an opportunity in a new project, talk to your supervisor or your director. Let them know you’re interested. Don’t wait to be asked. They may not give you the opportunity at the time, but they will have you on their minds for the next opportunity that comes around.”
Maldonado also feels you shouldn’t get too comfortable with what you’re working on, and that, instead, challenge yourself, and dare to try the unknown and learn.
“I learned I was capable of supervising employees. Even though initially it was difficult, I woke up every day ready for the new challenge the job brought that day. It was exciting and fun,” she relates.
“I learned to be successful at whatever you do, you have to challenge yourself, expose yourself to the unknown. You’ll learn more about yourself and develop new skills you didn’t think you could learn.”
Learn more about the NRC, with headquarters in Rockville, MD, through nrc.gov/about-nrc/employment.html and its blog, plus Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, GOVDELIVERY and RSS.
Ramos’ Responsibilities Stretch Beyond the Horizon at NPS
There are many superintendents in America, from apartment buildings and construction sites to school districts, but there’s only one superintendent who oversees the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S., whose responsibilities stretch to across 1.5 million acres, and who serves tourists from Kansas, as well as manatees and the rare Florida panther.
That’s Pedro Ramos, superintendent of the Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks.
But his responsibilities go on and on, like the Everglades, which is in the midst of a $20 billion restoration project, the largest ecological restoration project in the world.
The Park increasingly collaborates with oil and gas entities, hunters and off-roaders, balancing public usage and conservation. If there ever were a dull day, Hurricane Irma, which hit at the end of last summer, sunk numerous boats in waterways and relocated channel markers, meaning wrecks must be removed and channel markers restored.
So how does Ramos keep his head above water? Well, for starters, the Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks aren’t his first rodeo. He served as a U.S. community development manager in the U.S. Virgin Islands until 1997 for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and subsequently worked as a director of administration for the states of Vermont and New Hampshire, and the territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
He transferred to the National Park Service (NPS) in 2001, where he served as the administrative officer for the Big Cypress National Preserve. He’s also had acting superintendent assignments at Jimmy Carter and Anderson National Historic Sites in Georgia, San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee.
He’s now served as superintendent of the Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks since 2009, and oversees about 300 employees. Whatever the park or historic site, Ramos loves the NPS’ purpose.
“We care for our nation’s most treasured places and stories so that generations ahead can learn about where they come from and also enjoy the awesome natural environment America has,” he says.
However, NPS is like other sectors, forever evolving and thus requiring employees to change with it.
“Times are changing at a much faster pace today than ever,” Ramos observes. “Remain flexible and open-minded so you can evolve with the times and therefore be in a much better position to serve in a professional role.”
It’s not only the times that are a changin’ - park partnerships are also changin’, according to Ramos.
“We have to balance use and resource conservation at Big Cypress National Preserve to ensure people could enjoy activities such as hunting, fishing and other recreational access to their public lands and waters,” he describes.
“I learned that America’s sportsmen and -women community cares deeply about the well-being of our natural environment, and when you bring them, scientists, and the public and resource managers to the table, great things happen. Engaging people of diverse backgrounds and ideas always sets the stage best for good decision-making.”
NPS is all about making good things continue to happen, as it oversees stunning land and water that’s open to all of us.
“The U.S. Department of the Interior cares for one out of every five acres in the U.S. Our public lands and waters are amazing, and there for all of us to enjoy! The idea that our nation’s most special places belong to all of us, not just some, is an amazing concept that always attracted me since my childhood years growing up in Puerto Rico,” he points out.
Explore the NPS, headquartered in Washington, DC, via nps.gov/aboutus/workwithus.htm, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr and iTunes.
FWS’ Martinez Keeps America’s Waters, Woods & Skies Teeming With Wildlife
The next time you look up and see a bald eagle soaring, give thanks to the 3,000 permanent employees working on America’s national wildlife refuges and the 9,000 employees overall of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), who are forever protecting America’s eagles, a national symbol that teetered on edge of extinction.
In 1963, there were only 487 mating pairs. Now there are more than 10,000 mating pairs in the contiguous U.S.
However, FWS does much more than protect eagles. Its endangered species program with 86 ecological services field stations preserves America’s ecological diversity, as do its 566 national wildlife refuges, and thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas covering over 150 million acres.
Its 70 national fish hatcheries and 65 fishery resource offices keep our rivers and lakes teeming with fish. FWS also works to keep our skies teeming with migratory birds.
In short, its mission is “working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.”
Cynthia Martinez is chief, national wildlife refuge system. As she puts it: “The National Wildlife Refuge System is focused on wildlife. We’re the only land management agency that’s only for wildlife….We recognize the important connection that there is between wildlife and people.”
Recognizing that connection is why FWS partners with many private entities, from hunting and fishing organizations to even the Boating Partnership Council. Whether in the public or private sectors, millions of Americans are passionate about America’s wildlife and the ecosystems that support it. Martinez is privy to that passion when she meets with FWS employees.
“I enjoy hearing the passion in the voices of the men and women of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service when they talk about the work they’re doing for wildlife and wild places on behalf of the American people.”
What is Martinez’s role? “I oversee policy and budget for the 855-million-acre national wildlife refuge system, including 566 national wildlife refuges across the country, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, and coastal and marine programs,” she answers.
Such a prominent role was a little scary at first, however. “One of the hardest/scariest times in my career was when I came to headquarters in Washington, DC. The place was so far away from everything I knew, and it was the highest level of the organization. I stayed true to what I knew, and quickly learned that everyone else was a person, just like me,” she describes.
From that experience, Martinez advises others to take chances and bear discomforting challenges.
“Seek out opportunities and push yourself. Take advantage of opportunities even if you don’t think you’re ready,” she encourages. “You may surprise yourself. Don’t be afraid or sell yourself short. Be confident. Build a network and get to know people in your organization.”
If you seek an opportunity to work with FWS, then you might end up loving the very same things that Martinez loves.
“I love working with the passionate and committed men and women of the FWS, and the amazing places that we’re entrusted with managing,” she underscores.
FWS has headquarters office Washington, DC and in Falls Church, VA, and you can see more of its story through fws.gov/humancapital, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram and Tumblr.
Vasquez Is Empowered to Take Calculated Risks at GA-ASI
As a program manager, special programs, aircraft systems for General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), Juan Antonio Vasquez is put to the test in ways surpassing the ken of many professions.
“I had performed my initial structural dynamic analysis on a geosynchronous satellite to simulate launch loads. Then seeing the product of my analysis on the launch pad, getting ready to go into space, was a bit nerve-racking,” Vasquez remembers.
“I was just thinking in back of my head on the details and the assumptions I’d made, and hoping I did not miscalculate anything that could jeopardize the mission.”
Luckily, GA-ASI’s collaborative culture had Vasquez’s back. “You have to rely on your training and mentorship. They’re there for you. You don’t work don’t in a vacuum,” he says.
And Vasquez likes the degree to which he’s trusted and empowered. “I’m the owner of my projects. I see them throughout the analysis and design, integration and testing, and then field deployment. That’s great. You’re given full responsibility. You have to make sure you succeed with informed risks and the right analyses.”
That trust comes from top management, whom you’re likely to encounter on a daily basis.
“At GA-ASI you’re empowered and encouraged by senior management. There’s mutual respect here, and they’re open to your recommendations. You walk around the cafeteria and everyone is there. There’s no distinction and separation,” Vasquez observes.
The end results of this culture where engineers are trusted, empowered and supported is an expansive, envelope-pushing portfolio that includes aircraft platforms, sensor systems, ground control stations, and training and support services.
What is Vasquez’s current role? “I manage projects that support customer mission needs related to special aircraft payload configurations on the MQ-9 and Predator C unmanned aircraft for airworthiness certification,” he outlines.
Vasquez oversees about a dozen engineers and technicians assigned to his projects, and has about 8,500 total colleagues. If you’d like to work alongside him one day, then he has some advice for you.
“Be comfortable working in team environments. Don’t be afraid to speak out, and don’t be afraid to take the lead on solving problems. Learn to take calculated risks.”
If you’re hired by GA-ASI, then you’ll likely enjoy your days as much as Vasquez does. “Interfacing with highly talented engineers and discussing solutions to problems across a broad spectrum makes for engaging days” he notes.
If you’re still in school, then you should ascertain which sector might be a good fit for you. However, Vasquez also encourages you to be open to unexpected opportunities.
“Know what type of industry you’re interested in working, but be flexible. Starting my career as a structural analyst in space systems was a boon for my career. Working my way to subject matter expert in structural dynamics opened new opportunities outside my comfort zone across the U.S. government and private sector.”
And if you do work at GA-ASI one day, then the state-of-the-art work is backed by state-of-the-art support.
“You might be surprised at the extent of the encouragement and advice you’ll get from senior leadership. The ability to reach out for advice surprised me and empowers me to take risks,” Vasquez shares.
Explore job openings at ga-careers.com, and learn more about San Diego, CA-headquartered GA-ASI through Twitter, LinkedIn, Glassdoor and Facebook.
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