ADELPHI, Md. -- Researchers from the Army’s corporate research laboratory recently participated in a live panel on developing and retaining talented professionals within the Department of Defense.
Researchers Latasha Solomon and Dr. Tien Pham, from the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, known as DEVCOM, Army Research Laboratory, moderated the SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing 2021 Digital Forum live panel on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion: Developing and Retaining Talented STEM Professionals within the U.S. Department of Defense.
Evelyn Kent, director, DOD Historically Black Colleges and Universities/Minority Program and Outreach, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, provided the opening remarks.
Distinguished panelists included Dr. Amethist Finch, acting associate for Strategy Development and Integration, DEVCOM ARL; Dr. Mark Tschopp, regional lead for ARL Central; Dr. Tamara Pearson, inaugural director of the Center of Excellence for Minority Women in STEM at Spelman College; and Dr. Naresh Thadhani, professor and chair of the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech.
The panelists addressed the obligation DOD and institutes of higher education have to foster an environment of inclusiveness to recruit, develop and retain diverse science, technology, engineering and mathematics professionals while highlighting the advantages, opportunities and challenges.
According to Solomon, it is critical to hold these discussions, particularly at SPIE’s Defense + Commercial Sensing Forum, as this venue uniquely attracts a diverse audience in regards to affiliation, gender and skillset.
“This platform has provided the opportunity to shed light on a challenge that is not unique to DOD, but industry as well, and will require a concerted effort from our academic partners to course correct,” Solomon said. “This venue also provided an opportunity to socialize best practices amongst peers allowing ARL, and others, to leverage and potentially adopt efforts that have proven successful.”
Main takeaways from the discussion include:
- With privilege comes responsibility
- Without systemic change, the goal of equity is insincere, and there will always exist an opportunity gap
- An inclusive culture and supportive environment must exist to attract and sustain a diverse workforce
- It’s imperative that DOD renew and implement efforts, at the K-12 level, to attract, excite and retain females’ interest in STEM related fields
According to the researchers, ARL is at the forefront of this effort, although they agree there is still more to accomplish and room for improvement.
In particular, they said, ARL’s Open Campus Initiative, more specifically that of the lab’s extended sites, serves as a unique mechanism to engage diverse talent within academia, other government agencies, industry and non-traditional innovators on national scale to address some of DOD’s most challenging problems.
Additionally, Solomon said, ARL currently serves as administrator to six of the nine DOD’s HBCU/MI Centers of Excellence. These collaborative partnerships encourage scholars to conduct research in scientific disciplines critical to national security and aids the department in achieving our STEM workforce goals.
“I consider it a privilege to have been selected and trusted to lead an unbiased discussion on what I believe to be a sensitive yet critical dialog,” Solomon said. “Rear Adm. Lorin C. Shelby, United States Navy and chief, Naval Research Laboratory, recently testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee stating… ‘The [Naval] research enterprise workforce must reflect the diversity of American society and further characterized the shortage of homegrown S&T talent as a national security problem.’”
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As the Army’s corporate research laboratory, ARL is operationalizing science to achieve transformational overmatch. Through collaboration across the command’s core technical competencies, DEVCOM leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more successful at winning the nation’s wars and come home safely. DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. DEVCOM is a major subordinate command of the Army Futures Command.