TITLE: Program analyst
COMMAND/ORGANIZATION:Deputy Undersecretary of the Army for Test and Evaluation
ACQUISITION CAREER FIELD: Test and evaluation
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 13
MILITARY OR CIVILIAN: Civilian
AAW/DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in test and evaluation
EDUCATION: B.S. in environmental science with an emphasis in marine biology
HOMETOWN: Elkridge, Maryland
AWARDS: Commander’s Award, 2018
by Ellen Summey
Mumbi Thande-Kamiru knows how to tell a story. Like, when her parents moved the family from the District of Columbia to Kenya and started a farm. Or when she taught GED classes in Maryland. Or when she participated in Model United Nations debates in the actual General Assembly hall at the United Nations Office at Nairobi, the UN’s headquarters in Africa. Or when her dad sent her around the neighborhood selling vegetables, to teach her a new skill. She has a fascinating background, which is just what her parents intended.
“My parents were kind of nomads,” she laughed. “They were very invested in us understanding as many potential walks of life as possible.” And she took that lesson to heart, studying environmental science in college and focusing on classes that were both interesting and useful. “I’ve always been interested in the practicality of knowledge, like, it doesn’t make sense to know all these things if there’s no practical application.” So, no Underwater Basket Weaving 101 for her.
Today, Thande-Kamiru works as a program analyst for the Deputy Undersecretary of the Army for Test and Evaluation (DUSA T&E). “I assist DUSA T&E in providing oversight to the T&E portfolio for the Army,” she said. “I am tasked with understanding the sustainment and real property needs of the T&E enterprise.” It doesn’t get much more practical than that.
So, how did she end up there? “After college, I was working for the Frederick County Health Department in Maryland, inspecting schools, food service facilities and other buildings, ensuring sanitation and safety.” When a family friend started talking about his work with the Army’s Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC), she was intrigued. “I thought, oh, that sounds really interesting.” She applied and was accepted to the Federal Career Intern Program, and she’s never looked back. “When I started with the Army, I was in my early 20s,” she said. “I had some very strong opinions about life. Working for the Army is really where I matured and where I understood the value of hard work.” She learned the importance of trying and failing and trying again, of being a trusted teammate and of helping to guide others. “I’ve really appreciated the growth I’ve had professionally and personally, in regards to how I relate to people, and how I’ve learned to be more analytical, as well,” she said. “I have worked with very smart people and was consistently challenged to learn more in terms of statistical analysis and test methodology, in addition to learning how to efficiently communicate key information to decision makers.”
She recently completed the fiscal year 2020 Inspiring and Developing Excellence in Acquisition Leaders (IDEAL) program, which is sponsored by the Office of the Director of Acquisition Career Management. Targeted to midcareer Army Acquisition Workforce civilians at GS-12 through GS-14, the program prepares participants for future leadership positions. Thande-Kamiru said the experience was very worthwhile, and she encouraged eligible civilians to apply. “I loved the content and I loved my cohort. I was blessed enough to have classmates who were honest, thoughtful and engaging,” she said. “Our instructors were knowledgeable and open to helping us apply the lessons taught in class to our real life challenges.” Always focused on the practicality of education, she is quick to share those lessons with others, providing encouragement and reassurance to junior acquisition personnel.
“I know it can be very intimidating when you first start,” she said. “Be willing to work and be willing to learn from your mistakes and humbly admit them.” Early in her career, she said she felt like she needed to be perfect at her job, and have the answers to every question—but that approach ultimately made things more difficult. “It held me back and even impeded my efficacy,” she recalled. “I tell all the junior acquisition personnel to ‘embrace the suck’ and to be prepared to get back up after you have been knocked down.” She also encourages them to build a broad network of professional connections from different career fields. “They can inform you of opportunities that are not on your radar and give you a loving push into opportunities that you may not have pursued.”
Thande-Kamiru said she is grateful for the learning opportunities that she’s been given in her career so far. “Where I was truly stretched was in the developmental assignments I took during my time at ATEC,” she said. First, she took a part-time developmental assignment in ATEC’s G-1 office, where she worked on policies for leadership development and mentorship. Next, she was assigned to the Strategic Initiatives Group with the Army Evaluation Center (AEC) headquarters. “There, I further developed a training initiative for AEC employees, on what they need to know to be an evaluator and test manager,” she said. And she took advantage of just about any form of training that was offered to her. “I found leadership classes provided at Aberdeen Proving Ground [Maryland], such as the Emerging Leadership cohort classes, to be really helpful. They provided me an opportunity to look at challenges that I was facing at work from a different perspective and come up with solutions utilizing the skills I learned.” The most important lesson she’s learned so far is the importance of knowing her own worth. “It is so important to be your own best advocate,” she said. “Whether it be advocating for new opportunities or whether it be standing up for your reputation, you have to be prepared to stand up for yourself sometimes.”
Earlier this year, she put those theories to the test. She was working in a developmental assignment with the technical director of Aberdeen Test Center, assisting with strategic challenges facing the center. And then came the pandemic. “I was in this role when COVID-19 hit, and I was chosen to spearhead an effort to determine a disinfection protocol that would help keep the center open and safe,” she said. Because of her background as an evaluator for decontamination solutions and her experience with data analysis, she was the right fit for the difficult task. “It was a challenging effort developing requirements and looking at the ever-growing list of EPA-approved systems. It was a great experience, and I’m thankful to my mentor for encouraging me to stretch myself and apply for the assignment,” she said.
Thande-Kamiru, the storyteller and perpetual student, is walking proof of her own advice—stay curious, try new things, know your worth and look for practical knowledge wherever possible.
“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/.
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