Women's History Spotlight: Janet Kim
March 24, 2010
WASHINGTON, D.C. - As a child, Janet Kim, chief of the environmental quality programs division for U.S. Army Environmental Command, liked to take things apart just to put them back together. She was always curious about how things worked, an interest that eventually proved to be a driving force in her career choice.
Born in Chicago, but growing up in Joppatowne, Md., Kim knew when she graduated high school that she wanted to be an engineer. Consequently, her high-school guidance counselor told her about an opportunity to intern at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., for the Federal Junior Fellowship Program while attending college. That opportunity introduced her to civil service.
After graduating from Washington University in St. Louis with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, Kim's first assignment was with the Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity, where she was exposed to hands-on testing and evaluation of Army equipment and materiel. Her experience there sparked her desire to have a career with the Army.
"I (drove) an M1A1 main battle tank, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, as well as shooting weapons such as the M16A2, Squad Automatic weapon and Beretta 9mm pistol," said Kim. "It was pretty cool for a young person to get that kind of exposure, to touch and feel the equipment used by Soldiers and to be a part of the team that influenced the process to make the equipment better."
Kim said the defining moment regarding her career was during Operations Desert Shield and Storm. It was at that time she was able to realize the effectiveness of the equipment she worked on.
"I felt connected with the resounding success we had during those campaigns because of my involvement in the technical testing of that equipment," said Kim.
She knew then that she wanted to serve as a career civilian - and next February, Kim will have 30 years of service.
She began her career in materiel acquisition and truly loved it; however, in 1990 that command was realigned and geographically moved. Because she could not shift with the command, she switched her career tracks and started working in what is now the Army Environmental Command.
Initially, she believed she was going backwards in her career; she had to take a lower position and basically started over in a new field. And while she initially considered the decision as going backwards, she certainly didn't look behind her as she has risen in her field and is now a leader in the Army environmental community.
"What I do today is very rewarding because I know we are touching the lives of Soldiers and their families through the work we do at AEC. We're enabling realistic training and ensuring a healthy environment on our installations," said Kim.
Kim, an Army Lean Six Sigma certified black belt, believes a good leader should provide clear goals and objectives and should be willing to jump in and work side-by-side with staff members to successfully achieve those goals. She believes in open and honest communication and that emerging information should be transparent, especially during the Army's transformation, Base Realignment and Closure moves, and high operations tempo.
She strongly supports the need to move toward a cost culture where everyone deliberates through their actions to keep the outcome in the forefront.
"If we don't have a clear idea of how our work aligns to the overall goal of enabling Soldier training or installation operations, it's quite possible we are missing something ... potentially wasting scarce resources in a wheel-spinning activity," said Kim.
Kim believes that many of the past challenges women have faced in the Army, in general, have diminished. She recognizes the many opportunities for women in Installation Management Command or AEC. Two of IMCOM's region directors are women, and she sees women in various leadership roles within AEC.
Her advice for those coming up the ranks in civil service is to explore all opportunities. She acknowledged there were some that came her way that she initially wanted to turn away from - but those turned out to be the ones she benefited the most.
Indeed, Kim has accomplished much throughout her career. She has been recognized by the Baltimore Federal Executive Board with two awards: the Bronze Award for outstanding supervisor and the Bronze Award for technical performance. She was a nominee for the command's Stalwart Award. Plus she also received the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management Commander's Award for Civilian Service and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's Director's Award for Environmental Excellence.
With all that she has accomplished while serving the Army, though, she will tell you her greatest accomplishment has been to raise her daughter, Amanda, to be a strong, independent woman.