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ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- A few years ago, Dr. Timothy "A.J." Kluchinsky, chief of the Army Public Health Center's Health Hazard Assessment Division, looked around his office and noticed something. A lot of his colleagues looked a lot like him -- retired military, highly educated, and older.

"I kept hearing about our aging workforce and recognized that we needed to freshen it up," said Kluchinsky, a retired Army Medical Service Corps officer, former Air Defense Artillery officer, and former enlisted Infantryman.

At the same time, the Health Hazard Assessment Division, which evaluates military materiel (weapon systems, munitions, training devices, and other materiel systems) for health hazards, was dealing with a tight budget that minimized Kluchinsky's ability to hire senior staff.

"I decided I was going to do it with a young squad, and I tell you that was probably the best acquisition decision I ever made in my life," said Kluchinsky.

Kluchinsky is being recognized with a 2020 Visionary Award Feb. 27 by the Northeastern Maryland Technology Council for his efforts in building a STEM-educated workforce and advancing technology and innovation benefitting the community.

"I started going to the high schools, junior colleges and universities around here, and also got involved with the Society for American Military Engineers and immediately saw the benefits of mentoring these young, talented, folks," said Kluchinsky. "I'm able to see where they have potential and assist them strategically in getting in the right seat, in the right place."

Olivia Webster, a biomedical engineer in the APHC's Health Hazard Assessment Division, was a student at the Aberdeen High School Science and Math Academy and one of Kluchinsky's early STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) mentees.

"I was really interested in medical engineering and anything related to biology and Dr. Kluchinsky volunteered to be my mentor, said Webster.

According to a 2018 Pew Research Center study, employment in STEM occupations has grown 79 percent since 1990, from 9.7 million to 17.3 million, outpacing overall U.S. job growth. A 2017 report issued by the National Academy of Sciences says mentorship also helps students see themselves as STEM scholars who can contribute to their disciplines.

"The field of public health requires a workforce educated in multiple STEM disciplines such as biostatistics, environmental health engineering, biology, chemistry, physics, epidemiology, nursing and medicine," said John Resta, Army Public Health Center's director. "Much of our workforce comes to public health after discovering it while studying something else. They realize that working in public health will enable them to use their STEM education to help make the Army and the world a safer and healthier place."

Kluchinsky, who received his doctorate in public health degree from the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences while on active duty, worked with Webster on her SMA Capstone Project, which focused on identifying and quantifying metals aerosolized from tear gas canisters when dispersed at 700 degrees Celsius.

"My doctor of public health studies at USUHS focused on CS and CS-derived compounds produced during thermal dispersion of CS Riot Control Agent canisters. An analysis of metals aerosolized from heating CS RCA canisters was a major recommendation for future research," said Kluchinsky. "Fortunately, Ms. Webster was able to address that research question while completing her SMA Capstone Project.

This was the beginning of what is now a seven-year relationship with APHC, said Webster.

"Dr. Kluchinsky and I worked together on the CS RCA project all year, and at the end he was able to place me into a related internship here at APHC," said Webster.

Kluchinsky continued to mentor Webster through a series of summer internships at APHC, helped her navigate college scholarship programs, and ultimately offered her a Biomedical Engineering position after she graduated from the University of Maryland, as part of the Science Mathematics and Research for Transformation Program.

"She's a superstar," said Kluchinsky. "She's well on her way to becoming the Department of Defense subject matter expert for blast overpressure exposure assessment."

Kluchinsky also mentored Olivia's younger sister Abby Webster, who followed her sister's footsteps and began working as an APHC intern while a student at the AHS SMA. She has now made APHC her professional home after graduating with a Public Health degree from the University of Maryland.

"It's invaluable to be able to work with so many people who have so many different areas of expertise," said Abby. "I feel the people here really care about my progression and my career. Our division is very close -- it's like a family."

Olivia is now wearing the mentor hat while mentoring Zachery Coogan, an AHS student working on his SMA Capstone Project of researching the effectiveness of hearing protection using a fit check system.

"It's like coming full circle," said Olivia, who also spent some time as an intern at APHC working on hearing protection research. "Zach is learning how performing research like this works on a smaller scale. He's taking notes, organizing his data, and says he really likes the project."

One of the most impressive things about this effective workplace mentoring program is how far the positive ripple effects reach. Mentoring benefits the organization by improving job satisfaction and retention, and aids in the personal and professional development of the mentee. Also, mentors themselves seem to gain just as much.

"I don't tell our people that I expect them to stay here working in health hazard assessment forever," said Kluchinsky. "I want them to pursue their dreams and their passions. It's my job as a manager to assist them in positioning themselves so that they have options. Maybe if I'm lucky, I'll wind up working for one of them someday."

The Army Public Health Center focuses on promoting healthy people, communities, animals and workplaces through the prevention of disease, injury and disability of Soldiers, military retirees, their families, veterans, Army civilian employees, and animals through population-based monitoring, investigations, and technical consultations.

Related Links:

Army Public Health Center

NMTC Visionary Awards

SMART Scholarship Program

The Science of Effective Mentorship in STEMM