Lauren Athota

MITRE’s Culture of Belonging Leads to Professional and Personal Growth

By Nancy Gast Romps

Lauren Athota

Those of us who aren’t direct beneficiaries of Medicaid may not realize its importance in a safe, well-functioning society.

Healthcare is a primary need, regardless of our social circumstances. We’re all better as a collective society when we have our basic needs met. As a principal and a project leader within the Health FFRDC, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to focus on projects related to government health programs—work that matters to me personally and improves lives.

As it turns out, coming to MITRE also helped me to improve my own life in a different way. Our inclusive environment was one of the factors that gave me the courage to embrace my truth and come out as a lesbian.

Health Policy Analysis: A Meaningful Career

Growing up, I was always concerned about fairness and equality. From a young age, I tended to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders.

When I was 8, I wrote a letter to President Clinton to express my concern about the Oklahoma City bombing and to inquire as to whether we were safe. It was my very first government interaction, and it set me on a path of figuring out how to put that weight of the world into something achievable.

I began my career in the Louisiana governor’s press office, which led to an opportunity to serve as a policy analyst with the state’s Department of Health. There, I helped interpret and understand the Affordable Care Act regulatory provisions about to be implemented nationwide and worked with the state’s Medicaid program. I realized I could specialize my career in a topic area I care about and could feel like my work made a difference.

Later, having the opportunity to join MITRE was a dream come true—a chance to use my state-level experience to do work that impacts the same beneficiaries the state served, but with their federal partners at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

For the first time, I feel seen and accepted as a whole person without my identity diminishing my professional value.

Lauren Athota

Helping to Serve the Underserved

Primarily, I work with the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services (CMCS)—one of six centers within CMS. CMCS partners with states to administer the Medicaid program, providing health coverage to millions of people across the states and territories.

Soon after I joined MITRE in 2019, we were all faced with something unprecedented: COVID-19. As a project leader for COVID support with CMCS, I was given another opportunity to bring my perspective from the state to help the federal government assist the states and territories in their pandemic response.

With the official end of the COVID emergency, I’m still working with CMCS, leading a multidisciplinary team to support their strategic needs.  

A Culture that Celebrates Inclusivity

I was raised in a religious environment that condemned homosexuality. I’ve struggled my whole life with accepting who I am—much less being able to be open and confident about my identity. For people struggling with a core part of their identity, we watch and observe how safe our environment is before sharing different parts of ourselves with others.

After being both in denial and in the closet much of my life, some of the first people I came out to this past year were my MITRE department colleagues. For the first time, I felt seen and accepted as a whole person without my identity diminishing my perceived professional value. Overall, since being here, I finally feel safe about not being judged on just one aspect of who I am. Having the support of my MITRE family has been everything to me. 

I’m grateful for our culture of openness and inclusivity—for example, the day-to-day actions demonstrating acceptance and inclusivity within my division of the Health FFRDC, the visibility of our Pride Council, and our year-round, company-wide celebrations and inclusion of pride. Every day, I’m reminded of MITRE’s emphasis on how our differences make us stronger and that our individuality should be celebrated. I also experience it via the benefits that have enabled me to balance my professional life with parenting two young children.

After working alongside people who didn’t just say they cared about people, but truly showed empathy and kindness, I learned to show myself the same acceptance.

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