This past summer the Department of the Navy Chief Information Officer hosted two college students in a research and mentoring collaboration with the National Geospatial Agency (NGA). These students were members of the Mentor-Protégé Internship (MINT) program that nurtures and develops underrepresented college students to become successful members of the workforce. The mission statement of the program is as follows:
“To provide Underrepresented Individuals with job/career ready training and in-demand skills to effectively perform in the Next Generation Workforce (NGWF) for the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community (DoD/IC).”
While the students selected for the program have demonstrated academic success, they may not have knowledge of the opportunities within the DoD and IC, and they be inexperienced with the business skills required to succeed in the workforce. After completing the eight-week program, the participants (known as MINTs) gain experience in business intelligence, presentation development and delivery, and office protocol, which are valuable for any career and required for participation in the DoD/IC next generation workforce.
As members of the program, these bright students have the opportunity to work closely with professionals that either work within the DoD/IC or with a company that provides services to the DoD/IC. The MINTs provide much needed support in key areas such as technical and market research, marketing development, bid and proposal support, and internal technical support. The MINTs obtain personal mentorship that nurtures professional growth, a recommended training plan based on individual need and workplace requirements, security clearances where needed or required for access, and submersion in the work environment through real-world experience.
In addition to their individual work with the DoD/IC agencies and companies, the MINTs were assigned several group research assignments during their summer internship. One project, assigned by Andre Gudger, Director of the DoD Office of Small Business Programs, dealt with learning about the intelligence community and identifying every DoD/IC agency and the intelligence collection disciplines they deal with. They also conducted research on small disadvantaged businesses that offer support to the DoD/IC and identified employees from those businesses that they felt would serve as role models. The MINTs were also given the task of branding the program. Their collaborative work on this project resulted in the "MINT" name, a logo, and a tagline that they developed for the program.
The MINTs presented their internship experiences and the newly branded program to more than 100 attendees of the NGA Mentor-Protégé Workshop held at the George Mason University campus in Arlington, Virginia. The skills the interns developed over the course of this program thoroughly impressed the audience and many MINTs were offered jobs and future internships during the networking portion of the event. As the first interns of the program, these students were able to mold the program so that it will provide even greater benefits to future MINTs and the organizations that employ them as interns.
The Historically Black Colleges and Universities/Minority Institutions (HBCU/MI) Project Office (HPO) is the non-profit organization that created the program. It provided the MINTs with training in cybersecurity, computer software skills, and presentation and sales skills. Through the efforts of the HPO, the students also gained an understanding of what it takes to work in the DoD/IC, including the importance and process of obtaining a security clearance.
There were seven MINTs that completed the pilot program, hailing from Spelman College, Howard University, Morehouse College, Elon University, Southern Polytechnic State University, Tuskegee University, and the University of South Florida. While the MINTs received valuable training and mentoring, they also provided valuable support to their sponsoring organizations. Among other tasks, the two DON CIO-sponsored MINTs conducted research relevant to current DON CIO challenges. For example, as the DON CIO is investigating the use of Apple iOS devices on its network, Micah Jones from Tuskegee University researched the security of these devices. In response to feedback received during the June 2014 DON IT Conference that some lower echelon commands were not receiving policy information, Kimber Valentine from the University of South Florida researched effective methods for communication across large organizations.
The MINTS have all returned to their respective colleges after a productive summer in the nation’s capital, but the program continues year-round. The students will conduct research during the school year, communicate with their protégé organizations, and receive mentoring for the duration of their college careers. As more interns are recruited and the program expands, it will continue to transform underrepresented students into seasoned young professionals ready to join the DoD and IC as well as the general workforce.
Micah Jones is a MINT from Tuskegee University. He was assigned to the DON CIO Cybersecurity and Infrastructure team under the mentorship of Capt. Maxie Davis, also a Tuskegee University graduate. Lynda Pierce is Chief of Staff and Director, DON IT Policy and Communications for the DON CIO.