Posted at 11:45 AM
Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month
Guest blog post by Sara A. Rosario Nieves, U.S. Census Bureau
As the Census Scientific Advisory Committee coordinator, I help determine Census Bureau operations and programs that need scientific advice. By working with the committee — established by the Secretary of Commerce as an advisory body to the Census Bureau director — I help engage some of the nation’s top economists, statisticians, researchers, geographers, sociologists, engineers, political scientists, demographers, and operations managers on ways to advise us on streamlining processes without compromising quality and use proper technologies all while saving taxpayer money.
The President’s State of the Union Address this year centered around three key principles: opportunity, action, and optimism. I too will use these three words to describe my 10-plus years as a federal employee.
Opportunity: While pursuing my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Puerto Rico, I noticed that years of specialized experience were required for entry-level positions on the island. I was astonished but continued studying and looking for work opportunities. Part of my studies included a semester-long industrial management internship with the master scheduler of Bristol-Myers Squibb pharmaceutical in Mayaguez. One of my professors then told me about a summer internship opportunity with the Department of Commerce, which led me to Washington, D.C., in 2001. Upon completion of my MBA, I accepted a job with the Census Bureau. Though I was eager to learn new things and yearned to hear fresh ideas, this geographical move was not an easy decision but thinking back now on the incredible experiences I have had and the professional growth I have gone through, I know I made the right decision. While at the Census Bureau, I have completed the DOC Aspiring Leaders Development Program and obtained a Masters Certificate in Project Management from George Washington University. In 2011, the Department of Commerce honored me with its Gold Medal Award for helping lead the 2010 Census partnership program, which engaged 257,000 national and local organizations with $1.2 billion in value-added contributions to the overall census effort.
Action: One of the most enjoyable aspects of my civil service work is mentoring young individuals who are looking to expand their skills and for advice on how to reach their maximum potential. Last month, I was a panelist for the Paths for Success session of the Government Leaders for Tomorrow (GL4T), where nationwide selected science and technology students with diverse economic, social, academic and cultural backgrounds come to D.C. to learn about life as a federal government employee. The conversations with the mentees, along with recruits I regularly meet on campus, help me understand the vast capacity of the next generation to work alongside seasoned and experienced talent and contribute to the department’s innovation and reengineering goals.
I volunteer at various Hispanic national organizations, including the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the largest and oldest Hispanic organization in the U.S., where I help with planning the Federal Training Institute course offerings and sing the national anthem at most of their events.
Optimism: My mother has always been on governing boards of multiple organizations in the education field. She is my inspiration. When I was little, she used to take me and my brother to all her conferences and events, where I learned the art of networking, listening, volunteering, mapping my goals and never taking no for an answer. I advise my teenage kids to do the same, and I will give you an example. A few years ago, when my daughter was attending the advanced dual language program at an elementary school, she wanted to be part of the opera group. She was told she could not because it was exclusive to the school kids enrolled in the regular program. My son was in the regular academic program and taught her all the songs during the afternoons, for a whole week. She then talked to the opera teacher and convinced him to conduct an audition. She got the part as an extra. The night of the opera performance, one of the major characters had an emergency and couldn’t make it to the site, so guess who ended up singing solos at the opera? The one who was “not meant to be” part of this group, my daughter. The moral of the story is there will always be obstacles coming our way, that’s a guarantee, but instead of getting discouraged, step on them and move up, persist and excel. That’s how my mom sees life, and that’s how I see it and try to pass along those teachings to my teenage kids and mentees.
Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to feature the great contributions each of us are making right here, right now, in this era. This celebration is typically associated with music, food and dance, which is intrinsic to our culture. However, we are much more than that. We are the leaders of today, with capacity of thought, analytics, decision-making, and remarkable dedication. The fact that most of us speak at least two languages, and are cross-culturally sensitive, serve as an advantage for any organization we work at. In top of that, we are team players and high achievers, looking for excellence as a stamp in the work we do.
The Department of Commerce and the U.S. Census Bureau offer a vast array of opportunities you should take advantage of. Those opportunities are there to prepare you for the upcoming challenges. Do not box yourself in a particular job series or position; learn how business is done in different working units. The workplace is changing, budgets are shrinking, programs are being merged, organizational structures and layers are being minimized (in private and public sectors), so we need to be ready, learn as much as we can, come with a fresh perspective and share it with the people making the big decisions. Never be afraid to take action and to respectfully speak up. We are all humans; titles should never be a barrier to learn from each other, to contribute to the organizational success, and with optimism, support our nation.