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DTRA Mentors Future Nuclear Enterprise Fellows
by Darnell Gardner, Defense Threat Reduction Agency
February 24, 2020

Cultivating the next generation of global nuclear security leaders trained and readied to assume the role of ensuring for a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent requires a concerted effort among a unique triad of partner-organizations comprised of academia, industry and government agencies.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) supports this effort by participating in events such as the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA), Graduate Fellowship Program (NGFP) career fair which was held at the Department of Energy during January 2020.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) participated in the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA), Graduate Fellowship Program (NGFP) career fair which was held at the Department of Energy in January 2020. (Photo by Darnell Gardner, Defense Threat Reduction Agency)
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) participated in the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA), Graduate Fellowship Program (NGFP) career fair which was held at the Department of Energy in January 2020. (Photo by Darnell Gardner, Defense Threat Reduction Agency)

 “This career fair is a yearly event composed of info-sessions, networking opportunities and interactive senior leader panels focused on providing our fellows with the most up-to-date knowledge on how to best navigate the often confusing career-seeking landscape,” stated Dr. Beatriz Cuartas, NNSA’s program manager for the fellowship program. “We are extremely excited to have approximately 20 enterprise partners from DTRA, the National Defense University, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, Lockheed Martin and a host of other valued nuclear community members exhibit at this year’s event.”

Tom Gray, NNSA graduate fellowship program operations manager, explained that the career workshop’s goal is to equip fellows with the tools to attain a clearer understanding of how to best navigate the next phase of their career search.

Graduates are exposed to different industry perspectives on how to effectively self-promote their capabilities and how to stand out amongst their peers while establishing their presence in the nuclear network. Fellows are also briefed on how to best negotiate employment contracts with regards to salary, benefits and career advancement.

“I hope to gain tangible tools relating to navigating the federal career space and especially to gain insight on how to ask employers the right questions,” said Erica Spellwolf, a fellow with the Office of Nuclear Smuggling Detection and Deterrence. “I was extremely excited to hear that DTRA would have a senior leader on the panel. Some of us have limited exposure with defense agencies so trying to navigate that sector can be somewhat overwhelming and intimidating. I’ll make sure to ask the right questions to demystify what I don’t know about the military.”

Amanda Richardson, chief of operations for DTRA's research and development and NGFP alumna, spoke on the senior leader panel engagement segment entitled, “Succeeding in the National Security Enterprise.”

“It's critical for the participants in this program to hear from senior leadership across the National Security enterprise about what's important in our hiring decisions, to give these individuals insight into what skills and experience are vital to both immediate and continued career success in this arena,” said Richardson. "As an alumna of this program, I remember being in their position, wondering what would come next. I was able to relay to them the strength of this program in building both their skills and their network in national security. Beyond this, it's also giving them insight into what working in the national security complex is like, so they can seek out their own career path. DTRA certainly sees merit in the program, hosting fellows here and seeking out candidates whose skills and experience directly correlate with our strategic workforce development strategy, and more importantly, our mission.”

The NGFP is a salaried, one-year fellowship for graduate-level students interested in pursuing national security careers. Fellows receive specialized training, career development and professional networking, while directly supporting NNSA’s nuclear security mission, the State Department, or Department Of Energy’s- (DOE) Intelligence mission. Administered by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), the NNSA’s graduate program annually places 50 to 60 fellows per year in nuclear security enterprise agencies.

“Over the years, this program has really flourished,” said Cuartas. “I have seen a 35 percent increase in diversity among students entering nuclear studies and seeking out this fellowship, a significant number have gone on to be noteworthy assets within nuclear industry and several were hired by DTRA in direct support of its nuclear enterprise and technology mission. This is a great model of how partner agencies can continue to deliver a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent.”

Mission: The Defense Threat Reduction Agency enables DoD, the U.S. Government, and international partners to counter and deter weapons of mass destruction and improvised threats networks.

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