ALERT Career Panel Webinar

Furthering Interactions Between Students & Homeland Security

Held on February 9, 2016, the ALERT Career Panel Webinar successfully brought students together with representatives from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), industry, and national labs to discuss the career paths that have led them to their prominent positions today. The Career Panel is the first in a new series of Skill-Builder Webinars aimed at enhancing the professional development and connection of our students across campuses. In addition to dialogue surrounding the specific careers of each speaker, topics ranging from mentorship, networking, and interpersonal communication skills were addressed as a means of extending advice to students who are preparing to graduate or enter into internship experiences.

The Career Panel Webinar was suggested by the ALERT Student Leadership Council, a consortium of graduate and undergraduate students from seven academic partner institutions who participated in the discussion of education initiatives and activities to enhance professional development, during their inaugural meeting last October. Council members expressed a desire to connect with industry and government representatives throughout the year, in addition to the Annual Student Pipeline Industry Roundtable Event (ASPIRE) that takes place each spring. With the help of the ALERT Industrial Collaboration team, the February 9th event hosted speakers from such organizations as Morpho Detection, the Transportation Security Laboratory (TSL), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), DHS S&T Directorate, and Pendar Technologies.

The theme of “be ready for the unexpected” appeared in several presentations throughout the webinar, beginning with Mr. Kurt Bistany, CBRNE Directory of Engineering at Morpho. Mr. Bistany explained that the ability to change and adapt to changing circumstances will serve students well into their engineering careers. Likewise, Dr. Richard Lareau, Chief Scientist at TSL, told students to “be open to change” and new opportunities as they grow professionally.

Numerous speakers cited the importance of mentorship and feedback to their personal growth, and advised students to cultivate strong relationships with their advisors and colleagues. Dr. Harry Martz, Director of the Nondestructive Characterization Institute at LLNL, encouraged participants to meet and spend time with great mentors. He also urged students to “work with people that are smarter than you and who are from different backgrounds”. Echoing Dr. Martz’s sentiments, Dr. Laura Parker, the ALERT DHS S&T Directorate Program Manager, instructed attendees to create constructive dialogue on their strengths and competencies by “find(ing) people you trust to give you feedback”.

One of the most talked-about topics of the event was networking. Pendar Technologies VP of Chemical Analysis and Security, Dr. Mark Witinski, explained that networking is not a transactional process when he said that “Emailing and handshakes aren’t it”. Instead, Dr. Witinski explained that determination and sincere interest will help students to get where they want to go. In her presentation, Dr. Parker empathized with students on how intimidating the networking process can seem. A possible solution she suggests is strong communication skills: “Clearly communicating your research will catch people’s attention”. Dr. Lareau also included the ability to speak clearly and confidently when meeting new people in his 3-part list of key professional assets, in addition to technical competency and a keen business sense.

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