Leading by Example to Improve Airspace Efficiency

January 2017
Monique Exum
Monique Exum

Monique Exum can tick off an impressive list of reasons that she likes working at MITRE. The bottom line, however, is that she continues to be inspired by the great possibilities.

"MITRE gives you wonderful opportunities to collaborate and explore your interests and to have a significant impact on real-world problems," she says.

Exum, who holds two degrees from the Rochester Institute of Technology, arrived on the job at MITRE in February 2008. She works as a systems engineer with MITRE's Center for Advanced Aviation System Development (CAASD), which operates the Federal Aviation Administration's federally funded research and development center (FFRDC).

Her initial task: develop an air traffic controller automation system improvement for the en route domain. For example, she worked on concepts for separation management improvements to that system and the development of program and system-level requirements. She participated in MITRE’s Integration, Demonstration, and Experimentation for Aeronautics (IDEA) Lab demonstrations of the capabilities she helped develop and facilitated meetings with the FAA during the process.

It was a big job, one she spent the next five or six years immersed in. All her hard work paid off.

"After I transitioned off the project, a subset of the capabilities I helped develop concepts and requirements for made it through the next decision milestone in the FAA acquisition process," she says. In fact, the capability subset recently received final approval from the FAA—and now it’s on to the implementation stage.

Today, Exum is a project leader for the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) Evolution Project. She and her team work on automation enhancements that can help air traffic controllers. They're enhancing the primary display and tools used by the controllers to manage arrivals and departures more efficiently. The goal of their work is to provide effective tools for the controllers to help automate tasks they have to do manually today – to help with decision making, separation management, and information exchange. It all enables the system to run even more smoothly.

It's generated enough interest that she's regularly asked to share information.

"My team and I organized an exhibit about TRACON for the National Airspace System Performance Review and Showcase earlier in 2016," she says. "I also had the opportunity to organize a CAASD showcase to share the methods and tools we used for TRACON analysis."

In addition to leading projects, Monique is also a supervisor with responsibilities around workforce development, hiring, training, and mentoring. Her own managers note that one of her strongest qualities is that she is an effective staff advocate.

Blending High-Quality Work with Leadership Skills

Exum knew that she'd find the work at MITRE challenging and interesting. But it's not just the work that keeps her going.

"What keeps me here is the work and the people," says Exum. "We're solving some challenging and interesting problems that have real impact in the field. Although the process can take real perseverance, working with people who are willing to put in the same effort, are creative, have high integrity, and can take time to laugh keeps me here."

She's confident that anyone who's interested in exploring a career at MITRE will also be pleased by the caliber of its employees and the diverse range of work projects.

"MITRE will give you wonderful opportunities to collaborate and explore your interests."

Although she finds the technical requirements of her job fulfilling, Exum also enjoys the leadership role she's taken on.

"I like assigning tasks and then applying the strengths of my team members to define their roles," she says.

Exum believes every member of the team makes an important contribution. She's always looking for ways to nurture them, their interests, and their talents. She particularly enjoys chances to mentor her staff, something MITRE leadership encourages in formal and informal ways. For example, she holds bi-weekly one-on-one discussions with her group members to review their work.

Conversely, she's found other people who are willing to share their experiences and provide some wisdom to her, too.

Finding Satisfaction Outside the Office, Too

Exum's professional success has not come at the expense of her personal life.

In fact, one of the aspects of her MITRE career she appreciates most is the understanding of the importance of a good work-life balance.  She regularly volunteers with a community-based parenting program in Fairfax County, Virginia, as well as with the discount grocery distribution program (SHARE – Self Help and Resource Exchange).

"It's really nice to have that flexibility," she says.

—by Jennifer Larson

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