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The 49th annual National Naval Officers Association (NNOA) Leadership, Professional Development and Training Symposium marked the first event held by a military organization via Stem City USA.

The online community helps the general public, science. technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professionals, and students network and find resources that will help them advance their STEM careers. The NNOA Symposium was an excellent example of how this platform can be used to connect people to achieve a common goal.

The conference focused on the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the United States Navy and how to reach individual goals. Speakers told stories about how they arrived at different milestones throughout their careers and how they are helping the Navy represent the public more effectively through NNOA and beyond.

Adm. William Lescher emphasized the importance of activity and outcome-focused learning to further advance the Navy and raise awareness about issues that still exist in the branch. Training and education courses about diversity, equity, and inclusion are a good starting point in the effort to “make the Navy better.”

Some members of the audience asked questions around recognizing the achievements of underrepresented communities rather than just acknowledging “firsts.” Lescher noted that sometimes the issues leaders face are not very representative of the community, but he is putting in the work to achieve the representation needed.

The audience agreed that diversity and inclusion go beyond representation and that in order to reach true DEI, these groups must be celebrated for their contributions to the military.

Naval Inspector General John Fuller said that a good leader has a few common characteristics which include serenity, courage, wisdom, motivation, and perseverance. Leaders should also be able to successfully translate and understand complaints in order to find a solution to problems that are presented to them. Fuller said that the way people present themselves on social media is also important and people must assume they are always being watched.

Questions about how people are held accountable flooded the chat during the conference. Fuller said perspective is especially important because people have different ideas about what’s wrong versus what’s right. He said officers should be measured on how qualified they are to review and solve complaints.

Dr. Charles “Chuck” Barber is part of the strategic team established in April. Barber said that in order to build a team that represents the whole population, diversity is especially important. The team is made up of people with several different backgrounds including race, ethnicity, education, and political views.

Barber said that newsletters are becoming obsolete, and leaders must reach audiences through more modern forms of communication. He also believes that it is important to hear from other branches and how they are making efforts to improve. “Diversity and inclusion are good for humanity,” Barber said.

Secretary of the Navy in Financial Management and Comptroller for the Navy, Alaleh Jenkins, is a first-generation immigrant and spoke about her experiences during her journey to success.

Jenkins came to the United States by herself at age 18 with $700 in her pocket and she said that initially she felt abandoned and angry with her parents for sending her to the US alone, but she now believes that this was the best decision for her. “You will go to school, you will get a job, and you will survive,” Jenkins said to herself upon arrival.

Jenkins said she was timid and didn’t stand up for herself much at the beginning of her career but quickly learned that in order to get to where she wanted to be, she must ask for other responsibilities and push herself out of her comfort zone. She holds her loved ones to the same standard and practices “tough love” to encourage them to be the best version of themselves.

Full annual financial audits began four years ago to monitor how the Navy is spending its money. Jenkins said that her work is an essential service because it promotes fiscal responsibility for the branch.

Retired Rear Adm. Sinclair Harris, president of the NNOA, ended the conference by thanking Tyrone Taborn, CEO of Career Communications Group for continuing to partner with the organization to help promote their mission.

Harris said he looks forward to the Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) STEM Conference, which will be held on Feb. 17-19, 2022.

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