The DCTC Scholars Blog features stories on scholars at the four pilot program universities at North Carolina A&T, Purdue, the University of Arizona and Virginia Tech, with appearances by distinguished guests from the Department of Defense. Continue these discussions on the DCTC LinkedIn page.

A Sense of Belonging in DCTC

By Ellie Wolcott, University of Arizona, February 2, 2024

The first time I knew I wanted to become a flight test engineer (FTE), I was scrolling through Instagram and passed a photo of a woman in a NASA flight suit standing next to a T-38 supersonic jet trainer. It wasn’t long before I found her blog, read that she had been accepted into the National Test Pilot School (NTPS), and decided that someday, I would be too.

The summer that I applied for the Defense Civilian Training Corp (DCTC) pilot, I was also looking into ROTC and other military-oriented paths. The people I talked to and information I had found online up until that point seemed to suggest that joining the military was the only way to become an FTE, and because it was realistically too late to join ROTC or apply to an academy, I worried that I had somehow already missed out on my chance.

Just as I was beginning to grapple with this perceived reality, I received an email in my inbox about a new opportunity at the University of Arizona: the DCTC. Advertised as a way to jumpstart a career with the DoD upon graduation without military service, it was the perfect resolution to my dilemma. I applied later that day, and since then, have found a wonderful community among the students, professors, and DoD civilians who are part of the pilot. From team-building exercises like our scavenger hunt in August to field trips like our visit to the “Boneyard” in October, DCTC has provided me with the sense of belonging that I first discovered as a child growing up on Air Force bases.

More recently, in November I had the pleasure of meeting Ken Callahan, the DCTC program director at Purdue University, and Garry Shafovaloff, a senior advisor for the DoD and director of DCTC’s pilot. Two other students and I engaged them in a conversation about our areas of study, future career plans, and hopes for the program, while they shared exciting stories from their respective careers. I learned that both Ken and Garry had gained experience in the aerospace industry, with Ken having served as a C-141 pilot for the US Air Force and Garry having spent time at NTPS in Mojave, CA. It was eye-opening to hear how two professionals in the DoD—one a commissioned officer and the other a civilian—were able to participate in the same industry. The conversation highlighted that there are many different paths for me to accomplish my goals, and I walked away from it with greater optimism for the future.

In the picture below, Ellie is sitting in the front seat of the vehicle.

Attending the Naval Academy Leadership Conference

By April Sayers, Virginia Tech, January 29, 2024

I recently attended the Naval Academy’s Leadership Conference from January 21st through the 24th with several other Defense Civilian Training Corp (DCTC) scholars and Virginia Tech Cadets. The conference offered many opportunities to meet people and make connections, as well as take away messages from the inspirational men and women who were invited to speak to us.

The conference followed the structure of speeches or panel sessions followed by breakout sessions for discussion. We spent a lot of time with our breakout groups, which ended up being my favorite part. My group consisted of students from all over the country and from all types of schools. Every one of us had a different experience and perspective, which led to insightful discussions. I also built better bonds with the other DCTC scholars on the trip. The other students in DCTC are people I would never have encountered or become friends with, were it not for our receiving entry into the DCTC program. The importance of these cross-disciplinary connections is not lost on me.

While many of the speakers at the conference were either active or former military, there was wisdom to be gained from every one of them, especially since DCTC is preparing us for jobs where civilians work alongside servicemen in all sorts of fields and scenarios. While I will likely never be in a life-or-death situation in which I need to lead, those I serve may be. I hope that my purpose in the DoD will be to research and somehow improve conditions for the warfighter, however that may be. And strong leadership and collaboration are important no matter what kind of team you’re on.

Here is some of the most valuable advice (in my opinion)

  1. “Show them the way, and then go with them.” – Col. Michael Styskal, USMC (Some of the best leaders aren’t those who just give the orders. They’re the ones who support and stand beside you.)
  2. “Pursue the things that make you resilient.” – Col. J.P. McDonough, USMC
  3. “Just because you don’t know everything doesn’t mean you don’t belong.” – Adm. James Winnefeld
  4. “Never too junior to have a great idea, never too senior to have a bad one.” – Vice Adm. Tim Szymanski
  5. “I don’t ask them what I can do, I ask myself what I can do for them.” – Amanda C. (a girl who was in my breakout group)

These were just some of my favorite takeaways. Not all had to do with leadership; some of them had to do with personal growth, but I believe that is just as important to being a good leader.

Number 3 really stood out to me. “Just because you don’t know everything doesn’t mean you don’t belong.” As a DCTC scholar, I’ve already struggled with imposter syndrome. I don’t yet know all of the intricacies of the DoD and US military, and I’m a biological systems engineering major, which I never thought would be needed in any great capacity, in the same way international relations or cyber security majors are needed. Since hearing that I’d been accepted, I’ve kept thinking, “Wait, why would the DoD want me?” But as we’ve been assured by DCTC directors, guest speakers, etc., there are all types of people in the DoD. All types of knowledge and experience are both needed and wanted. So why does the DoD want someone like me? Why were each of us chosen for this opportunity? Because we each bring a new perspective, and DCTC is cultivating our potential so we can serve our country in a different way from what most people imagine.

In the photo below, April is standing on the far right.

A Coffee Chat with Senior DoD Leadership at Virginia Tech

By Karen Thornton, AIRC Fellow, October 24, 2023

In early October, the DCTC Executive Leadership Team visited Virginia Tech’s campus in Blacksburg, Virginia. Members of the team observed the strong commitment to service throughout the sprawling campus. Virginia Tech’s informal motto, “This is home”, rings as true for those who have served as for those who aspire to service. The Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, which includes a citizen leader track, was founded in 1872, but DCTC has created an unprecedented opportunity for cadets and civilians to learn and begin their path to DoD employment side by side.

This video from Virginia Tech’s kickoff event shows how quickly bonds of teamwork and support have been forged among the DCTC scholars.

During the visit, Mr. Mark Krzysko, Principal Deputy, Acquisition Data and Analytics in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (A&S), sat down with a group of scholars over coffee to hear their impressions of the DCTC experience, share wisdom gained from his career in industry and government service, and encourage them to lean into every opportunity to learn and grow.

Faith Jones, a cybersecurity management and analytics major from Broadway, Virginia shared, “Before hearing about DCTC I didn’t know how to get a job or a clearance in the DoD. I look forward to attending the DCTC course more than any other class on campus, because the DCTC class has a direct link to my very near future. The curriculum material is exciting and meaningful and the instructor truly cares for our well-being.”

Nick McDermott, a national security and foreign affairs major from Towson, Maryland, who aspires to serve his country in the national security field, explained “I’m excited to see where the future of the DoD is going, especially in relation to data analytics and data management which closely ties to my major.”

Cameron Alemand, a political science major from Houston, Texas, and member of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, has enjoyed summer internships with the Coast Guard. He’s now learning what it means to serve in the DoD as a civilian. “I enjoy that the program focuses on your potential and develops scholars throughout their academic careers. There weren’t a lot of scholarship opportunities at my school and I’m so excited to be part of Cohort 0,” he explained.

DCTC helps scholars at Virginia Tech overcome traditional barriers to public service and prepares them to make an impact as a DoD civilian through an integrated curriculum and project based internships that include mentoring relationships.  Pualena Heather, an economics major from Aoloau, American Samoa shared, “Until now I have been unable to obtain an opportunity from USA Jobs and was contemplating shifting from the public sector to the private sector when my academic advisor introduced me to DCTC, which gives me the greatest opportunity to serve as a public servant.”

Welcome Aggie Scholars!

By Karen Thornton, AIRC Fellow, October 19, 2023

North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University has long been the nation’s leading producer of African American engineers at the undergraduate level. At a recent kickoff event on campus, Dr. Rosalind Jones Dale, Vice Provost for Engagement and Outreach expressed NCA&T’s pride in having been selected as one of 4 universities piloting the Defense Civilian Training Corps, which creates a pathway for students across a variety of disciplines into the defense acquisition workforce.

At the kickoff event, the 20 scholars who were chosen for NCA&T’s Cohort 0 participated in community and professional identity building activities.  Hizkiel Holloman, a business information technology major from Greensboro, NC observed, “I believe that the DCTC program will provide me the necessary tools to succeed in my area of study and grow in professional development, as I am able to learn from leaders working within the United States government. I am excited to continue the program and learn about how to keep our country safe through cybersecurity.”

In addition to the DCTC curriculum’s introduction to government leaders and change makers in the acquisition field, the NCA&T scholars recognize they have a lot to learn from each other and the varied approaches they take to problem-solving based on their diverse areas of study.

“The ability to collaborate with other students within the DCTC program has allowed me to meet new people and gain new perspectives on the functions of the United States government,” said Amaya Connor, a nursing and health service management major from Austin, Texas.

“I believe that our contributions as a cohort will leave an impact on our country, as the DCTC program provides us the opportunity to dedicate our work toward being a good public servant.” Jada Foote, a science business information technology major from Greensboro, North Carolina added. “The DCTC program has helped me to learn different research strategies and tactics from my peers that have assisted me in my academic studies.”

University of Arizona Scholars Visit the AMARG Boneyard

This blog entry is adapted from reflection papers submitted by Arizona scholars Andrew Pongrátz, Ellie Wolcott, Ceili Olney, & Michael Morales after the site visit, October 11, 2023.

On October 4, the University of Arizona cohort of DCTC scholars visited the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (309 AMARG) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (D-M AFB) in southern Tucson, Arizona, just 20 minutes south of the University of Arizona campus. AMARG is responsible for maintaining and repairing parts and equipment that are used by the Air Force as part of the acquisition process and for storing aircraft that are not in use but are maintained to ensure quality and airworthiness. “The Boneyard” is where old aircraft are stored on wide, open lots in the desert. The aircraft are preserved for longer in the hot, dry climate.  AMARG is located in Arizona because there is no corrosive salt water, and the ground is compacted.

“As a military brat and aerospace engineering student, I was really excited for the trip; being on base is both incredibly familiar and exciting to me,” explained Ellie Wolcott, an aerospace engineering major from Warner Robins, Georgia. “One of the things I was most surprised to learn during this trip was that AMARG is primarily run by civilians, not service members. Although I’ve known for a while that it is possible to work for the military without enlisting, I assumed prior to joining the DCTC that those jobs were few and far between. Now I know that civilian careers within the military are not only commonplace, but incredibly important.”

DCTC scholars spoke with Col. Neil Aurelio, supervisor for AMARG divisions, who briefed them on AMARG duties, capabilities, and potential summer internship projects where scholars can contribute to the mission, such as improving data analysis within the divisions to ensure more orderly flow of parts and resources. Scholars also spoke with engineers who are converting A-10 jets to be autonomous/remote-controlled by taking out human-centered parts to be replaced with remote capabilities, in-line with DoD’s push to increase automation throughout the services.

“I was really interested in some of the tasks he presented, most of which had ties to systems engineering,” said Wolcott.  “For example, Project #2 involved developing cost-effective manufacturing methods that could be used to build supports for stored aircraft. As he outlined these different problems faced by AMARG, I thought about how I would approach solving each one.”

Michael Morales, a business administration and management major from Douglas, Arizona observed, “I really enjoyed seeing how The Boneyard operates, and I learned a lot about the kind of work they do…. Seeing the work, and the potential projects we may have in our internships gave me some clarity on the kind of work we can contribute to.”

The conversation about repurposing of A-10 jets built upon DCTC classroom lessons about the DoD acquisition process and ways in which the Department continuously seeks to increase efficiency and ensure longevity of weapons & aircraft. AMARG plays an important role in the acquisition process because they are responsible for storing materials/parts that are no longer being made/procured.

“DCTC has been an incredibly eye-opening and educational experience so far and one that I was never expecting to have in college,” said Ceili Olney, a neuroscience and cognitive sciences major from Phoenix, Arizona. “Within the classroom, we have learned about the ins and outs of the DoD’s acquisition workforce, the importance of maintaining beneficial and mutual relationships with the government, industry, and academia, and how we might help move the DoD acquisition community into the modern age…. My biggest takeaways from our AMARG visit were that a revamped and more efficient asset management system would be mutually beneficial for The Boneyard and its customers and that decommissioned planes are really cool!”

Scholars were also able to speak with the manager of Parts & Reclamation division, which is responsible for reclaiming parts, pieces, and tools, from retired aircraft and ensuring those reclaimed pieces can be used within other areas of the services. They are also responsible for procuring parts for other divisions throughout the country. Basically the Amazon warehouse for various types of parts and pieces, they take requests from other divisions, find that part out in the storage area, and then mail it to the customer in a timely manner. As DoD changes posture and moves forward with different directives, AMARG is there to ensure that older aircraft and parts from retired aircraft can still be used to the full extent possible even as technology/priorities evolve.

Purdue Scholars Apply Classroom Knowledge to Make Learning Fun

By Karen Thornton, AIRC Fellow, September 27, 2023

Purdue scholar Belle Higginbotham, a game development & design/animation & VFX major from Louisville, Kentucky, was inspired to join DCTC by her father’s career in the military and government.  But it wasn’t obvious to her how her studies in game development and design could be used to contribute to national security.

That is until Belle met Dr. Payuna Uday, a research scientist with the Systems Engineering Research Center and proud Purdue alumna.  Dr. Uday joined the DCTC executive leadership team on a recent visit to Purdue and sought out Belle to tell her about work that SERC’s sister organization, the Acquisition Innovation Research Center (AIRC), is doing to build an online game to explain the different aspects of defense acquisition. “I was really happy [Dr. Uday] took the time to read my bio and come talk to me. It felt good to have that recognition. When she invited me to join the research team to provide my feedback as a designer it was the beginning of a strong and personal connection.”

Dr. Uday recognized that Belle’s coursework on game design and what makes games fun would benefit the AIRC team as it develops a game to teach users about defense acquisition. Dr. Uday connected with Belle’s DCTC professor, Dr. Ken Callahan, who agreed Belle’s role as an advisor to the acquisition game team would make an interesting micro-project for the DCTC class. Semester-long micro projects are part of the DCTC integrated curriculum and development to give scholars an opportunity to work in teams to research and analyze real-life defense challenges.

“Dr. Callahan does a great job of helping us build teams in class, but he doesn’t micromanage us,” Belle explained. “He creates opportunities for us to take initiative, learn about each other, and decide how our personalities blend. The multidisciplinary nature of the class makes that especially interesting.  For the gaming micro-project, I recruited my classmate John [Eberle] because he understood the financial issues in the game much faster than I could. I also recruited Armand [Destin] because her mechanical engineering background means she understands the problem in the game differently than I would. Together we’ll be able to create a more thorough presentation to our class about the acquisition game and its purpose.”

During the executive leadership team’s visit to Purdue, Belle also learned from AIRC fellow John Willison that the Army has a sizable civilian workforce whose mission is to develop virtual, interactive, and multimedia systems for outreach, education, simulation, and training. “He came right up to me as I was leaving class and said, ‘I saw your bio. I am working to set up summer internships with labs that do gaming work. You’re probably looking at Orlando or the West Coast, let me know your preference.’  It was amazing. At Purdue you can be a small fish in a big pond, but with DCTC, people have come looking for me.  It’s nice to have those who know what is needed in national security take an interest in me.”

We’ve Launched!

By Karen Thornton, AIRC Fellow, September 18, 2023

Dr William LaPlante, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment (A&S), officially launched the Defense Civilian Training Corps on September 7, welcoming 89 scholars at a virtual kickoff event. The event enabled scholars to meet with senior officials in the Department of Defense (DoD) and other distinguished guests who gathered to celebrate the launch. Scholars from all four pilot universities – Purdue University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NCA&T), the University of Arizona, and Virginia Tech – were introduced to each other and engaged in a Q&A session with senior officials who offered insight and encouragement based on their inspiring careers in the civilian service.

Mr. Mark Krzysko served as master of ceremonies in his role as Principal Deputy, Acquisition Data and Analytics in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (A&S). “The department has huge demands for creating a future workforce,” Krzysko said. “DCTC is a key component of that. For the scholars in the audience, [y]ou’ve been selected because of your talents, skills and desire for public service supporting national security. This program is designed to build those critical skills necessary for you to make a difference and have a successful career in the department.”

During DCTC launch week, Dr. Radha Iyengar Plumb, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (A&S) explained in remarks about acquisition for innovation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that DCTC is part of a “relentless sense of urgency” to expand recruitment and ensure the door is open to a generation of digital natives who are familiar with software enabled systems and seek a challenging career path.

To learn more about DCTC, watch Dr. LaPlante’s 2-minute video here.