Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Q: What was your previous role prior to joining ECBC?
A: I was a command Sgt. Maj. for a training support battalion at Fort Dix in New Jersey since 2007. I was responsible for overseeing all of the mobilization training for the Army Reserve, National Guard, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard. Folks that were mobilized to go overseas came to Fort Dix as their training platform where they got validated prior to going overseas. My battalion specifically ran all the training lanes, which included: HMMWV drivers, combatives, land navigation, MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected) training, and roll-over training with simulator machines. We also did small CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives) classroom training and individual movement techniques.
Q: When did you decide to join the Army?
A: Halfway through my senior year of high school in Howell, N.J. I met a recruiter after lunch one day. College didn’t interest me but serving my country and seeing the world did.
Q: Where have you served during your career?
A: I went to Germany for seven years when I was 18-years-old. That was the first place I went after my training. While I was over there, I ended up deploying to Bosnia for a year and then Kosovo for six months. I deployed to Iraq for a few months in 2008. I got to see how people in other countries live and when I came back to the States, I definitely had a greater appreciation for what we have, especially basic infrastructure like paved roads and electricity.
Q: What was your experience in Iraq like?
A: It wasn’t too bad because I escaped without having to go over for a year like a lot of folks. I was sent over there to gather the latest tactics and techniques on how to combat IED (improvised explosive device) threats. My job was to meet face-to-face with soldiers on the front lines who were either hit by IEDs or out on the street clearing IEDs, and bring that information back to implement into the training lanes so soldiers had the latest defense techniques to better prepare for what they would see overseas. It was an incredibly valuable and important job that impacted many lives. There were a lot of things we came back with that we didn’t have before, and it gave a heightened level of credibility to emerging threats in near real-time. IEDs were the number one killer of U.S. troops at the time and defending against the threat was a constant back-and-forth that required up-to-date information so we sent teams over there pretty frequently to gather what we needed for training. Things have progressed and got more technical.
Q: What’s the biggest change in combat you’ve seen over the years?
A: Technology. It has come so far so quickly, and there are certain things you see and are just amazed at what we have. It’s neat to be working at a place now where I can see how a lot of the latest technologies are developed and tested in the CBRNE arena.
Q: Has there been an adjustment to working at ECBC?
A: Well, I’ve never worked with civilians before and that’s a big change that I am embracing at the moment. I understand there is a larger picture here and it’s going to take some time for me to fully understand all the moving parts and how they contribute to the overall mission. I’ve visited a lot of divisions and partner organizations, and am looking forward to learning more.
Q: How do you hope your role as Senior Enlisted Advisor will evolve over the next few months?
A: Right now, I’m trying to find my niche and help out where it makes sense to have a Warfighter perspective. I’ve been involved in a vulnerability assessment and am looking to get involved in some of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) outreach ECBC does, as well as the Greening Program. I’m most excited about bringing an understanding of how certain technologies are used by the soldier and what that interface experience is like. Hopefully, I can be the face of 21 years in the Army and work with different ECBC scientists and engineers on how equipment may or may not work in the field. Having that perspective might help in the design process and ultimately improve how technology is integrated. If there’s anything that can be developed in CBRNE defense, the folks here at ECBC will probably make it happen. They’re innovation and some of the things you wouldn’t think are possible, they can actually do. So I’m very excited to be working here.
Q: What’s the best advice you have ever received?
A: Don’t ever think you’re too old or too far in the game to change. I’ve had to do it several times in my career and continue to do so today. Even if you’re the highest ranking guy and have soldiers below you, you have to step back and look at yourself constantly. You can’t get stuck in your ways and think that you’re always doing things the right way. You have to be able to take feedback, even at the highest levels. I think if you can do that and tailor your ways to be open to change later in your career, I think it helps you out and helps the organization.
Q: What are your hobbies outside of work?
A: I love to run and play golf, baseball and basketball. I grew up going to the beach in Long Branch, N.J. and have a lot of great memories of the ocean as well.
Q. If you could sum up your career in one word, what would it be?
A: Successful. I progressed fairly quickly in all the ranks, but it’s not only moving up that matters. It’s about doing what’s right at each step of the way. For example, when I look back at myself when I was a Sgt. first class, I asked: did I do everything in my power to be a great platoon sergeant? Did I take care of my soldiers, accomplish the mission and take care of their families too? Yes I did. And then I got promoted to Master Sgt., and that was my reward for doing the best I could as a Sgt. 1st Class. I took that mindset every phase through my career so yes, I view it as a success.
Q: Has there been a defining moment in your career?
A: There was actually a point where I was not successful, and that has turned out to be a defining moment for me. I came off active duty in 2003 as a Staff Sgt. and went to the New Jersey Guard full time as a recruiter. Now think about it: what’s going on in 2003? The Iraq War had started and two years earlier, the war in Afghanistan. It was a very difficult time to convince people to join the military, but I came in motivated only to be punched down right away. I learned that recruiting wasn’t my niche. There were no soldiers to take care of and there was no unit that you were a part of. I was a recruiter on my own, and long story short, I was not successful. It was very rough. It broke me so much so that I got out of the military altogether in 2005 and took a job at a local electric company. Four months later, I was reading meters in front of a house when I saw a uniform hanging in the car parked out front. A man walked down the driveway and we got to talking. He was in the Army and we shared a few stories before he gave me his contact information in case I was ever interested in joining a Reserve Unit full-time. At that point, I was just done with the military, but I owe a lot to him for pointing me in the right direction. I saw it as an opportunity to get back on the train and I realized that I could still be successful. Turns out, I found my niche all over again training soldiers at Fort Dix.
Monday, November 3, 2014
Today we profile Jennifer Iskra, a systems engineer matrixed to the Joint Project Manager for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Contamination Avoidance (JPM-NBC CA). She is currently on a six-month assignment in a surety laboratory with the Applied Detection Technology Laboratory in the Engineering Test Division.
Tell us about your assignment in the surety laboratory.
In this assignment, I have the opportunity to test chemical detection equipment in various stages of maturity, from prototypes to fielded systems. I also assist in collecting data regarding how equipment performs against certain chemicals and under various environmental conditions. This is my first experience working in a chemical laboratory environment, so the work is very different from what I do in the JPM, but it is both challenging and fun. My job in the JPM is as a systems engineering, taking equipment through the acquisition process. I focused on planning the tests associated with that process. This assignment has given me a better understanding of the methods behind how test data is generated and how it is provided to the customer. I plan to apply what I learn in this assignment to the work the JPM is doing on the Next Generation Chemical Detection program, as well as other projects within the JPM.
What are the benefits of this role for both ECBC and the JPM-NBC CA?
This experience helps to share knowledge between both organizations. ECBC will gain a better understanding of one of their customers, the JPM; and the JPM will gain a deeper understanding behind the test methods employed to generate their data. The JPM has also had someone from an ECBC surety lab in my position while I am on the developmental assignment that is experienced in testing and is helping strengthen that knowledge in the JPM.
What have you learned about customer service in this role? Why is customer service important to ECBC?
The Engineering Directorate at ECBC is a very customer-focused organization. In this role, I get to see how the laboratory interacts with their customers throughout the entire testing process. I have learned that it is not only important to get results to the customer quickly, but to ensure that they understand the data and how it was generated. Additionally, the laboratory is able to quickly adapt to changes in test plans, which is important to their customers.
What are your favorite hobbies or activities outside of work?
I am currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Bioengineering from the University of Maryland. In my free time, I enjoy volunteering at the Humane Society of Harford County, walking and socializing dogs, and fostering kittens until they can be adopted. I also love to golf and create stained glass art.
Friday, September 26, 2014
ECBC Engineers Find Invaluable Lessons in Naval Postgraduate School Master’s in Systems Engineering Program
“Well-trained systems engineers can play a very valuable role in the success of future Army programs,” said Joseph Siegel, the Multi-Sample Identifier Test Lead for the Joint Project Manager for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Contamination Avoidance. “The time and monetary investment in our education by RDECOM will be paid back tenfold by the future work that we will deliver.”
Siegel was one of four ECBC Engineering Directorate employees who graduated from the NPS program on 20 June. He and Maureen Jacobs, Allen Lai and Cynthia Learn completed the 14 required courses and a three-quarter-long capstone project to earn their MSSEs. The program included courses on probability and statistics, engineering economics and cost estimation, system suitability, systems assessment, engineering project management, systems architecture and design, systems integration and development, systems software engineering, and system-of-systems engineering.
The mission of the NPS Department of Systems Engineering is to provide relevant, tailored and unique advanced education and research programs in systems engineering in order to increase the combat effectiveness of U.S. and Allied armed forces and to enhance the security of the United States.
This year’s graduates agreed that the program will provide significant value in completing their work for ECBC and its customers.
“The ability to look at an issue, determine the need and problem, define the requirements and analyze a solution is a lot of what is done in the engineering world,” said Jacobs, Individual Protection Team Lead with the Sustainment Engineering Division at Rock Island Arsenal, Ill. “An education in systems engineering provides the knowledge and skills to approach an issue, problem or project with a stronger understanding of not only the process you need to apply, but also the factors that need to be addressed. There really is no single step-by-step guide; it is more of an adaptable methodology and an ingrained thought process and understanding, so when you approach a project you are addressing what is needed in order to provide a better solution as a whole, while still working within the limits of available resources.“
One of the first projects Jacobs was assigned during the coursework focused on addressing the lack of calcium available to people on a remote island. Jacobs said some students had a tendency to jump to a solution without actually defining the problem, need, stakeholder requirements or even the system itself. She said this project provided a valuable lesson in applying the systems engineering methodology in order to find a better solution, and put into perspective how systems can be defined in various ways.
Capstone projects complemented individual classroom learning and were a critical part of the experience, the participants said. Jacobs’ project originated from RDECOM and was based on a need from the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) to evaluate risk reduction activities. The capstone team focused on assessing the merit of the field-based risk reduction (FBRR) methodology within the traditional acquisition process.
“The capstone project was the most rewarding part of the program,” Jacobs said. “It provided an opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge gained throughout the program on a real-life project. The deliverables of the project are data, tools and models the project sponsor, CERDEC, greatly appreciated, as the information can be used for future projects as well as help support their current activities."
Siegel also said he gained invaluable experience from his capstone project, but the best aspect of his time studying at NPS was the exposure to other experts.
“The most rewarding part of the MSSE program was working with highly motivated, experienced and smart Army systems engineers,” he noted. “You learn as much from your peers as from the professors. Being part of this group of like-minded individuals and succeeding together was a very rewarding experience.”
Personal growth and career progression aren’t the only gains from the NPS MSSE. Talented systems engineers are critical to the success of ECBC and the Army in general, Siegel said. Having NPS-trained engineers within various organizations will help focus systems engineering activities and promote better practices.
“One of the most important aspects of the NPS program is that it provides a great opportunity to receive a higher-level education that is adaptable to the Department of Defense. Thus, there is a direct correlation to our work,” Jacobs said.
Photo Credit: Maureen Jacobs (ECBC)
Cindy Learn (left), Allen Lai (second from left), and Maureen Jacobs (far right) from the Engineering Directorate celebrate their graduation from the Naval Postgraduate School on June 20 alongside Kerry von Jacobi, Ephraim “Joe” Befecadu and Arborne Kent Guthrie from the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center. The group worked together on a capstone project as part of their curriculum. Joseph Siegel (not pictured), Engineering employee matrixed to the Joint Project Manager for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Contamination Avoidance (JPM-NBC CA), also graduated from the program.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Chemical engineering technician supports field operations with analytical expertise
Q. What is your current job at CBARR?
A. I’m a chemical engineering technician. I work in the lab running gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) equipment. I first started working at ECBC in 2009 and am primarily located at Pine Bluff Arsenal (PBA), Arkansas.
Q. What is your background? How have these experiences shaped your perspective on the work you do?
A. I’ve almost always worked in a lab. My previous jobs included running GC-MS for hazardous waste material and I was an environmental protection specialist at PBA for a few years before CBARR. I’ve also had a few jobs as a chemist working for companies in the private industry.
Q. What has your experience been like at CBARR? How would you describe the culture?
A. I’ve never worked any place like this in my life. It’s a great thing. It’s the most unique job I’ve ever had because you can travel to different places. I’ve been to Australia, Oregon, Arizona, Baltimore and Spring Valley in Washington, D.C.
Q. How would you describe the culture?
A. It’s dynamic. There’s always something new going on, new work on the horizon, and something is always changing. It’s pretty cool, I like that. It’s enjoyable to work on a variety of different project.
Q. How would you describe a typical field operation? What is your role?
A. It’s a team effort and everybody has a part to play. CBARR’s role is part of a bigger remediation picture and I’m the mobile laboratory point of contact for operators and other site managers out in the field. We take a strong stance on safety and are the first line of defense for technicians running the MINICAMS and DAAMS equipment onsite. If they get three consecutive alarms, they bring me samples from the field and we do a confirmation analysis for identification and verification. And that’s important. We do a lot of training ahead of time to prepare us.
Q. How does it feel to be working toward a world free of WMD?
A. I know the work that we do is important, but my job is looking for something I hope I never find: chemical agent. Instead, I’ve always thought of our mission as being goal-oriented. We have somewhere we’re trying to go and we know the way to accomplish it. That’s the mindset I’ve always had.
Q. What’s your favorite part about working at ECBC?
A. I like to meet new people and we get to do a lot of that when we travel. I’ve met some really great people all over the place and it’s neat to see how they do things, as well as talk to them about their hobbies. That’s a big deal to me and I like that. I also love to learn about the history of different Army installations to see where we came from.
Q. What are your hobbies outside of work?
A. I’ve been a runner for 27 years or so, and I’ve always hunted deer and love to fish. I like being outside. It’s a favorite pastime for me and my kids.
Thursday, September 11, 2014
Shelby Bartram is an intern with the Protection Factor Test Team in the Engineering Test Division. She is currently participating in the Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) program, which supports her education in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) discipline and matches her with a job opportunity after graduation. Bartram has been involved with STEM programs at ECBC since high school.
How did you first get involved at ECBC?
I was reluctant at first, but my parents encouraged me to sign up for the Science and Engineering Apprentice Program (SEAP) when the STEM outreach board visited Perryville Middle School in Cecil County, where I went to school. I didn’t want to be a scientist—I wanted to be a teacher—but my parents told me I should try it and could stop after a year, so I signed up. It’s one of the times when you look back and thank them.
And you have stayed involved working at ECBC through college?
Yes, I moved from SEAP to other summer internships like the Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science (GEMS) summer program at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and I have now been in the SMART program for two years. During my first year in the SEAP program, I was doing research online because I thought engineers were just people who worked on trains. I wrote a paper about chemical engineering and then found all of the fields within biomedical engineering, and something clicked and I thought, “This is something I really want to do.”
What are you studying in school?
I am in a five-year program to get my Bachelor’s in Science in biomedical engineering with a minor in chemistry and a Master’s degree in engineering management. I’m going into my senior year at Western New England University in Massachusetts.
What has been the most rewarding experience about participating in these STEM programs?
I have been asked many times to be a keynote speaker for other students or classes to tell them about my experience and the opportunities available, and that’s been the best part for me. I love being able to share these options with kids and tell them not to hold anything back and not give up on their dreams, because there are programs through the government that provide incredible opportunities.
How do you see yourself staying connected to ECBC?
I plan to explore the career options at ECBC by talking to mentors and learning about the capabilities on post and how they align with what I want to do. I also plan to stay involved with STEM outreach activities so I can pass my experiences onto current students and educate kids about the possibilities for careers like mine in this field.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
The U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) has established an Education Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) Graduate Program in Life Sciences and the UMB Graduate School. The ECBC-UMB Student Internship Program (EUSIP) allows students currently pursuing a master’s degree in molecular medicine or toxicology at UMB an opportunity to work alongside experienced ECBC scientists at ECBC facilities and fosters a mutually beneficial technology transfer and collaborative relationship between the two parties.
Continuing into fiscal year 2014 - 2015, participating students will work on ongoing research projects with an ECBC Principal Investigator and conduct research that can be used toward fulfillment of their UMB degree requirements. Interns gain access to the state-of-the-art research facilities at ECBC, as well as experts who can also serve as career mentors. ECBC in turn benefits from the students’ fresh scientific insights and techniques while enhancing their capability to recruit new talent into careers within the Department of Defense (DoD).
Robert Dorsey, the BioSensors Branch Chief, and co-lead Jeff Ballin, Ph.D., an Excet Inc., a research biologist working within the BioTechnology Branch, looked for new ways to improve recruitment and innovation into their projects . Previously, interns came from high schools or undergraduate institutions to work at ECBC during their summer break. However, as a large portion student time was often used for paperwork and training, many found the time spent by students doing actual laboratory work was often too short to make a significant impact.
Dr. Ballin said his main goal in selecting projects and PIs for this program was finding people who could serve as good career mentors for the students while providing research programs with strong opportunities for growth and development.
“This program relies on mentors who are more than just good researchers. We need good researchers who can also foster the growth of a student. The PIs serve on the student’s thesis committee since the work done with the PI is the central focus of the thesis. A student must have the right support for their professional career to flourish,” Ballin said.
One of the first students to participate in this program is Ashley Larsen. Larsen sat down with us to discuss some of her experiences thus far with ECBC.
How did you find out about ECBC’s program?
I found out about the EUSIP program through my graduate school; I attended a presentation in which several representatives from ECBC provided brief overviews of the projects they are working on and which graduate students would be helpful and able to learn.
What is your academic background?
I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland, College Park in 2012, graduating with a B.S. in
Biological Sciences with an emphasis on microbiology. More recently I just successfully completed my master’s program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, graduating with a M.S. in Molecular Medicine and specializing in physiology/ pharmacology.
What are you working on right now and with whom?
I am currently working with Dr. Henry S. Gibbons on a project that focuses on developing an ideal Bacillus anthracis surrogate strain to predict the behavior of potential biothreat agents within the environment. My current goal is to improve the efficiency of integration of a stable genetic tag into a surrogate organism in order to make its detection via specific PCR assays in environmental simulations easier.
What has been the most interesting part of your work so far?
The most interesting part of my work so far is being able to work towards a goal that I can visualize having real-world applications. In the past, my lab work has been focused mostly on academics and trying to understand particular biological phenomena rather than trying to create an end product that can be used to help people in real life.
How have you applied your work at ECBC to your coursework, and vice versa: how have you applied some of your coursework to this internship?
The core course that all life science graduate students are required to take at UMB provided me with a generalized overview of many advanced molecular biology techniques. I was able to use that knowledge extensively in the lab, as I am mostly performing molecular cloning and use several molecular diagnostic tests to verify my results. Additionally, I have been able to use what I have learned in the lab to further expand upon my basic molecular biology knowledge and revisit the microbiology aspect of my studies.
What are your plans for the future?
My future plans are currently undecided. I have always been extremely interested in the medical field, so applying to medical school or to a physician assistant program may be one option. On the other hand, I am fascinated by the current research that has been ongoing in the fields of biology and medicine, so I may decide to apply to a Ph.D. program and focus more on host-pathogen interactions within the next few years.
Ashley Larsen (pictured above), was the first student to participate in the ECBC-UMB Student Internship Program in January 2014. Larsen graduated UMB in May 2014 with an M.S. in Molecular Medicine and specializing in physiology/ pharmacology, and completed the ECBC internship program at the same time. Currently, she is continuing her science career with ECBC as an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) fellow within ECBC’s BioSciences Division.