COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors
TITLE: Procurement coordinator
ACQUISITION CAREER FIELD: Business and industry, contracting
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 10
MILITARY OR CIVILIAN: Civilian
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level I in contracting
EDUCATION: B.A. in psychology, Notre Dame of Maryland University
HOMETOWN: Havre de Grace, Maryland
by Ellen Summey
Steffani McQuerrey has built her career around a desire to help others—quite literally. Diagnosed with cancer as a teen, she observed the important and impactful work of hospital psychologists in the children’s ward. “When I was going through treatments, I learned that there is a job called ‘child life specialist,’ which is someone who works in the hospital, primarily in the wings where there are kids with life-threatening illnesses, and they offer activities as well as someone to talk to about what they’re experiencing, which is really important for kids.” She immediately felt drawn to that kind of work, and was inspired to use her experience to help others going through a difficult medical diagnosis. She entered college a short time later, majored in psychology, and then started an internship at a hospital during her senior year. But she quickly realized it wasn’t the right fit. “I just couldn’t be in the hospital again every day,” she said. “It just didn’t work for me, emotionally.”
So, she finished her degree and then started looking for a new career path. As a native of northeast Maryland and the daughter and granddaughter of Soldiers who had both been stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), she already had lifelong ties to the Army. “My mom was born on APG,” she laughed. “My grandparents actually met at APG when my grandfather was stationed here, so it’s been home for our family since then.” McQuerrey had previously held a summer job as a contractor at Aberdeen, so she went back there. “I was working on a task order, doing mind-numbing data entry, to be completely honest,” she said. But that’s where she began to learn the fundamentals of government contracting and started to envision a new career for herself.
“I was trying to figure out at that time what I was going to do, and someone on my team handed me a copy of Contract Management magazine. They said, you know, ‘This is a growing industry, and you should look into it,’ and I did.” She would eventually move on to task order management and administration positions with the same company, where she also pursued training and certification. “I went back to school and took classes in government contracting and got certified by NCMA (the National Contract Management Association) in federal contract management,” she said. And the rest is history.
Today, McQuerrey works as a procurement coordinator for the Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors (PEO IEW&S) at APG. She primarily supports the Project Director for Sensors-Aerial Intelligence and the Project Manager for Electronic Warfare and Cyber. “I help them review documents, make sure that they are following the applicable federal and agency regulations—all that kind of fun stuff—to make sure that our PMs (project managers), PDMs (product managers) and product leads can get the contracts in place that they need, to deliver their products to the warfighter,” she said. “I really just like being able to help people, and this job gives me the opportunity to do that day in and day out, and also connect with people while I’m doing it. It’s an interesting and satisfying job.”
The most challenging thing about her job, she said, is finding a way to a “responsible yes.” “I heard once that people tend to think that in contracting our job is to tell everyone ‘No.’ ” But that couldn’t be farther from the truth, she said. “Because there are so many different products, and Army requirements often fluctuate and pivot to different priorities, there’s not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for contracting.” McQuerrey said she has to be familiar with each of the PMs and their products, and understand what it is they’re trying to accomplish, in order to give them the best advice about how they can achieve their goals. “It takes the basic knowledge of what can we do, what can’t we do, and what may lie in the gray areas in between, where we can think outside the box and get creative,” she said. “It’s being aware of all the different regulations and statutes we have to follow, but still delivering the product we need to.”
If the goal is the “responsible yes,” McQuerrey said the key is active listening. “I have a tendency to want to immediately problem solve and my tendency when someone is speaking to me, especially at work, is to not necessarily listen deeply—my brain wants to come up with a response. I’m listening to respond, instead of listening to hear what someone is telling me.” She has learned that she has to make a conscious effort to practice active listening. “When I’m really hearing what their concern is, I’m better able to determine how I can be helpful to them, instead of only half listening while simultaneously trying to come up with a solution.” It’s something she tries to practice in her personal life, as well, with friends and family. “When they come to me, I have to ask, ‘Do you just need me to listen or do you want me to try to give you some advice?’ Depending on the answer, I can change the way that I listen.”
Since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, McQuerrey has focused on solutions of her own, as well. She is working remotely and balancing the demands of parenting her school-age daughter. “Right now, our life is pretty busy, you know. I’m working at home, she’s doing school at home, so that’s been a challenge I think, but also one that we’ve figured out how to tackle, successfully.” She has spent much of her free time reading, tending to her potted plants and doing yoga in her living room, and she has also taken up an old hobby—playing violin. “I played the violin from elementary through high school, and when I went to college I was in a chamber orchestra,” she said. Though she didn’t have as much free time after becoming a parent, COVID-19 has provided ample opportunities to practice during the last year. “My daughter is 11 now, and she is very independent, and I just said, ‘You know what, I’m going to get that out and pick it back up.’ ”
Professionally, McQuerrey encourages others to make time for themselves and to focus on work-life balance. “All of our senior leadership, I think, is really supportive,” she said. “Having a balance in the work-life ratio is emphasized within the PEO IEW&S family. Taking care of yourself, taking care of each other—you know, it’s not just about our work products, they care about us as people as well.” That has always been the bottom line for McQuerrey, both personally and professionally. When presented with any kind of challenge, her first impulse is to listen carefully, assess the situation and then find a way to help.
“Faces of the Force” is an online series highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce through the power of individual stories. Profiles are produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication and Support Branch, working closely with public affairs officers to feature Soldiers and civilians serving in various AL&T disciplines. For more information, or to nominate someone, please go to https://asc.army.mil/web/publications/army-alt-submissions/.