NORFOLK NAVAL SHIPYARD, Portsmouth, Va. —
Ever since she was a little girl, Rachel Yarasavich has been an artist. Whether it was drawing, sculpting, or finding her passion in tattoos, Yarasavich admired artistic self-expression and sought a future where her art would be seen and appreciated. Little did she know that she would find a place to do just that at America’s Shipyard.
Yarasavich, a General Arrangements Branch (Code 254) Naval Architect, first stepped through the gates of Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) in 2003. With little knowledge of the shipyard or its mission, she joined the ranks of NNSY’s Sheetmetal Shop (Shop 17) as a sheet metal apprentice in the hopes of building her funds to move to Austin, Texas to become a tattoo artist.
“I had never envisioned myself becoming a sheet metal mechanic and had no idea what to expect when I started at NNSY,” said Yarasavich. “However, I found that working with sheet metal became like sculpting for me. It was easy for me to grasp because of my love for art and building. I really enjoyed what I was doing. It was a way to show my artistic expression while also becoming part of team that worked to service the Fleet. I found myself being really good at the tasks that I was given, tapping into skills I never knew I had. I continue to surprise myself every day with what skills I gain and what I’ve found I can accomplish.”
Following her graduation from the apprenticeship program, another pathway opened up that she decided to dive into – the Mechanic-to-Engineer Program. “I saw an opportunity to better myself and I decided to take a leap. Five of us from the entire shipyard were chosen for the program and we spent five years going through it. During that time, I worked as a technician in the Structural Engineering and Planning Division’s General Arrangements Branch (Code 254). I was finding my goals were expanding with each new skill I possessed. I was building a career for myself.”
Yarasavich is still in Code 254, with her career at NNSY now spanning 17 years and counting. She recently received an email regarding the Employee Development Program (EDP), opening further opportunities for her career. Intrigued with what was being offered, she reached out to her supervisor for an endorsement – both her supervisor and department head were supportive and ready to assist.
“I also reached out to my mentor – Structural Engineering & Planning Division (Code 250Q) Assessment Improvement Coordinator Gregory Coffie – to ask his thoughts on the program and if he thought I would be ready for the challenge,” said Yarasavich. “You see, I never thought of myself as someone in a leadership role before. However, he shared with me that many came to me for advice or help daily at the job. He said I was already exhibiting the role of someone who wanted to mentor and help others be the best they could be. Leaders need to be able to have those types of skills in order to be vulnerable with their people and have others be vulnerable with them as well. I then looked back on my career journey so far and found that I personally wanted to do more to expand my knowledge and skills to help my fellow shipyarders. So with Greg’s advice and the endorsement of my leaders – I applied for the EDP and I got in.”
Yarasavich was recently selected as one of NNSY’s four candidates in Cadre 9 of the EDP and is excited to step out of her comfort zone.
“Personal mastery is a big thing I want to accomplish during my time in the EDP,” she said. “I want to learn more about myself and learn how I can influence others to stay engaged and be empowered in their careers, just as others have done for me.”
The EDP is a six-month program designed to give qualified personnel the opportunity to experience firsthand the leadership competencies and styles, as well as the operational parameters and guidelines, that make up the total picture of successful naval shipyard operations.
Getting to Know Rachel Yarasavich
Q. Talk a little bit about your family and life outside of work.
A. My wife, Holly, and I are both workaholics – working hard to build our legacies and continuing to better ourselves each and every day. However, when we do get time outside of our jobs, we enjoy collecting and making art.
Together with my wife, we work together on a mutual hobby–assemblage art. Specifically robot–themed sculptures. We both conceptualize the designs and I am the main builder. This allows us to combine our love of art with my metalsmithing skills.
We also very much enjoy traveling. Though currently with COVID-19 putting any traveling on hold, we love exploring the outdoors and what awaits us beyond our home here in Virginia. We plan out our destinations, build a vacation binder, and away we go. Some recent destinations include Tokyo, Japan; British Columbia; Vancouver; Washington State; and California. Because we work a lot, we don’t get a lot of free time just to ourselves. But when we do, we want to spend that time doing something we enjoy. Whether it be art or traveling; we’re doing it together and loving every second of it.
Q. Talk a little bit about your grandfather.
A. My grandfather, Lt. Harvey H. Milhorn, was a devoted U.S. Naval Officer and a USS Arizona (BB-39) survivor on the attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Through his experiences, he taught me the importance of integrity, work ethic and human resilience to overcome overwhelming obstacles to be successful at life. His last naval career duty station before retirement was here at NNSY. He was a Code 346 Ship Superintendent from 1967 to 1970. My grandfather passed in 2002 and my family has been holding onto his cremains in hopes that someday we would be able to grant his final wishes – to join his fallen shipmates at the USS Arizona Memorial. An incentive of getting into the EDP program is a site tour at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 pandemic, all travel is on hold for our cadre and therefore so is the funeral. We are hoping that funeral plans will only be stunted until this fall.
Q. What is some advice you'd give to your fellow shipyarders?
A. A big thing I’ve picked up over the years is that no one is comfortable stepping out of their comfort zone; however, in order to grow and mature, you have to take that step. I once gave my wife a magnet that stated, “Life begins outside of your comfort zone,” and that’s something we’ve both been living by. We’ve experienced challenges at every turn but we face them and overcome them – becoming better versions of ourselves in the process.
Another thing I wanted to add is that everyone is capable of doing much more than they think – they just have to be willing to put in the time and research to make it happen. There are so many opportunities here at NNSY as well as outside our gates for folks in our industry to build a lifelong career.
Q. How has COVID-19 affected your time in the program?
A. As stated previously, all travel is currently on hold for us until the pandemic plays out. We were taken offline for the month of April to drive a shipyard-wide effort to field and distribute COVID-19 PPE requests to all departments and projects. This has given us the invaluable opportunity to network with a lot of people in a short amount of time while making a positive impact on the shipyard workforce. As a team, we were able to shift our focus to make this unpredictable experience work in our favor.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught me some key organizational leadership concepts:
• Leaders must be adaptive to the ever-changing environment within the organization
• Networking is a vital skill to ensure the success of the organization
• As a leader you must always demonstrate a united front with fellow leaders in the organization
Q. Are there any mentors you've had who have played a role in your career?
A. I wish I could speak on every single person who helped mentor me and lead me down the right path. But honestly, there are just too many people to name them all here. The reason I am where I am today is because people saw something in me, believed in me, and made suggestions or provided advice to me so that I could better myself. There have been many seasoned mechanics, supervisors, mentors, who helped me get to this place and I thank each and every one of them. You’ve been advocates for me, helped me find my place, and pushed me to go further than I ever thought possible. I’ve been so blessed to come in contact with people who care for me and believe in me and want to help me succeed. Thank you all.