NATICK, Mass. -- Anita Perkins, the technical lead for the Army Combat Boot Improvement effort and a footwear research engineer in the Soldier Protection and Survivability Directorate at the Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center, addressed students at this year's Black Engineer of the Year Awards -- Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Conference held recently in Washington, D.C.
The BEYA STEM conference includes seminars, workshops, and career fairs, creating an environment conducive to mentoring and networking. The event also aims to educate attendees about possible STEM career paths.
The Department of the Army sought out Perkins to speak at a BEYA STEM seminar focusing on helping students prepare for job interviews. Perkins educated students about the importance of networking and helped them hone their interview skills through interactive exercises.
"The goal of the conference is to provide students with the information and skills that they need so that they can be prepared for the workforce -- not only how to prepare to get hired but all the things between college and getting hired, developing your resume, brushing up on those interview skills, knowing how to dress," said Perkins. "The conference is a safe place because it provides learning opportunities to get the skills they need and a forum to apply them."
In addition to Perkins, Ken Ryan, leader of the Warfighter Protection Branch in the Soldier Protection and Survivability Directorate at the Soldier Center, participated in this year's BEYA conference. Ryan attended the conference to educate people about the Soldier Center's mission and the potential job opportunities for engineers. For Ryan, the conference provided an outreach and recruiting opportunity for future and emerging scientists and engineers.
"It was exciting to see highly motivated, career-oriented, emerging scientists and engineers who are excited about working for the Army," said Ryan. "They want to make a contribution. I was impressed by their knowledge and eagerness to join our workforce. They asked intelligent questions about leadership and working for the Army."
Recruiting and mentoring young scientists and engineers is important to Ryan, who attacks the task with great gusto. During the conference, Ryan talked to attendees about becoming part of the Army civilian workforce to help solve the Army's technological challenges and to advance technologies that benefit the Soldier. Ryan sifted through numerous resumes and conducted about a dozen interviews, resulting in several letters of interest being sent to top candidates.
Several other employees from the Soldier Center also participated, including representatives from Human Resources and the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff. The Soldier Center is eager to find top talent as well as increase the diversity of the Soldier Center workforce.
Perkins has a long history with BEYA. When she was a student at Tennessee State University, she attended BEYA and served as the student coordinator for her school, helping students who wished to attend the conference to do so. After graduation, she attended the BEYA conference and was hired by the CCDC Soldier Center (then the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center).
In 2019 and again in 2020, the Department of the Army sought out Perkins to speak at a BEYA STEM seminar focusing on helping students prepare for job interviews.
"The panel provided them with information on what type of questions to expect during a job interview and what kind of questions they should ask the hiring manager or HR person," said Perkins. "I developed a script to show how to act and how not to act during an interview and the students really enjoyed it. And then afterwards students had a chance to discuss and identify what the interviewee could have done better to have a better outcome from the interview. Attendees also learned about how to navigate tough interview questions such as 'What are your weaknesses?'"
Perkins gave students concrete advice about how to navigate impromptu interviews as she herself began her Army career by having an impromptu interview at a BEYA conference. She said that people need to be able to quickly summarize what they can bring to a position and what type of position they are seeking -- essentially developing an elevator pitch about themselves.
Perkins also taught students about how to bounce back from a less than favorable interview experience.
"There are going to be moments when you are not prepared or when an interview just doesn't go well," said Perkins. "You can help yourself recover by following up with the hiring manager with an email to elaborate on a question you think you may have not answered well or you can follow up with a thank-you note."
Perkins admires the supportive atmosphere at BEYA and felt honored to have been asked to speak at this year's event. For her, it's all about paying it forward.
"I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to go back to the place that I attended years ago as a college student and help someone like others helped me," said Perkins. "It's a chance for them to learn about these skills from someone who has been in their shoes."
Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center is dedicated to using science and technology to ensure America's warfighters are optimized, protected, and lethal. CCDC Soldier Center supports all of the Army's Modernization efforts, with the Soldier Lethality and Synthetic Training Environment Cross Functional Teams being the CCDC SC's chief areas of focus. The center's science and engineering expertise are combined with collaborations with industry, DOD, and academia to advance Soldier and squad performance. The center supports the Army as it transforms from being adaptive to driving innovation to support a Multi-Domain Operations Capable Force of 2028 and a MDO Ready Force of 2035. CCDC SC is constantly working to strengthen Soldiers' performance to increase readiness and support for warfighters who are organized, trained, and equipped for prompt and sustainable ground combat.