CHARLESTON, S.C. — Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SSC) Atlantic employee, Sarah Monk, received the ‘Aspiring Tester Award’ as a part of the annual Department of the Navy (DON) Test and Evaluation (T&E) Awards.
The highly selective nomination process for the 2017 DON T&E awards involves combing through thousands of qualified candidates throughout the naval systems commands and Navy and Marine Corps testing agencies. Only seven T&E experts are selected for the prestigious awards every year, and only one is honored as the Navy’s aspiring tester of the year.
Listening to Monk’s story and her aspirations for the future, it’s instantly clear what made her such an outstanding candidate for the award. Just one week after graduating high school, Monk joined the SSC Atlantic team as a student intern, returning every summer while pursuing an electrical engineering degree at the University of South Carolina before accepting a full-time position upon graduation. As an electrical engineer working in testing and evaluation she’s an interactive test procedure (ITP) lead and subject matter expert (SME) for a team charged with implementing a new, automated integration test initiative for the surface platform command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) suites. This initiative digitizes test procedures and System Operation Verification Tests (SOVTs), enabling increased efficiency and accuracy in large-scale testing.
“My team and I support testing efforts for the large deck new construction integrated product team,” says Monk. “All the C4I equipment that SSC Atlantic delivers to the Navy gets tested in our C4I Systems Innovation Facility before it’s installed on the ship, so we played a role in creating those digitized test procedures.”
When Monk isn’t working with her team to make sure testing procedures are as safe and efficient as possible, she’s taking on a more managerial role, supporting pilot projects and briefing high-ranking DON officials on the program.
When asked what she thinks made her stand out as a viable candidate for the award, Monk said that it was her supervisor’s support and recognition that made all the difference.
“When I found out my supervisor had nominated me, and when I read the nomination, I was moved that he not only recognized the hard work and effort that’s been put into making ITP for surface ships a reality, but also saw value in it and wanted to show the rest of SPAWAR what we’re working on,” Monk said.
Monk also said that, upon learning about her nomination, she did a bit of her own research to learn more about the nominees from the prior year. “To be in the company of these talented individuals is just amazing, I am honored.”
“Sarah has definitely hit every qualification for this award. She has effectively briefed the ITP initiative to multiple admirals, captains and senior executive service leaders, which is normally only done by our most senior employees,” said Tim Martin, Monk’s supervisor.
Monk’s achievement has been lauded up and down the command. “This is a great award and a strong testament to all her hard work and efforts,” SSC Atlantic Executive Director Chris Miller said.
Though Monk seems touched and humbled by her nomination, to anyone who knows about her involvement at many different levels of the command — not only in her work as an ITP lead, but also as a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) outreach advocate — it’s not surprising that she’d garner recognition and applause.
“Sarah is truly an inspiration,” Martin said. “She is dedicated to the STEM outreach program, encourages young people to enter technical fields and works hard to encourage females that are interested in STEM to pursue the career field. [Her] initiative to create the interactive game, ‘Cyber Fleet Battle’, to actively involve students is a testament to her passion for STEM outreach to encourage students to continue their education.”
Monk has also briefed a recent class of new professionals, encouraging an attitude of “Embrace the Suck” — the idea that, while not all jobs will be glamorous all the time, they are crucial to achieving a meaningful end goal. In Monk’s case, that end goal is making life better for the warfighter.
“If you need motivation to fuel a 35-year career, the warfighter is a great one,” Monk said. “To get out of bed knowing you’re making an impact for our country that day, protecting the warfighter — that’s pretty good motivation for me.”
Another source of inspiration for Monk is the idea that young women should feel just as capable as anyone else to become an engineer or succeed in a STEM field. There’s a gap there, she says, and she wants to help close it.
“The motivation that carried me through college was that someone in high school told me I was never going to make it as an engineer,” Monk said. “In the professional environment, my hope is that women are assumed to be an equal.” When asked what sort of reaction she gets when people learn she’s an electrical engineer, Monk laughingly said there’s “always the tone of surprise.”
Monk envisions a lifelong career here at SSC Atlantic. When asked what her vision of the future looks like, Monk says, “I am setting my goals very high and look forward to a rewarding career.”
“Since I’ve started here, I’ve always envisioned being part of senior leadership,” said Monk. “I’m hoping my time here will shape me into an amazing leader.”
What she tells the students she speaks to when she works STEM outreach events is, “While the military is a great way to serve our country, I can’t really picture myself there, so I know my role is to be a civilian. In that role, as a Department of Defense civilian, I can make a big difference here, and you could too.”
Monk will be presented with her Aspiring Tester Award during an awards ceremony at the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes in Washington, D.C., May 3.
SSC Atlantic provides systems engineering and acquisition to deliver information warfare capabilities to the naval, joint and national warfighter through the acquisition, development, integration, production, test, deployment, and sustainment of interoperable command, control, communication, computers, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (C4ISR), cyber and information technology (IT) capabilities.
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