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June/July 2003
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Minority College Issue

June/July 2003
Diversity/Careers June/July 2003
Focus on diversity
African American software engineers
Changing technologies
Civil engineers are building the future
Tech update
Creating assistive technology
Society news
BDPA plans a gala twenty-fifth in Philly
Mentors at work
MentorNet brings tech pros together with women students via e-mail
Carol Havis of Menlo Logistics
At the top
Catherine Brune is senior VP and CTO at Allstate
Diversity in action
at the Air Force Research Lab, Goldman Sachs, John Deere, the National Weather Service, Northrop Grumman IT, SC Johnson, Thales Navigation and Xerox


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Diversity in action

Air Force Research Lab seeks minority techies
AFRL plans to hire 175 civilians this year, half experienced, half new grads, many minorities and women. They’ll be working in the national interest
Maribeth Cynkar: an exciting place to work; people want to come here.
Maribeth Cynkar: an exciting place to work; people want to come here.

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is hiring. Last year’s roster of a hundred new civilian employees will nearly double in 2003, divided about evenly between new grads and experienced scientists and engineers.

AFRL has been affected by Department of Defense downsizing, of course, but has relied on early retirement and attrition to keep in balance. “We have made a concerted effort to take our reductions without adversely affecting our workforce,” says Maribeth Cynkar, director of human resources.

Now, with nearly half the civilian employees slated to reach retirement age in the next five years, it’s time to start serious hiring.

AFRL is a full-spectrum lab doing basic and applied research and advanced technology development for the Air Force and space. Its directorates, located throughout the U.S., focus on areas like munitions, propulsion, air vehicles, sensors and directed energy, including high-power microwaves and lasers.

Over 4,000 of AFRL’s nearly 5,300 employees are civilians, and almost 2,500 are civilian scientists and engineers, mainly in electronics, aerospace and the physical sciences. All civilian employees must be U.S. citizens.

The Information Directorate (Rome, NY) recruits computer scientists and engineers to develop IT for command and control. The Rome site is not associated with an Air Force base; most other AFRL sites are located on bases.

Some 28 percent of AFRL civilians are at the PhD level and 42 percent have masters degrees. The lab encourages continuing education and provides tuition assistance for mid-career people as well as new grads.

The high level of challenging projects brings applicants from all over, says Cynkar. “This is an exciting place to work and people want to come here.”

Air Force Research Lab logo
Air Force Research Laboratory

Headquarters: Wright-Patterson AFB, OH
Employees: 5,300
Budget: $3 billion
Business: R&D in war-fighting technologies

The projects include technology for hypersonic engines that can travel at Mach 4 and up, microsatellites that can be launched from an expendable launch vehicle, and lasers to be used in weapons, sensor and communications systems.

Major General Paul Nielsen, commander of AFRL, points to other fascinating areas of research: materials that heal themselves and fabrics that change color, chameleon-like, to blend in with their environments. It was AFRL-developed handheld radar sensors that helped the World Trade Center rescuers hunt for survivors after the terrorist attacks.

AFRL aims to improve its diversity by attracting a broader pool of minority and women applicants, putting the resumes in a central file available to all managers.

To make its jobs known to diverse candidates, recruiters have an attention-grabbing new exhibit which includes videos of AFRL technologies. They’ll take it to job fairs put on by SHPE, NSBE, SWE and HENAAC, and the Black Engineer of the Year Awards convention.

The lab encourages its folks to participate in professional societies, publish papers, apply for patents, lecture at universities and speak to high school classes. Such involvement provides exposure for the lab as well as benefits to the employees, Cynkar notes.

Some employees get involved in community and school projects. One techie volunteer had the pleasure of seeing his students’ laser experiment selected by NASA for a spot on a space shuttle flight.

For its part, the lab has initiated long-term relationships with professional societies and black colleges such as Howard University (Washington, DC) and Tuskegee University (Tuskegee, AL).

At the Air Force Research Laboratory, a staffer concentrates on his project.
At the Air Force Research Laboratory, a staffer concentrates on his project.

The lab is planning to invite deans of targeted engineering schools for orientation and tours. “When they see what a great place this is, they’ll go back and encourage their students to consider AFRL as a place of employment,” Cynkar hopes. Each directorate brings in its own co-op students, a couple of dozen in some cases, to give them a view of life at a lab.

Dedicated techies often complain of the need to leave hands-on work to get ahead. Not at AFRL, where a dual-track system makes it possible to advance and earn a higher salary without going into management. “We also have the ability to offer higher entry salaries than most Federal organizations,” Cynkar adds.

Within the lab, affinity groups promote ethnic activities focused on diversity awareness, like Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month and Wright-Patterson’s annual multi-cultural Celebration of People.

When civilians work on Air Force bases, they can share in military perks like gyms, bowling alleys, swimming pools and golf courses. There are basketball and softball teams for those who like them, and credit unions and childcare are available.

All this, and exciting research that contributes to the nation’s defense effort. “Who wouldn’t want to be part of it?” asks Robert May, executive director.