U.S. Army Lab Promotes Career Opportunities for Women
The single serving-college degree is a thing of the past. No longer does a degree concentration have to pigeonhole a career path; it can serve as the cornerstone that helps one jump tracks in multi-disciplinary fashion. Just ask Lindsey Lyman, a biologist for the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, who has spanned the scientific infrastructure of work at the Center while exploring the depths of her knowledge with a curiosity for real world applicability.
“I was never one of those kids who were super focused on what they wanted to be when they grew up or anything like that,” says Lyman, who currently works with ECBC’s Chemical Biological Application and Risk Reduction Business Unit. “I liked biology in high school and it was kind of a default selection for my major in college. I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up, but I’ve always enjoyed the bio classes and think it’s really fascinating subject matter.”
Lyman began working at ECBC in 2003 after graduating from the University of Delaware with a general biological sciences degree. But her position on ECBC’s Decision Analysis Team curbed the need to directly apply her scientific background and instead promoted a secondary capability: risk and impact studies. For seven years, Lyman analyzed everything from simulation modeling and cost/benefit analysis to equipment selections and business case analysis. The customer-funded teams examined a variety of projects, including selecting equipment for a mobile laboratory based on customer needs as well as the size, weight and power of the equipment. Still, Lyman was curious to learn more. After three years of part-time study at Johns Hopkins University, she received her master’s degree in biotechnology with a concentration in biodefense.
“The more education you have, the better. I don’t think it’s a requirement, but I do think it helps to have a better understanding, especially from a bio-defense perspective, of the organisms that we’re looking at and the technologies that we’re using on a daily basis to execute the mission,” she says.
Science and engineering have become increasingly important in the 21st century. More and more women are participating and advancing their careers in these fields. ECBC recognizes these diversity trends and has consistently fostered employee growth through numerous professional development programs in which women have excelled. For three years in a row, ECBC was awarded the Federal Women’s Program award for “Activity Most Supportive of FWP’s Goals” for providing women with leadership opportunities that transcend career levels and bridge generational gaps.
The FWP was established in 1967, and its mission has been to identify barriers to hiring and advancement of women and to enhance employment opportunities for women in every area of federal service. ECBC has been honored with the award for implementing programs and initiatives that give women guidance on career development and long-term training as well as the opportunity to prepare for supervisor or manager roles in high-visibility projects.
ECBC celebrates National Women’s History Month every March and participated in Aberdeen Proving Ground’s 23rd Annual FWP Training Conference in which ECBC Director Joseph D. Wienand was awarded a certificate of appreciation by the APG FWP. Wienand has been an active advocate and long-time participant in the Women’s History Month program throughout the years and a strong supporter of women working in STEM-related fields. That devotion has been woven into the fabric of the Center and in 2012, ECBC sponsored a “Women in Science & Engineering” panel discussion for more than 100 employees who received insight from senior female leaders and fellow peers pursuing various career paths within the Center, like Lyman. Female employees at ECBC have an average length of service of 12 years with opportunities to develop skill sets in multiple areas. In 2013, the number of female supervisors had nearly doubled since 2005 while the number of female administrative roles has decreased.
“Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are the fields of the future,” says Suzanne Milchling, director of program integration at ECBC. “A career at ECBC, a world-class U.S. Army research, development and engineering center, enhances the individual’s skills while making significant contributions to the larger mission supporting the warfighter and the nation.”
Workforce development programs such as the ECBC Leadership Cohort and the Mid-Level Career Development Cohort are designed to enable participants to develop skills and apply tools to improve team building, networking and communications while also receiving one-on-one coaching and mentoring. Since 2012, more than half of total participants in these programs were female.
ECBC also offers an Executive Officer (XO) Program in which appointees serve Wienand and senior leadership across the center in the research & technology, engineering, and program integration directorates. Since 2009, 15 of 33 XOs were female.
“Women are needed to develop the next generation solutions for the warfighter to combat weapons of mass destruction,” says Milchling. “These solutions will vary in terms of complexity but they all must enable decision makers to make the right decision in a timely manner. Some of those decision makers will be women, so it’s only right that women are engaged in workforce development opportunities in their STEM career fields.”
Milchling was ECBC’s first female entered into the Senior Executive Service in April 2011. Those selected into this position are charged with leading the continuing transformation of government through well-honed executive skills and strong leadership qualifications. As the director of program integration at ECBC, Milchling is responsible for managing business activities and operating processes through strategic and business planning, infrastructure support and financial systems integration.
“At ECBC, we develop solutions to complex problems involving chemical and biological warfare agents and other hazardous materials for the warfighter and the nation. We develop one-of-a-kind pieces of equipment; develop the procedures for its use, operations and repair; and even figure out how to get rid of the system when the mission is over. Sometimes these are super high-tech solutions but others are a more technically and operational sound way of doing the job more safely and effectively,” Milchling says.
Lyman is just one of ECBC’s nearly 1,200 employees dedicated to solving those problems, and knows that it takes a solid foundation in science and engineering principles to be successful. Lyman currently works as a CBARR biologist onsite at a client’s laboratory and operational facility, which utilizes both chemical and biological technologies for sample analysis. Now, as part of ECBC’s Environmental BioMonitoring Laboratory team, she tests client samples for specific targets of interest and provides a daily report of her findings. How does this compare to work done in the ECBC labs? According to Lyman, the Center has more flexibility to investigate new test methodologies and technological equipment, but overall the capability remains constant. In a way, this mirrors her ability to effectively maneuver within the ECBC framework, driven to learn more and discover new avenues worth pursuing.
Lyman’s full-circle career also has a neat twist. She has completed cross-training in both chemical and biological laboratory analysis techniques, a capability that enables her to conduct a variety of work for clients. According to Lyman, there is a distinct difference between chemical and biological procedures, none of which translate directly to corresponding technologies. Without the technical background to initially complete this kind of work, she proactively sought a cross-training solution that resulted in GC/MS (gas chromatography-mass spectrometry) and LC/MS (liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry) Trip Quadruple certifications.
The opportunities ECBC has provided her, coupled with the foresight and fearlessness to pursue them, have been strong factors in advancing her career across spectrums and further down the scientific path of the unknown. Not to mention, the people she works with at ECBC have embodied a spirit of collaboration that she says, inspires.
“I came in with no lab experience and not really sure where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do,” Lyman says. “It’s been great to be able to learn so many different things and be a part of so many different projects. It’s empowering to feel like I’m being useful with my abilities by helping people and serving clients. And to have the opportunity to continue to learn so many different technologies and methods is exciting as much as it is invaluable.” I95