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APPEL’s New Webinar Series Focuses on NASA’s Technical Workforce as Individuals

Screen capture from webinar.
Credit: NASA

Quick HITS provide personal touch during difficult times.

The American workforce has experienced unprecedented upheaval in 2020, trading well-worn commuting routes to bright office buildings for telecommuting and small desks, sometimes in suddenly crowded and chaotic homes where small children attend elementary school via the Internet. This transition was not only swift, but profound. By April more than 50 percent of Americans were working from home, testing the limits of teleconferencing software many of them hadn’t even heard of in February.

Virtually all of NASA’s technical workforce joined the rapidly growing ranks of teleworkers in mid-March. APPEL Knowledge Services rapidly worked to convert traditional face-to-face training to virtual training, making more than 80 percent of its course catalog available in just three months. But there were aspects of this rapid change for the workforce that APPEL KS’s existing curriculum didn’t cover.

APPEL KS seized this opportunity by creating a new series of webinars known as Quick HITS (an acronym for Hot Issues and Topics Series). The webinars focus on individual issues that can impact professional performance.

“I think the Quick HITS webinars demonstrate the agility of the APPEL team to address the needs of their customers,” said Roger Forsgren, NASA’s Chief Knowledge Officer and APPEL Director. “They understood the dire situation created by the pandemic, they listened to their customers, the NASA technical workforce, and they found a virtual platform that addresses their needs.  These are certainly trying times for everyone and, as the mandatory telework dragged on, it became evident that we had to support our customers as best we can.”

The Quick HITS webinars not only provide APPEL with a ready format to address salient topics that are important to the NASA workforce, but “also provides the unique opportunity to interface, learn and discover from attendees, on a real-time basis, what other topics are important to them right now,” said  Daniel Daly, APPEL KS Project Management Curriculum Lead.

The first webinars, on June 10 and July 15, focused on a timely topic—strategies to work from home more effectively. Facilitator Lorraine Z. Leahy, a certified coach with more than 25 years of senior leadership experience, shared tips, best practices, and strategies for staying organized and focused, including dedicating a workspace, minimizing distractions, developing and sticking to new routines, and effectively accessing information.

Christa Kirby Credit: Christa Kirby

Christa Kirby
Credit: Christa Kirby

The third webinar, on August 20, focused on another timely topic—mastering stress in tough times. Moderator Christa Kirby, a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in stress management and burnout prevention, helped attendees gain insight into what drives the physiological and emotional symptoms of stress and identified proven mitigation techniques.

“We are experiencing a loss of normalcy, fear of the toll that all of this is going to have on the global economy, and of course, the loss of connection with people we love,” Kirby said in the webinar, adding that difficulty focusing, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, depression, and feeling overwhelmed are normal responses to this abnormal situation and abnormal time.

“We have to marshal our internal resources to meet the current demands, which, as you know, are blurring the lines between our personal and professional lives,” Kirby said.

“The topics the APPEL team picked resonate with the NASA workforce.  After all, these are unprecedented times we are living through and that creates a large amount of stress that may not even be obvious to a lot of us, but it’s there. The Quick HITS provides an outlet, like a pressure relief valve in a system that is overloaded,” Forsgren said.

The webinars are off to a strong start, with registrations reaching the 100-attendee limit in one hour for the August 20 webinar. APPEL KS is working to keep up with the strong demand by scheduling repeats of popular topics, creating priority registration for people who were waitlisted for earlier sessions, and increasing each webinar’s maximum capacity.

“We think this popularity shows we are wisely picking topics—ones that are relevant and pressing for NASA employees right now,” said Donna Wilson, APPEL KS Curriculum Manager, adding that the format fits easily into a daily schedule. “The Quick HITS Webinars are designed to be accessible in that they are short—about an hour long—so they don’t require as much of a time commitment as a typical APPEL course. They are also offered at a time when they could be considered a late ‘lunch and learn’ for East Coast folks or a morning learning kickoff for West Coast folks.”

“We also think the strong response has to do with the fact these are personal topics and not technical topics, so by their very definition, they are going to be relevant for a wider audience than if we focused on a particular aspect of project management or systems engineering,” said Ramien Pierre, APPEL KS Systems Engineering Curriculum Lead.

APPEL KS intends to continue the Quick HITS Webinars at least monthly going forward, building on a portfolio of services for NASA’s technical workforce that includes, courses, the Virtual Project Management Challenge, the Small Steps, Giant Leaps podcast, the INSIGHT monthly magazine, and a one-stop shop website, filled with valuable resources, lessoned learned, and more.

“APPEL KS has such a rich spectrum of educational opportunities available across a wide variety of platforms,” Daly said.  “Our goal is to help everyone learn and grow through every possible presentation means at our disposal, and we look forward to Quick HITS being a new, fresh and nimble part of our suite of opportunities.”

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