Learning to Take the Lead

A new class of DAU Senior Service College Fellowship graduates in May, fresh from an intense, 10-month look at the whole Army and what’s at stake for acquisition leaders.

by James R. Oman, Col., USA (Ret.)

For the past 10 years, Defense Acquisition University’s (DAU ) Senior Service College Fellowship (SSCF) has provided civilian acquisition professionals with leadership education that, before the inception of the fellowship, had only been available to military personnel.

SSCF traces its beginnings to 2005, when the late Hon. Claude M. Bolton Jr., assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology (ASA(ALT)), and Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Yakovac Jr., principal military deputy to the ASA(ALT) and director for acquisition career management, identified the scarcity of leadership education available for civilian acquisition professionals at the GS-14 and GS-15 level. Bolton and Yakovac turned to DAU to develop a course to address this educational shortfall. Defense Acquisition University’s SSCF became a nationally recognized program designed to develop strong, effective senior leaders for the DOD acquisition community.

On May 15, 2006, Yakovac announced a pilot program for DA senior-level civilians in the Huntsville, Alabama, area. After the pilot’s success, the program expanded to Warren, Michigan, in 2007, and then to Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), Maryland, in 2009. These sites were selected because they were home to the Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Management Command (LCMC), the Tank and Automotive LCMC, and the Communications Electronics LCMC, respectively, after the completion of organizational movements associated with the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure. On March 28, 2013, the Army G-3 granted Military Equivalency Level 1 for fellowship graduates. DAU-SSCF is the only fellowship of its kind developed exclusively for senior civilian acquisition professionals.

“The goal,” DAU-SSCF Executive Director Mark Lumb recently stated, “is to produce leaders who have strong critical thinking skills and who can thrive in leading environments of uncertainty and chaos.”

DAU-SSCF fellowships are open to permanent DA acquisition civilians grades GS-14 or 15, or broadband equivalents. Non-Army DOD and non-DOD (federal or not) candidates also may apply. All those selected for SSCF will remain on their current organization’s roster while attending the SSCF program. Members of the Army Acquisition Workforce should obtain approval of their application through the appropriate command channels. (For more information go to http://asc.army.mil/web/career-development/programs/defense-acquisition-university-senior-service-college/.)

Key components of the fellowship include multiple joint courses and learning experiences designed to maximize each fellow’s understanding of DOD. The core areas of the fellowship are:

  • Leadership, graduate studies, the strategy research project;
  • The program manager’s course (PMT 401), and the national security policy and strategy course;
  • Mentoring;
  • The distinguished speaker series;
  • Site visits.

Courses overlap these core areas to maximize the values of an iterative learning process. In the leadership area, fellows attend and receive credit for participation in master’s degree-level courses focused on leadership that are embedded within the curriculum, as well as the following DAU courses: PMT 401; ACQ 450, Leading in the Acquisition Environment; ACQ 452, Forging Stakeholder Relationships; and ACQ 453, Leader as Coach. DAU also provides extensive leadership training with interactive courses by VitalSmarts, which include Crucial Conversations, Influencer and Crucial Accountability, Franklin Convey’s Leading at the Speed of Trust course, and ethics. Fellows without a master’s degree may opt to pursue a fully funded master’s degree in management and leadership during off-duty hours. The master’s degree program runs concurrently with the SSCF.

RESEARCH AND DOCUMENTATION
An intrinsic component of the program is the intensive strategy research project. Fellows begin the process with the selection of a leadership topic of interest to the acquisition workforce. Working with the APG SSCF director and project advisers from the DAU faculty or acquisition community, the fellows conduct research and produce a paper of academic quality that is relevant to the acquisition workforce.

The May 2016 Huntsville class of fellows, from left to right: in the back row, Fred Little, Angela Jones, Ruby Price, Shawn Gresham, Daniel Hernandez; in the front row: Bob Domitrovich, Jennifer Stephenson, Cheryl Hickman, Noel Paschal, Nate Curry. The fellowship, designed to cultivate civilian acquisition leadership by offering educational and professional development opportunities similar to those available to military personnel, is offered at Huntsville, Alabama, Warren, Michigan, and Aberdeen, Maryland.

WIDENED PERSPECTIVE
The May 2016 Huntsville class of fellows, from left to right: in the back row, Fred Little, Angela Jones, Ruby Price, Shawn Gresham, Daniel Hernandez; in the front row: Bob Domitrovich, Jennifer Stephenson, Cheryl Hickman, Noel Paschal, Nate Curry. The fellowship, designed to cultivate civilian acquisition leadership by offering educational and professional development opportunities similar to those available to military personnel, is offered at Huntsville, Alabama, Warren, Michigan, and Aberdeen, Maryland.

To date, several SSCF graduates have used their strategy research project as a starting point for additional research and have produced articles that have been published in acquisition publications, contributing immeasurably to the body of knowledge associated with the profession. Previously, Larry Muzzelo, APG SSCF Class of 2013, in partnership with his project adviser, DAU professor Craig Arndt, wrote “Data Rights for Science and Technology Projects,” which appeared in the April 2014 edition of the Defense Acquisition Research Journal. Most recently, Nick Saacks, a graduate of APG SSCF Class of 2016, published “Reforming Motivation,” from his strategy research project, in the October-December 2016 edition of Army AL&T magazine.

MENTORING, TRAVEL, STUDY
The mentoring component fosters an understanding of a cooperative, supportive and encouraging relationship between a wise counselor and a lesser experienced person who wants to learn and gain valuable insight into an area. “My bag of leadership tools is much deeper and broader,” Jim Muldoon, Warren SSCF Class of 2015, said after working with his mentor over the academic year.

The national security component of the fellowship includes a Capitol Hill workshop (see companion article) as well as multiple other opportunities throughout the fellowship’s 10 months that examine the variables that affect national security policy. Through a partnership with the U.S. Army War College, the fellows participate in small-group seminar discussions and attend security strategy conferences. Fellows also visit geographical combatant commands to gain a practical understanding of the elements of power and the international system and environment.

Visits to those commands, in the United States and in Europe, combined with stops and briefings at NATO, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) and U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR), provide further context, understanding and linkage from the national strategic to the operational level. Each of these experiences underscores the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment that will characterize the fellows’ post-graduation assignments. “The overseas visit to EUCOM, USAREUR and SHAPE in Mons, Belgium, as well as visits to all of the training centers, was a great opportunity to speak directly with users and key decision makers in the operational environment,” said Daniel Schwartz, APG SSCF Class of 2016.

The fellowship’s distinguished guest speakers and site visits provide the fellows with opportunities to listen to and interact with senior leaders and experts in a variety of fields, as well seeing, firsthand, the operations of a plethora of organizations. These include visits to DOD organizations, command centers, industry and local battlefields. Periodic readings of selected leadership-themed books, culminating in fellow-led and facilitated reviews, offer additional opportunities to understand relevant perspectives, along with supplemental tours and other activities.

Fellows from the Senior Service College Fellowship at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland; Huntsville, Alabama, and Warren, Michigan, spent Sept. 12-13, 2016, on Capitol Hill in Washington, hearing from current and former newsmakers, journalists, consultants, congressional staff and lobbyists. Fellows take a deep dive into acquisition policy through travel, lectures from guest speakers, and book discussions, in addition to DAU coursework. (Photos courtesy of James R. Oman, Col., USA (Ret.))

VISITING CAPITOL HILL
Fellows from the Senior Service College Fellowship at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland; Huntsville, Alabama, and Warren, Michigan, spent Sept. 12-13, 2016, on Capitol Hill in Washington, hearing from current and former newsmakers, journalists, consultants, congressional staff and lobbyists. Fellows take a deep dive into acquisition policy through travel, lectures from guest speakers, and book discussions, in addition to DAU coursework. (Photos courtesy of James R. Oman, Col., USA (Ret.))

CONCLUSION
Over 10 months, fellows are required to work hard, develop their intellects, sharpen their understanding of acquisition processes and enhance their leadership skills. SSCF requires students to read and study in order to acquire knowledge; to discuss in order to subject their views to the rigors of thoughtful examination; to investigate in order to learn how to ask the right questions and how to find the right answers; and, finally, to write in order to impose structure on their thoughts. “I am a better leader, employee and family member since taking SSCF,” said Colleen Setili, Warren SSCF Class of 2013.

While Army Acquisition Workforce members make up the majority of DAU-SSCF participants, acquisition workforce members of the other services as well as DOD agencies are welcome to apply as long as they meet eligibility requirements. To date, after 10 years of classes, the DAU-SSCF has educated, developed and graduated 215 senior civilian acquisition professionals. All of the graduates are contributing in positions of greater responsibility, with many performing in key leadership roles such as product and project managers, program executive officers, and other acquisition leadership positions where they make significant contributions on a daily basis. On May 23, 2017, 25 fellows will join the ranks of SSCF alumni, and each will begin to make their mark within the acquisition community. Schwartz, the APG SSCF Class of 2016 graduate, recently summed up his feelings about his experience: “The entire SSCF program was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grow, learn and be a more effective leader and person.” Wing Young, also of the APG Class of 2016, added, “Applying to the program is one of the wisest decisions I made.”

For more information, go to http://www.dau.mil/SSCF/default.aspx.

JAMES R. OMAN, COL., USA (RET.), is SSCF director for DAU at APG. He holds a master of strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College, a master of arts in management from Webster University, and a bachelor of science from Bowling Green State University. He retired from the Army in 2008 after 30 years of service, serving his last five years on active duty as chairman of the Department of Command, Leadership and Management at the Army War College. He joined DAU in September 2008. He is a member of the Defense Acquisition Corps and is Level III certified in program management.

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Senior Service College Fellowship for DOD acquisition community