Reaping The Benefits Of Experiential Learning

By November 11, 2019Faces of the Force
Faces of the Force: Ollison
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Sheila M. Ollison

TITLE: Lead program manager
COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Project Manager for Defensive Cyber Operations, Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems (matrixed from Tobyhanna Army Depot)
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 4
YEARS OF MILITARY SERVICE: 22
AAW/DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in program management and Level I in contracting, information technology and life cycle logistics; Project Management Professional; Certified Professional Contracts Manager; Certified Federal Contracts Manager
EDUCATION: Doctor of Business Administration candidate, California Southern University; MBA, Webster University; M.A. in procurement and acquisition management, Webster University; B.S. in management, Park University
AWARDS: Joint Service Commendation Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Southwest Asia Service Medal (three bronze service stars), Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Korean Defense Service Medal, Iraqi Campaign Medal (with campaign star), Saudi Arabia and Kuwait Liberation Medal, Parachutist Badge, Honorable Order of Saint Barbara recipient, various Department of the Army Civilian Certificates of Appreciation and Special Act/Service Award


 

by Susan L. Follett

Sheila Ollison’s resume might indicate that she’s been an acquisition civilian for just four years, but don’t let that relatively low number mislead you into thinking she’s inexperienced. Behind that four years are 22 years on active duty, including finance experience as an enlisted Soldier and product and project management experience as an acquisition officer, and four years in private industry as an acquisition contractor, in such positions as deputy division manager, acquisition program manager and senior operations manager.

For Ollison, working in acquisition as a civilian is the best way to give back after active duty. “There is no other profession in the world that can emulate the experience, lessons learned, networking, selfless service, teamwork, education, values, ethics and training that the Army provided,” she said.

She now serves as lead program manager for Project Manager Defensive Cyber Operations (DCO) within the Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems (PEO EIS), spearheading multiple contracting actions. Ollison, who’s technically part of Tobyhanna Army Depot but is a matrix employee to PEO EIS, oversees analysis and evaluation of acquisition strategies, plans and techniques of pre- and post-award functions related to information technology procurement programs.

She first started at PEO EIS as a project management specialist within the Installation Information Infrastructure Modernization Program. “What appealed to me was the magnitude of learning and opportunities available to reach the next level,” she said. “In addition, the diversity in skill sets of the people I work with makes the job fascinating. Every person comes with a different set of skills, ideas and experiences that facilitates task accomplishment. I have made many new friends across PEO EIS, which energizes me and keeps my momentum going.”

In August, she completed the Emerging Enterprise Leaders (EEL) program, a one-year developmental program that provides aspiring leaders with specialized junior leader development, and incorporates mentoring, team-based problem solving and developmental assignments.

The program was “an excellent opportunity to learn about contemporary leadership and management and to meld the EEL experience with what I’ve learned throughout my career,” Ollison said. And while the leadership topics were well-considered, “it was difficult to apply and synthesize the material in an acquisitions context. The case studies at our disposal didn’t really give us a chance to apply what we had learned in a leadership-specific capstone project.” Ollison met with Joyce Junior, the EEL program manager, and obtained her approval to develop a real-world, team building, problem-solving case study to apply the leadership concepts participants had learned throughout the course, including crucial conversations, the Gallup Strengths Finder, team chemistry, Army values and ethics. Junior was receptive to the idea, and got the go-ahead from her leadership at the Director, Acquisition Career Management Office, Jack Kendall and M. Randy Williams, for Ollison and her classmates to move forward with the study.

The case study was based on Goodwill Omaha, which was rebuilding following an investigation that revealed fraud, financial mismanagement, nepotism and contracting irregularities. Students answered questions on a range of issues, including ethical and cultural climate, salary and compensation inequities, conflicts of interest and leading an organization through a cultural change, and presented their findings to the company president and CEO, Dr. Mike McGinnis, a retired Army general; Scott Semrad, chairman of the Goodwill board of directors; and an independent government senior leader—Jesse Citizen, director of the Defense Modeling and Simulation Coordination Office within the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.

“Having the opportunity to explore real-world leadership challenges and receive feedback in person from senior executives and professionals in the field was invaluable,” Ollison said. “Using what we learned and actually working on real issues was such a great experience; it really brought course concepts like ethical dilemmas, crucial conversations and leadership crises to life, and it’s something we’ll all remember for a long time. An updated version of the case study will be used in the next session of EEL, which is also great to see.” Many of the EEL recommendations matched steps that Goodwill had already taken, she added, “which further validated what we learned and the work we did.”

The graduates of EEL Cohort 1

The graduates of EEL Cohort 1; Ollison is second from the right. (Photo courtesy of Sheila Ollison)

 

Ollison detailed two key takeaways from her EEL experience: organizational leaders must build trust through communicating, in word and in action, the organization’s vision, mission and goals; and a lack of awareness of available organizational resources can negatively impact performance and learning, and slow productivity. She’s quickly putting to work some of what she learned relative to that second takeaway.

“After learning about the purpose and the impact of the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund (DAWDF) initiatives, I quickly became an evangelist for using that fund,” she said. She used funds from the program to fill a Project Manager for Defensive Cyber Operations (PM DCO) request to train seven members of its staff before they deployed overseas. “Funding is always a big concern in any organization. Without the ability to apply resources to train the workforce on emerging information technologies or acquisition methods, efficiency slows and readiness is degraded,” she said. “DAWDF fills funding gaps in specialized training and career development that aren’t offered through the traditional Defense Acquisition University programs, as well as retention, recognition, recruitment and hiring—all of which are needed to obtain and sustain mission readiness, especially within dynamic work environments like PM DCO.”


“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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