Marnita Harris and Allison Laera

To retain a high-quality workforce, Program Executive Office Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation (PEO STRI) leaders are committed not only to the warfighter, but also to providing a career path that will develop expertise as well as an exciting professional and personal challenge. PEO STRI’s intern program provides a strong start toward building a career within the Contracting and Acquisition Career Program 14.

A VISION
In 2007, Kim Denver, then PEO STRI Acquisition Director and Principal Assistant Responsible for Contracting (PARC), had a vision to establish an intern program within the Acquisition Center. “The purpose of establishing a robust intern program was to address the disparity between the high demand for and low supply of qualified contracting personnel based on the significant vacancies in contracting across DOD,” she said. “The most effective approach to address the issue was to develop an intern program to hire new employees and develop them into seasoned contracting professionals.”

In 2009, Joseph A. Giunta Jr. was appointed as the PARC for the PEO STRI Acquisition Center. He is involved with the progress of the intern program.

Giunta selects one intern per week to attend the program executive officer’s staff meeting. These meetings, in which senior leadership discusses current issues and future planning, are a valuable experience for the interns to watch leaders make decisions, discuss programs, and work together.

“The quality of the interns we are bringing into the PEO STRI Acquisition Center workforce today is outstanding,” said Giunta. “The PEO’s investment in the Acquisition Academy and other initiatives focused on recruiting and selections have proved to be a great success, and I am extremely confident and excited about the future of our young contracting workforce.”

PROGRAM ENVIRONMENT
Emilce Hessler, Senior Procurement Analyst, provides a stable training environment that promotes growth and career advancement. Hessler has supplied a structured schedule for interns to receive Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act certification, yearly rotations among the various divisions, and 30-day rotations for experience in the Office of Small Business Programs and the Acquisition Center’s Policy Division.

The interns gain valuable knowledge through this structured environment while working on the job, rotating positions, completing required training, and doing special projects. Hessler provides a sounding board for interns, gives advice when needed, and is available to provide any assistance that interns need during their first three years of government employment. “It’s been extremely rewarding to be a part of an individual’s professional development and to witness personal growth,” she said.

The PEO’s investment in the Acquisition Academy and other initiatives focused on recruiting and selections have proved to be a great success, and I am extremely confident and excited about the future of our young contracting workforce.

SPECIALIZED TRAINING
Interns are provided with an opportunity to further their professional careers within a structured environment. Specialized training in the program is accomplished through the Acquisition Academy, on-the-job training, rotational cross-training, and continuous learning.

Interns attend the Acquisition Academy for 11 weeks before entering the workforce. They receive valuable information preparing them to succeed as federal employees, including Army organizations, installations, ranks, and structure. This training program is composed of various career fields to include engineer, budget analyst, program analyst, acquisition contract specialist, logistics management specialist, and project director intern. Subject matter experts provide daily training to the interns on topics such as the basics of contract types, financial regulations, market research, source selection criteria, performance-based logistics, small business requirements, risk management, and legal reviews.

After successful completion of the academy, interns enter the workforce and are assigned to a senior contract specialist for mentorship, to help the interns become more self-confident and competent in their careers.

Lovisa Parks, Senior Contract Specialist at PEO STRI, stated, “You are only as good as the organization you work for and the people who you share your values and corporate culture with. I chose to help junior contract specialists because eventually we will be working side by side, and I may even eventually end up working for them. Mentorship will only enrich your life and add value to your organization as a whole.”

On-the-job training offers interns the opportunity to learn different skill sets. It also allows them to develop their own time management system that best facilitates multitasking on-the-job. Interns attend meetings with contractors, integrated product teams, and other contract specialists. Senior contract specialists also advise interns on answering questions from Integrated Product Teams or contractors. Interns are delegated new tasks as their knowledge base grows. Interns learn how to use the Standard Procurement System while learning how to choose which contract vehicle to use. They also learn contract administration, file management, and contract modifications, and are trained in how to document the file, interpret and implement laws and regulations, and use the Federal Acquisition Regulation.

At monthly meetings, guest speakers elaborate on topics such as the Government Purchase Card Program, Procurement Administration Lead Time Memo, policy updates, and temporary duty tips. Interns also present topics to the group to gain presentation experience.

While performing the duties of a business advisor, the interns are coached in determining the best solution and developing a decision.

The program lays the foundation for networking opportunities as well. The interns are in direct contact with senior leadership, guest speakers, and other interns, which helps to build future relationships within their new career fields. Successful completion of the management training program leads to a full-performance federal acquisition career with the potential to move into mid- or high-level management positions.

VOICES OF EXPERIENCE
“Beginning my Army career in the Acquisition Academy, I was able to meet and learn from program and budget analysts, engineers, and fellow contract specialists,” said Susan Abascal, a contract specialist intern. “By making these connections early on, I am now able to find support from these colleagues throughout my rotations.”

On-the-job training offers interns the opportunity to learn different skill sets. It also allows them to develop their own time management system that best facilitates multitasking on-the-job.

Michelle D. Williams, a recent intern graduate, said her experience from the intern program was gratifying and humbling, considering how her work influences the warfighter. “Learning how to do what we do by being exposed to different divisions and departments through on-the-job training, courses, and mentoring has contributed to my professional development immensely. I am confident this growth will continue and follow me throughout my career. The simulation, training, and instrumentation area of acquisition directly affects the warfighter, because without the proper training, products, and services—along with the maintenance and sustainment of these products and services being put on contract [on time] and efficiently—our Soldiers would not receive proper training, which can negatively impact their service to our homeland.”


  • MARNITA HARRIS is a PEO STRI Contract Specialist. She holds a B.S. in business management and an M.B.A. from Indiana Wesleyan University. Harris is certified Level III in contracting.
  • ALLISON LAERA is a PEO STRI Contract Specialist. She holds a B.S.B.A. in management information systems and an M.B.A. from the University of Central Florida. Laera is certified Level I in contracting.