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Supervisor training program elicits rave reviews from AFRL participants

Left to right, Dr. Simone Koram, Air Force Research Laboratory’s Enterprise Learning Officer, talks with AFRL’s Supervisory Acculturation Program graduates Robert Neuroth, Lolita Mitchell, Craig Erford, Stacie Smithturner, Andrew Hamilton, Dr. John Cetnar and Ryan Sites. (Contributed photo)

Left to right, Dr. Simone Koram, Air Force Research Laboratory’s Enterprise Learning Officer, talks with AFRL’s Supervisory Acculturation Program graduates Robert Neuroth, Lolita Mitchell, Craig Erford, Stacie Smithturner, Andrew Hamilton, Dr. John Cetnar and Ryan Sites. (Contributed photo)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio - Andrew Hamilton, who started his government career working in facilities at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Sensors Directorate, was inspired by “all the smart people around” to go back to school, where he earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.

Hamilton, 40, is an electronics engineer who now works in the directorate’s Plasma Physics and Sensors Lab and officially qualifies as one of Sensors’ smart people. At this point in his career, he’s ready to become a supervisor.

“Becoming a supervisor without supervisory experience is like trying to get a credit card with no credit,” he said. “So I looked for some training.”

He made his wishes known to his branch chief, who nominated Hamilton for AFRL’s Supervisory Acculturation Program. The immersive program requires a commitment of four full weeks over 10 months: One week at Eglin AFB, Florida; one at Rome AFB, NY; one at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico; and one here at Wright-Patterson AFB.

Hamilton completed the program, spearheaded by AFRL’s Enterprise Learning Officers. Dr. Simone Koram, ELO for the Sensors Directorate, feels the program is an invaluable tool for the AFRL workforce to employ in pursuing career goals.

“As the learning officer, it is my role to seek, explore, and create professional development learning opportunities for personnel,” said Dr. Koram. “I developed two supervisory learning forums for those who may be thinking about becoming supervisors and for folks that are currently supervisors, who may just want to enhance their supervisory tool kit.”

The presenters at the forum were new ASAP graduates. Dr. Koram’s desire was to provide insights and a better understanding of ASAP so interested employees can make an informed decision on whether the program is right for them. The graduates offered testimonials about their journey, from beginning to end. The learning forums were offered not only to Sensors Directorate personnel, but extended to all the AFRL directorates. In the end, the forums received rave reviews and Dr. Koram is planning to offer this learning opportunity next year.

Lolita Mitchell, Science and Technical Information team lead at Sensors and another ASAP graduate, was on the fence about becoming a supervisor before taking the course. She’s still on the fence, uncertain if that career path suits her. The ASAP course helped her define the actual work involved in supervisory roles, with panels of current and former AFRL supervisors discussing their experience.

“The honesty was great, and very valuable,” Mitchell said. “A lot of people said the job is very tough, stressful, and extremely fulfilling. But it’s not for everybody.”

Basically, she said, “I learned what I don’t know.”

The course includes two Leadership Practice Inventories, one before and one after the course. Participants ask co-workers, both peers and bosses, to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. The post-course inventory shows the progress made, as well as pointing out areas that need some work.

In Hamilton’s case, the class about having difficult conversations with direct reports gave him the skills he thought he lacked. He now feels he has the tools to tackle on of the more difficult tasks supervisors face.

The ASAP program is run by the University of Dayton, and employed by industry: AFRL’s version is tailored specifically for this government organization, which has a unique culture and different challenges.

Dr. Lance Griffiths, software development lead, said the immersive nature of the program lead to lifelong connections.

“The first day you walk into a room full of strangers, and by the end, these are some of your best friends,” he said.

Hamilton concurs. “Books are nothing like group training. It was great.”