MITRE has opened applications for the third cohort of its systems engineering fellowship, a program that enables federal employees working in technical engineering fields to get a higher-education degree from the University of Virginia while also working on real-world government systems engineering projects.

“What the systems engineering fellows get out of this is, one, an academic understanding from the University of Virginia, and [two] the hands-on application of that expertise working alongside MITRE engineers,” said John Kreger, vice president at MITRE, in an interview with Federal Times.

Systems engineering is designed to bring people together with complex technological systems in a way that makes a project or initiative connected and cohesive.

According to Kreger, those systems are getting increasingly more complicated, and require federal employees to be prepared for the associated challenges:

“The biggest challenge is that instead of one agency being able to solve the problem individually, the complexity has increased that really requires cross-agency coordination. And that is really what we’re providing for employees, both military and civilian.”

Employees interested in the program should already be working in a technical field and will have to fill out an application for both the MITRE program and the UVA masters program.

Feds accepted into the cohort then take Friday and Saturday classes on the UVA campus in Charlottesville, Virginia, while doing hands-on work on various government projects at the MITRE campus in McLean, Virginia.

An accepted fed would remain an employee of their current agency during the year-long program and the agency agrees to pay for the fellowship costs, meaning that employees will have to coordinate with agency leadership to get their approval. That process differs depending on the agency, with some having very formal regulations that employees must follow.

But that agency buy-in is important for the success of the program and the participating employee, according to Kreger, as the agency will then know how to best use the new skillset gained by a fellowship graduate.

“During the first cohort we found that the individuals were going back to their agencies, and in some cases the agencies had already identified a new position for that person, and part of their preparation for the new position was accomplishment for the fellowship program, while others went back to their original jobs,” said Kreger.

“And I can say that, in two out of four cases, those people promoted the following year to higher positions.”

Graduates of the program have also hosted workshops and programs of their own to teach other employees about the lessons they learned while in the fellowship.

The application deadline for the 2020 cohort is April 15.

Jessie Bur covered the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees for Federal Times.

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