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NEWS | Oct. 4, 2023

2023 Women of Color STEM DTX Conference Announces Technology Rising Star Award to NSWCPD’s Mia Korngruen

By Gary Ell

Each year, the Women of Color STEM DTX Conference (WOC STEM) gathers esteemed leaders in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from various sectors.

This year's conference, with the theme of "Waves of Change, Oceans of Opportunity," will recognize the accomplishments and groundbreaking innovations of women from diverse backgrounds.

WOC STEM announced Mia Korngruen, portfolio manager at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Philadelphia Division (NSWCPD), has been selected as this year's recipient of the prestigious Technology Rising Star Award.

The award recognizes women in the workforce helping to “shape technology for the future.” Korngruen was nominated for “significantly impacting the U.S. Navy Surface Ship Fleet by developing and overseeing how the organization manages and executes all the tasking for the command’s largest customer, Naval Sea Systems Command, Surface Ship Maintenance, Modernization and Sustainment (NAVSEA21).”

“I’m really honored to receive the Technology Rising Star award. I also feel there’s an expectation to live up to it as well. To not stop here and to keep going. And I want to! I always want to be able look back at how far I’ve come and to look forward with even greater anticipation,” Korngruen said.

Korngruen grew up in Central New Jersey.

“Yes that is a place,” she said. “More specifically, around the suburbs of New York City. My dad worked for a bank not far from the Twin Towers in Manhattan. We even went up to the viewing deck a few years before they fell, and he witnessed the second plane hit on September 11th.”

She graduated from Rowan University in 2013 with a degree in chemical engineering, and later earned a master’s degree in program management from the Naval Postgraduate School. Korngruen began her career at NSWCPD’s Program Management Office as the Assistant Hull, Mechanical and Electrical (HM&E) Sustainment Program Lead.

According to the nomination package, seasoned employees with five or more years of hands-on technical experience typically hold NSWCPD Program Management Office positions.

Korngruen spent only three and a half years as the Sustainment Assistant, and her performance in that role allowed her to take on the Program Lead responsibilities. Her willingness to quickly learn the HM&E technologies and manage the various sustainment project schedules and financial budgets within this program provided her with a diverse experience within the NSWCPD organization and the U.S. Navy.

Following the HM&E Sustainment Program Lead position, Korngruen spent time sharpening her programmatic and technical knowledge with temporary assignments as the Surface Ship Sustainment Office (PMS 443) Portfolio Manager, Cybersecurity Lead, the Surface Fleet Program Manager, and the Cross Platform Engineering and In-service Ships Branch Manager before being promoted as the NAVSEA21 Portfolio Manager in June 2021.

As the NAVSEA21 Portfolio Manager, Korngruen oversees an annual budget of approximately $424 million of tasking including hundreds of discrete Sustainment, Modernization, Logistics, and Cybersecurity for HM&E systems across all the non-nuclear in-service surface ships. Her responsibilities include establishing and maintaining standardized program management processes across the portfolio, understanding and communicating programmatic and technical risks to leadership and stakeholders, and meeting financial obligation benchmarks and programmatic milestones as requested by the sponsor.

The significance of this Portfolio Manager Position is that Korngruen was on the team that first created this Portfolio Management model at NSWCPD. As a result of her efforts and dedication, the standard processes and tools are rolled out to the Aircraft Carriers, Program Executive Office (PEO) Ships and Cross Platform Enterprises, which will all have their own Portfolio Manager. Korngruen has been mentoring the Aircraft Carriers Portfolio Manager to share best practices and lessons learned, and she will continue to mentor additional Portfolio Managers once those positions are filled later this year.

Korngruen has assumed a leadership role in the NSWCPD Workload Planning process and the Direct Cite funding obligation tracking process. Workload planning is extremely complex in a 2,800-person organization with over 75 technical branches, 30 customers, and thousands of discrete tasks. Korngruen’s thorough understanding of the organizational structure, technical competencies, funding requirements, historical execution, and awareness of future initiatives makes her the ideal candidate to manage such a task.

Korngruen has been running point on the development of the software-based workload planning tool, which will provide leadership and program managers real-time situational awareness of technical code tasking levels so NSWCPD can make task acceptance and prioritization decisions and recommendations to its customers, as well as reducing the risk of under executing other planned tasking. Additionally, this tool will automate a manual workload planning process by eliminating hundreds of individual spreadsheets and saving thousands of man-hours annually.

The Direct Cite Tracking tool is another example of how Korngruen leads a cross-organization effort in pursuit of a standard process that will allow Enterprise Leads and Portfolio Managers to track planned contract funding obligation dates more efficiently to ensure material and services are delivered on time and funding is executed within financial benchmarks.

When asked about the advice she would give to the next generation entering STEM careers, she said, “Be flexible! Especially in the time leading up to entering the workforce and the first few years. Just because your degree says xxx, doesn’t mean you have to do xxx things only. Don’t
listen to the people that try and shame you for not doing exactly what they think you went to school for,” she said.

Korngruen continued: “Kind of related, but try lots of things. My internships and rotations were really great for this. I have seen gold in its plasma state, shot particles at things, built an amplifier, worked on heat exchanger design, performed oil analysis, walked inside an engine block, built computers, and now I work on a lot of financials. The more you do, the more relationships you build, the more opportunities you’ll have.”

“Relationships and mentorships are important,” Korngruen said, adding, “Make the effort to stay in touch with people along the way. This is one of my biggest regrets from school and early in my career because I did a lot of cool things with a lot of cool people, but I failed to keep in touch with many of them.”

Choosing a STEM path, Korngruen drew inspiration from her family and a few fondly remembered high school teachers who emboldened her to pursue a STEM-related bachelor’s degree.

“I had really awesome chemistry and calculus teachers in high school, and I did both a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at Lehigh’s International Materials Institute for New Functionalities in Glass (IMI-NFG), and an internship with DuPont’s Engineering Technologies Division (DuET),” Korngruen said. “I give a lot of credit to my mentors from both experiences. These great internships during my undergrad are why I decided to stick with it.”

Not only was Korngruen motivated by her teachers, but family inspired her as well.

“My paternal grandfather was a Holocaust survivor and his whole life was pretty inspiring to me. He came to the States with basically nothing and got a degree in engineering here. When I was growing up, I remember sitting in his office next to a computer and a drafting table and playing math games,” she said. “My parents also encouraged me to look into engineering, math, and science. They both have backgrounds in finance, so yeah, a lot of math in my childhood memories!”

Korngruen’s efforts over the last nine years shaped how NSWCPD will manage large customer portfolios in the future. Her willingness to accept challenges and her ability to compartmentalize them into small executable parts has proven highly successful in managing multiple NSWCPD programs.

“It’s the people and the ships,” that keep Korngruen motivated. “I feel really grateful to have landed in the NSWCPD and Navy community. Working with so many great people is just the best, and honestly ships are cool! It’s been ten years and I’ve only grown to appreciate this more,” she said.

NSWCPD employs approximately 2,800 civilian engineers, scientists, technicians, and support personnel. The NSWCPD team does the research and development, test and evaluation, acquisition support, and in-service and logistics engineering for the non-nuclear machinery, ship machinery systems, and related equipment and material for Navy surface ships and submarines. NSWCPD is also the lead organization providing cybersecurity for all ship systems.