Jennifer Ferrell is a division financial analyst and administrative specialist for the Test and Evaluation Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) Gun and Electric Weapon Systems Department. She holds a bachelor of science degree in business administration and graduated from the University of Mary Washington in 2014 with a master’s degree in business administration. She began her career at NSWCDD in 2006 via the command’s cooperative education program supporting its Engagement Systems Department. As Ferrell moved forward in her career, she became the business financial manager for the MK160 Gun Weapon System and Battle Management System programs. In October 2015, Ferrell realigned to the NSWCDD Unmanned and Expeditionary Weapon Systems Division where she served as the financial and administrative lead for two years. Her current role as the administrative lead for the command’s Test and Evaluation Division includes handling day-to-day financial and human resource actions and financial management of the Potomac River Test Range, calibration, and machine shop service cost centers. “It is critical to identify and resolve financial issues in a timely manner,” said Ferrell. “The faster we can get funds properly in place, the faster we can execute the technical work to get the products delivered to the warfighter. I find pride in knowing that even though my role is non-technical, I can still make an impact to our warfighters by promoting more efficient financial and human resources policies and processes.”
Questions and Answers with Jennifer Ferrell
Q: How would you describe your contributions to support NSWCDD and the Fleet.
A: My realignment to the H40 Unmanned and Expeditionary Weapons Systems Division was initiated by the base wide reorganization and movement of the Battle Management System Program to a new department. This realignment landed me in a division that did not previously exist and had to be established from the ground up. I was responsible for development and implementation of all financial and human resources policies for this division. Consequently, I had to learn an entire portfolio of new programs. This experience was very eye opening for me and was a turning point in my career. It gave me the opportunity to test my leadership skills by leading a team of financial analysts and assisting them with resolution of new issues that would arise on a weekly basis. Moving from a very centralized and functional based organizational structure to this new structure that was flatter and division focused allowed me to learn the skills required to be a successful administrative leader while managing interactions between department leadership, line management, program management, and external customers that Dahlgren supports.
Q: How did the NSWCDD cooperative education program pave the way to your career?
A: The co-op program allows students to work on a part-time basis while working at NSWCDD. The program is very flexible. I was attending the University of Mary Washington and since I was commuting to a local university, it allowed me to work and go to school at the same time on alternating days. The program helped cover the cost of tuition and books and gave me the opportunity to start learning skills for the job I would have upon graduation from college.
Qs: What do you advise recent (and soon to be) graduates looking for a job - and what do you advise students, including non-STEM and business students - who have not thought about career opportunities as a civilian in the Navy? Why should they consider Dahlgren?
A: My advice for recent, and soon to be, graduates looking for a job would be to seriously consider a position as a civilian in the Navy. It is a very rewarding experience to know that the work we do here ultimately supports the warfighter and helps keep our nation safe. There are so many opportunities at NSWCDD and if you come here to work and decide you do not like what you are doing, there is a ton of flexibility to be able to move around and go find a different job. Our managers want us to succeed here and will work with you to find the right fit for your skillset and needs. We also are blessed to have amazing benefits and many perks – like child care and the free gym – that we can take advantage of.
Qs: How were you able to obtain your MBA while working full time? Did you receive any assistance from Dahlgren? If so, how did the command or your branch and supervisors assist?
A: I obtained my MBA while working full time by completely shutting down my social life for two years. Every week I laid out a detailed schedule of which assignments I would do after work and during the weekends. I would stick to that schedule, even if it meant I had to stay up until 3:00 a.m. and then go to work the next morning. It was very challenging. The classes consisted of 16-week courses compressed into eight weeks. My command paid for all of it. They covered the cost of my entire degree and books. My supervisor was very flexible and understood when there were days I needed to take leave to focus on assignments with critical deadlines. The hardest part was toward the end during the capstone course. This was the hardest course I ever took and we basically ran our own business via a virtual simulation. Grad school was tough, but it definitely was the ticket to getting past all fears of public speaking. Almost every class had at least four presentations crammed into the eight week sessions and we were expected to speak and interact during every class – whether we were presenting or not. It was the most challenging experience of my life, but also one of the most rewarding.
Q: Do you have any specific success stories on how your financial and human resource work impacted technical programs or delivery of products to the warfighter?
A: The Potomac River Test Range performs testing on Gun and Weapon Systems used to defend our nation, such as Battle Management System, Littoral Combat Ship, and the Electromagnetic Railgun. I find pride in knowing that I can make an impact by getting financial infrastructure in place quickly to help facilitate this testing as soon as possible, which ultimately helps speed up getting technology to our warfighters.
Q: What do you consider your top accomplishment(s)?
A: I consider my top accomplishment to be the development of several financial tracking tools for various programs. These tools enable the use of one source file of data to produce multiple outputs of financial data that meet the needs of many different constituents, including finance, program management, the resource sponsor, line management, and task leads. There are so many different parties involved with a program, and they all have a need to see financial data for different purposes. A financial analyst needs to see the data from a funding document perspective to track things like carryover, reimbursable authority, and current snap shots of funding documents. A business financial manager needs to see the data in a way that allows them to compare the budget and spending plan to the actual expenditures to track trends and performance. A line manager might want the data flipped in a way that helps them with their resource planning and knowing where certain employees are actually charging and working. As finance folks, our job is to understand the actual raw data and how it flows and what it “means”. It is important for us to output that data in a way that makes it easier for our customers – program management, line management, and sponsors – to read that data and use it for decision making. I would like to thank Tia Ward, Linda DeShazo, and Traver Sutton for their expertise and training in the use of Microsoft Excel.
Q: Tell us about any extracurricular activities, volunteerism, and/or hobbies, including sports teams you are involved in at Dahlgren or elsewhere – anything you would like to point out or share.
A: I lead a volleyball team that plays at the gym here on base. The league is co-ed and a great way to meet new people that work here at Dahlgren. We usually play once a week and it is a great workout. I also lead a softball team that is starting back up this spring. We are truly blessed to have all of these wonderful programs and leagues on base to take advantage of.
Q: Anything else you would like to add.
A: I enjoyed learning about range control from Donnie Preston (NSWCDD Potomac River Test Range Operations Center senior technician). It is great to know that we have a team of folks monitoring the range to keep everyone safe. They can easily see any unforeseen circumstances that may be unknown to the test engineers and managers performing the testing. Also, they can easily track everyone down if we ever had an emergency.
When I first started here at Dahlgren, the position that I had was called Financial Central Point of Contact. This CPOC seat was the most critical learning experience of my entire career. The position involves being a help-mate to the financial analysts in the department. The job includes tracking department level day to day actions – like incoming and outgoing funding documents – assisting with labor and non-labor cost transfers for erroneous charges, and any other ad-hoc tasking that the team needed assistance with. The beauty of this position is that I was able to touch every single program, at some level, in the entire department. I learned little pieces of each of them as well as the basic financial management principles of how a working capital fund works and how labor and non-labor pieces move. Tracking and logging funding documents allowed me to see every type of sponsor and appropriation in the entire department and learn all the slight intricacies of how we accept funding for each. My advice to future employees who come to Dahlgren to perform financial support is that if you ever find yourself in a position like this, consider yourself blessed. Own it and soak up every single thing you can from the position. Never view the position as “busy work” or the “grunt work” that nobody else wants to do. You won’t know until later down the road, but this type of position will give you the basic building blocks you need for a very successful career and level of understanding.