APL boasts a long history of inclusion and engagement
From facilities to diversity programs to leadership development, everything here focuses on a supportive workplace for a staff of “complex-problem solvers”
'Two out of three members of our staff are engineers and scientists, and they perform a wide range of work,” says Karen Greene, supervisor of diversity management and employee relations at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL, Laurel, MD).
“The day-to-day responsibilities of the staff include electrical, computer, software, hardware and systems engineering, and mathematical/statistical analysis,” she says. Other specialty areas include physics, material and mechanical engineering, biology and chemistry.
APL is a nonprofit research and development center and a division of Johns Hopkins University. It hires technical professionals to make critical contributions in the areas of national defense and security, space science, cyber operations, air and missile defense, undersea warfare, strategic systems, precision engagement, special operations, biomedicine and homeland protection. It works on more than 600 programs that protect the U.S. homeland and advance the nation’s vision in research and space science.
Greene reports that APL has approximately 400 projected openings for experienced staff and seventy-five for recent college graduates.
“APL employs a broad recruiting strategy that includes campus and Internet recruiting. We target select historically black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions, and we recruit through select minority programs at targeted schools.” To reach more experienced technical pros, she says, “We advertise in diversity publications. We sponsor and attend conferences of minority and female professional societies.”
APL has an intern program aimed at students attending minority-serving institutions and minorities in technical graduate programs.
“APL utilizes e-mail, bulletin boards, award recognition opportunities, and online communication tools to promote diversity awareness and inclusion,” explains Greene.
Diversity initiatives are embedded in APL’s employee culture, beginning with new hire training. The lab offers annual diversity and inclusion training to staff and management: a half-day interactive program showing how conscious and unconscious biases impact the work environment. Vignettes and scenarios are drawn from actual staff experiences and observations gathered by the laboratory’s women and minority advisory council.
Diversity awareness and inclusion are integral parts of management training vehicles, and focus on developing teams that value diversity as well as equal employment opportunities. Group supervisors also receive monthly emails from the diversity office with tips for promoting diversity and inclusion within their areas of responsibility.
“There are several diversity councils, teams, and task forces,” Greene adds. “APL’s senior management took the lead in the 1990s by establishing a diversity working group (DWG), which includes the laboratory director, assistant directors and department heads. It’s designed to create an environment that appreciates and embraces diverse communication and perspectives in the quest to stimulate creativity and innovation.”
The DWG received a 2011 Prism International Diversity Council Honors award.
Several departments have created teams to leverage diversity in achieving department goals. The leaders of each of these teams meet quarterly to share ideas, seek opportunities for collaboration, and identify issues and action items of common interest.
APL is establishing an employee resource group coordination team (ECT) that will create a partnership between senior management and APL’s affinity groups. On a rotating basis, the ECT will be chaired by a leader of one of the affinity groups.
Current affinity groups, some common to Johns Hopkins University, include the African American culture club, allies in the workplace for LGBT employees and supporters, Asian American heritage club, Johns Hopkins University black faculty and staff association, Hispanic awareness club, Johns Hopkins University women’s network, and young professionals network.
Greene notes that the laboratory encourages participation in outside organizations that support diversity, and pays employees’ membership dues to diverse professional societies. APL has also hosted attendees of many professional and school diversity groups for lab tours.
Outreach through APL
About 10 percent of APL’s staff has signed up to volunteer for STEM outreach activities. In 1976, APL launched the Maryland Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) program, which serves more than 2,100 students in more than 100 Maryland schools.
In 1988, APL began APL’s Student Program to Inspire, Relate, and Enrich (ASPIRE), which partners with local high schools to provide opportunities for students to work with APL staff mentors in their desired fields of interest.
Since 2005, APL has hosted Girl Power, an event featuring hands-on activities, demonstrations, and take-home materials for middle school and high school girls to encourage an interest in STEM careers.
In 2009 APL became a host for both the FIRST Lego League state qualifier competition and the state championship for the FIRST Robotics tech challenge. APL also created a middle school python programming class, teaching fundamental programming skills and use of computers to solve problems in math, physics and engineering. This class is team taught between teachers and APL engineers at five Howard County middle schools.
Also in 2009, a husband-and-wife team at APL started the College Prep Program, a fourteen-week summer program for underrepresented high school students.
Advancing at APL
APL focuses on evaluation, promotion and succession planning for minorities and women. Departments offer information sessions about open management positions, and APL’s training and development office offers courses that help prepare staff for future growth in the laboratory, including a leadership development course.
Each department has a mentoring program, and the laboratory has a cross-departmental mentoring team to expand opportunities available to staff. Recently, APL’s young professionals network collaborated with the cross-departmental mentoring team to create a reverse mentoring pilot program to share new technology and ideas between early and late career staff.
APL has an additional mentoring program for college interns; affinity group members are often involved as mentors. Greene says that many students who return to the laboratory for additional internships ask to continue their original mentoring relationships.
Extensive work-life offerings
“APL offers short and long-term leave to accommodate personal or family issues, and these benefits extend to same-sex partners as well,” says Greene. “Staff members utilize flexible time and schedules, and even some managers are able to work part time.”
APL has an onsite exercise facility and a health improvement program with wellness seminars. Childcare referrals are also available. To assist families with personal challenges, APL offers a legal service benefits option and a confidential employee advisory service that provides counseling to staff and their families.
“APL solves complex research, engineering, and analytical problems that present critical challenges to our nation. We offer an outstanding and creative staff, augmented by world-class facilities,” Greene concludes.
research and development