On October 19, the 2017 class of the Systems Engineering Leadership Development Program (SELDP) celebrated 16 months of accelerated professional growth and cross-agency discovery.
“This has really been a life-changing experience for us, both technically and professionally,” said Lisa Smith during the graduation ceremony. An SELDP graduate from Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), Smith spent nine months at Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) as part of the program.
SELDP gives a select group of systems engineers from across the agency the opportunity to expand their technical and leadership abilities—as well as their understanding of the different centers and NASA overall. Over the course of the program, the seven 2017 graduates traveled for workshops to six NASA centers, participated in industry and agency benchmarking, benefitted from tailored coaching and mentoring, and spent nine months living and working at a different center. Not only did they immerse themselves in their new center’s culture, they were deliberately detailed to projects that filled specific gaps in their experience in order to accelerate their professional development.
“They did a really good job of selecting the details for us,” said Stacey Bagg. With previous experience on small projects at Glenn Research Center (GRC) and large programs at her home base of MSFC, she was placed on Mars 2020—a mid-to-large unmanned spacecraft project at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)—during SELDP. “That was something completely different from anything I’d done before. What’s more, I got to experience it from the project-level perspective, which meant I got to see all of the systems rather than just working on a single system.”
Their nine-month details helped participants expand their technical skills by gaining hands-on experience in new capacities and observing how systems engineers at other centers perform their jobs. The program also offered leadership-development workshops as well as on-the-job opportunities to enhance their leadership abilities.
Robert Rivera, detailed to GRC from Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC), learned important lessons about effective leadership during an unexpected management shift on his assigned project. “We had a project leadership change out of the systems engineer, the project manager, and the chief engineer about midway through my detail,” he said. “That was probably one of the best experiences of my detail…actually seeing the cultural shifts, seeing how they were able to keep the team from breaking apart.”
One of the most impactful aspects of the SELDP program was the opportunity to obtain an agency-level perspective on NASA itself. As they traveled to centers across the agency, the participants experienced firsthand NASA’s world-class capabilities. They also learned more about the diverse cultures and contributions of the different centers.
As they visited each center, said Johnson Space Center’s (JSC) David Rutishauser, “invariably one or more of us in the class were surprised at what we were seeing. We were not aware these capabilities existed. And it occurred to us that there is a lot of potential for collaboration if we can have better awareness and reduce the barriers to cross-agency use.”
He added, “SELDP deepened our appreciation for the amazing legacy that is our agency.”
During the graduation ceremony, the participants looked back with gratitude at the challenges and successes they experienced throughout the program.
“It’s a very legit program,” said Smith. “They look at your gaps and place you in assignments that stretch you so you can really grow. At the same time, they nurture you along the way so they can ensure you are not going to fail.”
“Every NASA systems engineer should come to SELDP,” said Cindy Zook, who is the program Leadership Coach. “It is a tremendous opportunity for folks. It gives them access to almost every NASA center plus outside benchmarks, as well as the chance to build relationships with a cadre of people across the agency that they will have as lifelong partners. It is an opportunity to learn, grow, and transform.”
In the coming months, a new group of agency systems engineers will have an opportunity to apply for a place in the program as APPEL begins the process of calling for nominations for the 2018/2019 class of SELDP.
“SELDP is a unique cross-agency initiative that helps NASA develop the next generation of systems engineering leaders,” said NASA Chief Knowledge Officer Roger Forsgren, who as the APPEL Director oversaw the program in 2017. “We’re excited to offer this experience to a new group of talented and dedicated future agency leaders in 2018.”
SELDP provides participants with an agency-wide perspective, unique hands-on systems engineering developmental assignments, and advanced leadership skills development through extended rotational assignments to a new center, a series of interactive workshops and special training initiatives, and benchmarking visits to diverse organizations. The goal of the program is to develop and improve leadership skills and technical capabilities among participants.