UCAR Communications


staff notes monthly

June 2003

From tanks to science:
How Katy Schmoll came to UCAR

When Richard Nixon was vice president back in the 1950s, he made an appearance in Katy Schmoll’s hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana—on the same day she had to stay home from school with a case of hives. Katy’s mother took her to see him, and six-year-old Katy decided right then that she wanted to work for the government someday. The only other serious option she saw for herself at the time was becoming a Broadway musical star.

“So one of my first mentors was Richard Nixon,” jokes Katy, who is now a vice president herself of finance and administration in UCAR. “Not many people know about that.”

On 8 May, Katy gave a summary of her career and some of her thoughts on management, mentoring, and different work environments in a presentation titled “I’m From the Government and I’m Here to Help You.” Her talk, held at the Center Green auditorium, was part of the mentoring and coaching series organized by the Coaching Peers group. About 100 staffers attended.

Katy’s government career started in Sterling Heights, Michigan, where she got a job shortly after college graduation with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Command. Not only did she think the town was awful, but she had to read defense acquisitions regulations all day and found she had little in common with many of her colleagues.

“I went home after the first night and thought seriously about McDonald’s being not that bad of a career,” she told the audience.

But Katy stuck it out and found a good mentor who could teach her about contracting. She took this knowledge to her next job at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, where she worked on the Hubbell Space Telescope and other projects.

“I got to do some very exciting things at NASA, but mostly, just working there was really exciting,” she said. She credited this to NASA’s fascinating projects, interesting people, and the sense of contributing to cutting-edge science that employees there have.

At NASA Katy learned the importance of asking her colleagues questions about their work and giving them recognition. She encountered large egos but decided to take her job—not herself—seriously.

After 16 years at NASA, she decided it was time to move on and went to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where she worked as a comptroller overseeing 350 employees.

“It was the most challenging job I’ve ever had,” she recalled. “It was extremely stressful.”

Unlike NASA, which at the time enjoyed broad public support for its mission, the politics surrounding the EPA could be nasty, she explained.

The neighborhood surrounding the EPA’s Washington, D.C., office was even rougher than the politics. And then there were the routine 14-hour workdays.

So after four years at the EPA, Katy made the decision to leave Washington and head west to join UCAR in 1997. Her first impression was “Boy, this is pretty country!” as she watched deer outside her window in the Fleischmann Building. Her second impression was that people actually have lives here—she would find herself home from work at 5:30 p.m. and wonder how to spend all her newfound free time.

At her finance and administration post, Katy considers herself a mentor as well as an administrator. She gave the audience a list of traits that she thinks are most important for mentors: openness, honesty, trust, and integrity; a positive approach; a sense of humor; and good role-modeling skills.

“You can’t expect someone to act a certain way if you don’t act that way yourself,” she said.

Katy recommended that UCAR/ NCAR staffers take advantage of the educational opportunities offered by the organization to keep themselves motivated, and that they make a point of asking questions and learning about their colleagues’ work.

If she could change anything about the organization, she concluded, it would be to increase recognition of the contributions of administrative staff. “This organization exists because of scientists,” she said, “but it’s the administrative people in this room who make it possible for them to do what they do.” •Nicole Gordon

Also in this issue...

NCAR again hires a diverse cadre of young scientists

Learning to lead

Random Profile: Eric Gilleland

Spring Fling

RAP wins NASA award

Delphi Question: Stolen car

A new rapid-scan radar for fast-changing storms

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