By NUWC Division Newport Public Affairs
When the coronavirus pandemic pushed much of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport workforce into telework status for an extended period last year, connectivity became vital. It was also challenging, with so many people dispersed like confetti across the region and country.
So to stay connected with co-workers, Cassandra Tompkins, a scientist in Division Newport’s Undersea Warfare Combat Systems Department, created a daily “Story Circle” series on an internal social media network. The series started as a casual way to communicate during a difficult time, but later transformed into a valuable method of engaging in meaningful conversation with her colleagues.
Tompkins, a resident of Fall River, Massachusetts, has posted more than 240 stories since March 2020 and she is still going.
“I realized that I wouldn’t be able to mentor my co-workers, and share my knowledge and experiences, which is what I did in person. Not being in person, how would I do that?” Tompkins said. “I wanted to encourage others to join in, like sharing stories around a campfire. Mostly I wanted to share stories others have experienced, to echo their expertise.”
She began by researching TED Talks and magazine articles on topics of interest to the workforce. Leadership was the backbone to all the stories, with discussions that included a focus on working mothers, science and engineering, gender, race, and the LGBT community, all topics that engaged larger audiences across the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA).
With real-life anecdotes adding personality, Tompkins shared research on best practices and strategies, hoping others would share their own stories as a learning tool.
“I created this thinking it would be short term, and it just evolved as we realized we weren’t returning to the office. And then it evolved into collaborations to discuss Black History Month, Women’s Equality Day and Transgender Day of Awareness,” Tompkins said. “Special emphasis program managers (SEPMs) reached out to me, and I learned that we could leverage those themes to share stories with the broader workforce. And it has been very positive, because it shows how we can collaborate and expand the discussion.”
Vimaliz Manfredo, lead engineer for Combat Systems Future Capabilities in the Undersea Warfare Combat Systems Department, who serves as the LGBT SEPM, collaborated with Tompkins to share messaging about transgender topics surrounding Transgender Day of Remembrance observed annually on Nov. 20.
Tompkins posted about transgender issues and experiences, notable people who made a positive impact, and information about TED Talk, “A short history of trans people’s long fight for equality,” by Samy Nour Younes.
“This is a good way to bring forth to NAVSEA good information on an important topic,” Manfredo said. “My favorite topic was ‘How to be perceived by your community.’ One of the things that was the most important, for me, was when Cassandra mentioned that she was learning about transgender topics. That was so impactful, having the opportunity to learn about the transgender community, that it’s everywhere, and to provide support. Through these posts, at least one person learned and understood. For me that was mission accomplished.”
Manfredo said the topics were well-researched and found that having someone else’s voice discuss a topic through the TED platform reinforced the positive messaging and brought to light other voices that the workforce might not get to hear otherwise.
“I run the LGBT chat group on Fusion, and I received a lot of positive feedback there too. People were happy that these topics were presented, and appreciated Cassandra’s efforts,” Manfredo said.
Tompkins also received positive feedback and continued conversations with colleagues offline. She is using that energy to power her strategy. While “Story Circle’s” long-term future is in flux, Tompkins said she has a plan for the next few months as the workforce remains teleworking. She will highlight monthly themes, including Arab Americans Heritage Month and World Autism Month, both in April, and Asian American Pacific Islander month in May, to deepen the discussions.
“We are in the midst of COVID-19, and people are still working from home, so there is still a need for this. It is the responsible thing for me to do to continue it,” Tompkins said. “For leaders, you can’t just focus on your own qualities, you have to focus on the people that you’re leading. As a leader, you’re striving to improve your employees’ lives and make things easier for them to do their jobs. That’s one of the reasons why this is relevant: to talk about other communities and parts of our organization.”
NUWC Division Newport is a shore command of the U.S. Navy within the Naval Sea Systems Command, which engineers, builds and supports America’s fleet of ships and combat systems. NUWC Newport provides research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, undersea offensive and defensive weapons systems, and countermeasures associated with undersea warfare.
NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Capt. Chad Hennings, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher's Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.