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Uncle Sam Needs Engineers
The need for engineers is high in the military and federal government.
The conundrum faced by many new engineering graduates - and those searching the job market - is whether to work in the public or private sector. The answer lies with the individual.
Engineers have multiple factors to consider, such as where they believe they’d be more comfortable, where their talents could best be used, where their personal and professional goals will best be met - and where the jobs are.
Although working for the federal government might not immediately come to mind, the truth is that many federal agencies and organizations employ millions of people - as does the U.S. military. Uncle Sam also has a need for engineers, employing them in many different capacities.
Beyond the increasing need for the expertise of engineers, there are also the numerous advantages of going public within the federal government to consider: the opportunity to serve, job security, good salaries, excellent benefits, safe pensions, advancement opportunities, choice of geographic locations and the chance to travel.
Similarly, military positives include excellent opportunities to learn new skills, travel, flexible housing arrangements, long-term employment, early retirement and a rewarding life of service.
Just ask the engineers in this sector who are featured on the following pages. And glean some sage advice for working as an engineer in the public sector.
BNL’s Brutus Pays Forward the Help That Supported His Success
Jean Clifford Brutus, PE, PMP is now a project mechanical engineer at Upton, NY-based Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL). His journey to his current position began with his education.
“My exposure to the STEM program, from which my educational opportunities began, started at Suffolk County Community College (SCCC),” says the native of Haiti.
“New opportunities emerged when I transferred to Stony Brook University (SBU) to study for a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering.”
At Stony Brook Brutus continued his involvement in STEM and participated in many programs, including Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Baja, the Collegiate Science and Technology Program (CSTEP), and the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), which offered mentorship and funded his undergraduate research.
Additionally, it was the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) program, run by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which provided him the chance to intern at BNL, where his success as an intern led to a full-time position.
In 2012 Brutus completed his master’s degree. “My work at BNL allowed me to participate in trainings where, in 2016, I completed professional project management (PMP) certification, followed by achieving the engineering profession’s highest license - New York state professional engineer (PE),” he relates.
Given his educational background, Brutus is an excellent fit for BNL, a multipurpose research institution, funded primarily by the DOE’s office of science. BNL conducts research in the physical, biomedical and environmental sciences, as well as energy technologies and national security.
In his current role as project manager, he’s responsible for technologies designed to increase particle collision rates at the Lab’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) - which is data that scientists rely on to make discoveries, bnl.gov/rhic/video.php.
Brutus’ work responsibilities also require him to travel within the U.S. and internationally to attend conferences. “There I present my work, as well as visit vendors to inspect equipment being manufactured,” he states.
Focusing on skills needed for his profession, Brutus remarks, “In today’s world more people are graduating with master’s degrees in engineering and/or business. But it’ll take more than a master’s degree to distinguish oneself from the talent pool. Teamwork, as well as technical, leadership and presentation skills are important, but so is being inclusive and diverse.”
To that, he adds: “Always challenge yourself and be willing to learn from your mistakes - and the mistakes of others - in order to grow professionally.”
Brutus enjoys working in a collaborative environment, with different challenges that accompany each project. At BNL he finds the work-life balance extremely noteworthy.
“It’s also rewarding and exciting to see my designs come to reality and be used for scientific research,” he relates.
In 2018 Brutus was nominated for membership in the inclusion and diversity council for the nuclear and particle physics directorate (NPP) at BNL, where he now serves as co-chair. Motivated by his work, as well as BNL’s dedication to diversity, Brutus is an active participant in the diversity council. He strives to make a difference both in word and action, especially since being married to an engineer, he’s also aware of the challenges women in science and engineering often face at work.
In addition to working on the diversity council, “giving back to the community and programs that helped me achieve my goals is one of my top priorities,” he states.
Since 2012 Brutus has also mentored students for the summer SULI program at BNL, as well as attended the SBU engineering career fair as a recruiter. He’s additionally participated in outreach programs for STEM as a panelist and speaker.
For more information about BNL, go to bnl.gov, jobs.bnl.gov, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Flickr and Facebook.
DHS S&T’s Cunningham & Castillo Enjoy Effecting Constructive Change
At Washington, DC-headquartered Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), Stan Cunningham and Lorraine Castillo are committed to using cutting-edge and scientific technologies to keep America safe. As the research and development (R&D) arm of DHS that supports that mission, those within this directorate work to develop solutions to protect the homeland.
Cunningham, a 22-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, serves as director, knowledge management and process improvement (KPO). He finds his practical knowledge of engineering practices, R&D, and program management balance his ability to analyze and improve business practices.
“Joining DHS 12 years ago gave me an opportunity to return to direct service to the nation as a federal employee post-9/11 when my experience was needed,” he explains.
In his current role he supports the Office of the Under Secretary (OUS) of Science and Technology (S&T).
“Knowledge management and organizational change management are important to all organizations and agencies,” he states, noting the rise of both disciplines has created a niche in both the public and private sectors.
The chance to effect constructive change is very important to Cunningham, who acknowledges how he tends to see everything through the lens of engineering.
“Most tasks can be modeled or perceived as open or closed systems that can be optimized through processes and other means of control. But whether a problem requires a physical or a virtual fix, I find joy in the ability to find a solution,” he remarks.
So many of the world’s engineering marvels having been designed by members of minority groups and diverse cultures, notes Cunningham.
“The foundations of tools, mechanics, advanced mathematics and other disciplines came from the minds of what we consider to be minority cultures,” he points out, adding, “These natural sciences are a sort of birthright that must be reclaimed, and our youth should be made aware of them. As experienced engineers in a myriad of disciplines, it should be our mission to mentor and encourage more minorities to pursue engineering.”
For Lorraine Castillo, every position she’s held in public service continues to enhance her ability to provide service to the nation. “I started my career supporting the U.S. Army as an intern, and since transitioning from intern to full-time federal employee, all of my experiences assisted me in transiting from an Army mission to a DHS mission,” she explains.
Today, as branch chief of the S&T Directorate, Castillo leads a multidisciplinary team of engineers and scientists who provide analytical expertise by conducting capabilities, requirements, operations, and alternative analyses to maximize efficiency and effectiveness for the Homeland Security Enterprise.
Castillo holds a Bachelor of Science in industrial engineering and operations research, a Master of Science in industrial engineering and an MBA. She finds resolving the daily challenges of protecting the Homeland Security Enterprise, along with her colleagues, to be a most rewarding endeavor.
“We need authoritative analysis today and tomorrow to ensure we make informed decisions,’” states this seven-year DHS employee.
She also has advice for those seeking to join DHS that goes beyond academics and hands-on experience. She contends that every individual should have a set of core values that define who he or she is.
“These values shouldn’t be compromised, and should align with organizational values,” she states, adding that for everything else there’s a need to be flexible, adaptable, and responsive to the mission and vision of DHS.
Regarding supporting more members of minority groups and diverse cultures to consider a career in engineering, Castillo believes encouragement of science and engineering starts at home.
“The possibilities and opportunities of an engineering career are boundless. As an individual, each of us has the ability to influence those in your home environment to be a mentor,” says Castillo, who’s an active mentor in DHS’ mentoring program.
For more information about DHS S&T, go to dhs.gov/science-and-technology, dhs.gov/homeland-security-careers, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Flickr, Periscope and Facebook.
Khan’s Ability to Multitask Helps Her Protect the Environment at EPA
With a Bachelor and Master of Science in chemical engineering, a professional engineering (PE) license, international project management professional (PMP) certification and federal contact officer representative certification, Mazeeda Kahn joined the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the Region 2 tribal air coordinator, working with New York State Tribal Nations.
During her 23 years with the agency, she’s held a number of significant positions, and today serves as a superfund remedial project manager for Region 2 in New York for Washington, DC-headquartered EPA.
“I was hired by the EPA a year and a half after receiving my master’s degree, and credit the long wait for a job offer with testing my resolve and determination to be a successful engineer,” says Khan.
“Now, a little over two decades later, I still find myself helping people understand air quality and clean-up actions, and assisting in developing new technologies, regulations, and policies.”
Reflecting on her past, Kahn shares that it was growing up with parents who kept their children busy with school and extracurricular activities that honed her ability to handle multiple projects simultaneously while building her confidence. She also acknowledges her desire to set personal goals, which included learning to scuba dive, run a half marathon and obtain professional certifications.
“These and other accomplishments have kept me growing professionally and personally, and are great demonstrations of my skills,” she says.
On the job Kahn is responsible for determining appropriate clean-up actions, methods, and tools for toxic and hazardous waste sites with the use of extensive sampling, assessment activities, and innovative or alternative treatment technologies. She also provides accurate and relevant technological leadership to team members. And she reviews technical work to ensure the highest standards of scientific or engineering quality, among several others charges.
“I feel empowered to shape the clean-up of Superfund sites and am humbled by learning from expert peers,” says the program management specialist.
“My position allows me to utilize my education in real circumstances while continuing to learn new engineering technologies.”
In the future Khan plans on becoming an expert in superfund site clean-ups and a mentor. In addition, she’s set on obtaining a supervisory position to lead in the mission of the agency: to protect human health and the environment.
Kahn enjoys her work and the diversity of activities in which she’s involved, including researching the best technology for a clean-up, and participating in field activities such as visiting sites and interacting with public officials and the community.
The advice she has for others seeking a similar career path can best be summarized by a quote from Thomas Edison: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
She also stresses the importance of problem-solving and keeping an optimistic attitude. And for members of minority groups and diverse cultures, Kahn not only encourages participation in STEM classes, but she also recommends more exposure to traditional engineering fields.
“Look beyond your immediate environment,” urges Kahn, the child of Trinidadian immigrants who wanted her to major in accounting or nursing.
“Go with your interest and passion” was the lesson she fostered while raising her daughter who’s now studying mechanical engineering.
For more information about EPA, go to epa.gov, epa.gov/careers, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr and Facebook.
Vega-Liriano ‘Makes Tomorrow Better’ at USACE
With approximately 37,000 dedicated civilians and soldiers, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) delivers services to customers in more than 130 countries worldwide.
“The Corps’ mission is to deliver vital public and military engineering services, partner in peace and war to strengthen national security, and to energize the economy and reduce risks caused by disasters,” says Zulamet Vega-Liriano, who’s been with the Washington, DC-headquartered Corps for eight years.
With a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering from the University of Puerto Rico and a master’s degree in engineering from The City College of New York, Vega-Liriano is now a civil engineer that specializes in hydraulics.
“As part of the hydrologic modeling section in water resources, I’m responsible for providing hydrologic engineering services in support of ecosystem restoration planning projects within the Jackson (FL) District,” says Vega-Liriano, who’s currently the water resources lead in two major ecosystem restoration projects. Both play an important part of the USACE’s goal to restore the Everglades systems in the South Florida region.
She chose the Jacksonville District (SAJ), because of its vision, “Team of Professionals Making Tomorrow Better.” And it was the phrase “making tomorrow better” that resonated with her most.
Of her position, Vega-Liriano says: “I enjoy the opportunity my platform provides me to travel and participate in conferences, trainings, and meetings to interact with peers in my field and professionals involved in different backgrounds.”
Her advice for others interested in a similar profession is that no matter what field you choose, give your best effort by showing dedication and passion in everything you do.
“Engage with your agency goals, and work toward achieving them. Feel and strengthen the bond with the agency for which you’re working, as this leads to excellent performance,” encourages Vega-Liriano, who came to the Corps with prior federal agency service.
As for the specific skills she finds necessary, she highlights tenacity, critical thinking, organizational skills and the ability to work well in teams.
Vega-Liriano also points to the fact that she has, many times, been signaled out for being a Puerto Rican woman with dark skin. “Instead of allowing that to bring me down, I pick myself up and use those words to my advantage. I use the Puerto Rican as bilingual, woman as powerful, and dark skin as a strong heritage culture,” she says, adding that she strongly encourages others to transform negative connotations into positive ones. “You’ll notice the difference,” she contends.
She engages in activities with Toastmasters and Jacksonville District’s Sandcastle Club (Morale Welfare and Recreation Club) and Corps Day (yearly employee celebration), as well as others in which youth are involved.
“As a black Hispanic woman in engineering, I’m an example for young girls who might be limiting themselves by not entering STEM fields due to prejudices and stereotypes. I’m a living example that you can overcome challenges and not be stopped by them. Instead I use challenges to motivate me and keep me going,” says a determined Vega-Liriano.
For more information about USACE, go to www.saj.usace.army.mil, www.usace.army.mil/careers, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Facebook.
Yen Appreciates the Unique Learning Opportunities the Navy Has Provided
With a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy, Linda Yen entered the Navy seven years ago. When asked what prompted her to choose the Navy, Yen responds: “The unique opportunities, skills and experiences the Navy has to offer.”
Citing the Navy’s Mission to recruit, train, equip, and organize those in the Navy “to deliver combat-ready Naval forces to win conflicts and wars while maintaining security and deterrence through sustained forward presence,” Yen points out that there are currently 332,904 active personnel serving in the Washington, DC-headquartered Navy, while another 100,970 are reserve personnel, all delivering on that mission.
Yen is among them, currently stationed in Arlington, VA, where she’s working as a program analyst while on “shore duty” after spending time assigned to ships out at sea at OPNAV N17 in Arlington.
She initially served on board USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) as the combat information center officer before being deployed to the Middle East and Asia with the USS Higgins (DDG 76) as the combat electronics officer.
“After I completed the Navy nuclear training pipeline, I served on board USS George Washington (CVN 73) as the reactor electrical division officer,” notes Yen, who’s also qualified as a nuclear surface warfare officer.
She also refers to the many experiences she garnered at the academy that got her ready. “Balancing military requirements with academics and learning to work in a fast-paced ship environment prepared me for my position as a nuclear engineer,” she notes.
As a nuclear engineer officer, Yen’s responsibilities included supervising and directing safe operations of an aircraft carrier reactor through propulsion, casualties, and drills ashore and at sea.
“My position allowed me to learn and see some of the most amazing engineering applications, to develop skills such as rapid learning, time management, and leadership, and to work with some of the most talented and motivated people,” states Yen, who mentions that it’s the people and the experiences she encounters that she enjoys most about her field of work.
As for the skills she finds most necessary to succeed, Yen identifies time management, organization and the ability to learn at a rapid pace.
“The most important attribute, I believe, is having a passion to learn,” she states.
And when it comes to the advice she shares with those considering a similar career, Yen highlights the importance of being humble in addition to having the ability to demonstrate that engineering is not intimidating and that its applications are limitless.
“Recognize you’re not the smartest person, and nothing of importance gets done without a strong team,” she says. “Nothing worth achieving is easy.”
For further information about the Navy, go to navy.com, navy.mil, navy.com/careers, www.secnav.navy.mil/donhr/Pages/Default.aspx, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Flickr, Pinterest and Facebook.
Uncle Sam’s Employment Stats
The federal government and military need the expertise of engineers in just about all branches and agencies. The benefits of working the public sector are abundant, just as the types and numbers of jobs are plentiful. You’ll also be in good company:
• The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) 2018 total federal jobs estimate is 2,797,000.
• The federal government currently employs about 2 million full-time employees, excluding United States Postal Service (USPS) workers.
• The total number of U.S. active duty and National Guard/reserve forces in 2018 is reported at 2,148,392. For 2017 that number is reported at 2,320,202.
• States with the most federal civilian employees as of June 2018 were California, the District of Columbia, Virginia, Maryland and Texas. The vast majority of all federal employees - about 79% - work outside the Washington, DC region.
• USPS - a quasi-governmental agency - employs about 600,000 workers, the single largest segment of the civilian federal workforce. Other agencies employing the most civilian employees include the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Sources: Governing.com and Statista.com
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