NATICK, Mass. -- Sometimes when you are looking at your career, it helps to use a wide lens. That's the idea behind the Acquisition Cohort Program at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center.

NSRDEC's Acquisition Cohort Program helps create well-rounded, focused employees. Through scheduled rotations over a two-year time frame, the program allows participants and interns to garner work experience in a few different areas instead of being restricted to just one. Interns come from universities far and wide, ranging from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, or WPI, in Massachusetts, to the University of Puerto Rico.

Rotations may be at NSRDEC, other tenant organizations at the Natick Soldier Systems Center, or within academia. In addition to work experience, acquisition certification training and other required training is part of the process. Participants also benefit from team-building exercises with peers and interaction with leaders.

"This program is intended to open up professional development opportunities for new career employees that will prove valuable in their final assignments with NSRDEC," said Valbona Ajro,
a management analyst in the G-1 Human Resources Office at NSRDEC.

To help identify appropriate rotations and facilitate the process, Dr. Ramanathan Nagarajan and Mathew Correa serve as the program's "super-mentors" in science and engineering, respectively.

Brian Bagdonovich, team leader of the Airdrop Technology Team in NSRDEC's Aerial Delivery Directorate, is one of the many talented NSRDEC mentors serving in the program. In addition to serving as a mentor, he also pairs cohorts with high performing team members who provide daily guidance.

"The Cohort Program has provided recently hired engineers a greater diversity of experiences, resulting in an increase in cross directorate leveraging of personnel and resources," said Bagdonovich.

During a recent presentation luncheon, a group of cohort members nearing the end of the final rotation provided highlights describing their background and rotation experiences.

Ajro explained that the cohort luncheon takes place twice a year and provides NSRDEC leadership an opportunity to meet and interact with cohort members. Cohort members get the chance to talk about their career experiences, develop their presentation skills and network with NSRDEC leadership and past cohort program participants. Following their last rotation, they will move into final assignments within NSRDEC.

"Rotations are a great opportunity to gain a new skill set and enhance communication and collaboration while providing valuable career broadening experiences to be carried into their positions after the two-year program is completed," said Ajro. "NSRDEC makes a deliberate effort to ensure that acquisition workforce interns acquire career broadening experience from the moment they are hired."

Ajro explained that the program serves to develop employees with broad mission skills who are well connected across the enterprise and prepared for positions of greater responsibility. The program also capitalizes on student intern programs, including Pathways and Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation, or SMART, to ensure a continuous talent pipeline that meets NSRDEC mission needs.

"The exposure to a variety of experiences in the cohort program provided me with a wide base of knowledge, including knowledge not covered in my undergraduate degree," said Frank Ashe, an NSRDEC systems engineer. "The blended experience from the program has improved my ability to solve problems holistically, making me a more well-rounded employee with something to offer multidisciplinary teams at NSRDEC."

"My rotations gave me career development opportunities above and beyond anything I would have experienced staying with a single team," said Matthew Kominsky, an NSRDEC food technologist. "I was able to grow personally and professionally, and obtain knowledge and skills outside my areas of expertise. While broadening my career goals and aspirations, I think the rotations also made me a stronger asset to the NSSC organization as a whole. I would do it again in a heartbeat."

Jon Kaplan, a research biomechanics engineer at NSRDEC, participated in the cohort program. Dr. John Ramsay, an NSRDEC research biomechanics engineer, and Kaplan co-invented the innovative Airborne Load Assistance Device. The inexpensive, reusable device helps alleviate the airborne Soldiers' weight burden caused by resting their equipment on their legs/knees prior to boarding a plane.

"The best part of this project and the creation of this device isn't just the simplicity and effectiveness, but that we brought it to Soldiers and had it improved by them," said Kaplan.

"Being in the Cohort Program helped me understand all the work that NSRDEC does to support our troops," said Jorge López Jiminián, a general engineer at NSRDEC. "In my various rotations, I have learned and worked with infantry combat equipment, airdrop equipment, and in my last rotation, I have been working with Product Manager Force Sustainment Systems. Part of the work done in my two years of experience includes contract support, design, test and evaluation, and field validation. Also, I have had the opportunity to travel to contractors' manufacturing facilities and several Army test centers in which I have been making connections with other scientists and engineers. I will recommend this program to future cohort candidates."

The importance of having the opportunity to help the Soldier resonated deeply with the engineer.

"I really like to work with Soldiers and find out what I can do for them," López Jiminián said.


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The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities for decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the Joint Warfighter and the Nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.