Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.
Guest blog post by Mary Saunders, Associate Director of Management Resources, National Institute of Standards and Technology
In my 26-year career at the Department of Commerce, I’ve found that the most interesting things in life generally happen at the intersections. It’s the connections between people, places, and things where true forward progress is often made.
I was born in Washington, D.C. and have lived in Northern Virginia most of my life. I guess given my beginnings, it’s not surprising that I chose to study politics, economics, and public policy. What’s more surprising is that I’ve ended up using that knowledge to support the nation’s scientific infrastructure.
Some background helps explain the links that led me to my current position as the Associate Director of Management Resources, one of three deputies to NIST Director Patrick Gallagher.
It started with the Army. My father was an Army officer and both my brother and husband attended West Point and served full careers in the military. My father in law was head of the Physics Department at West Point for eighteen years and taught many future Army officers, including my brother!
Both of my parents encouraged me to work hard, be independent, and play to my strengths
I had a terrific childhood including living in Bangkok for two years as a young child. Later when my father was assigned to the Pentagon, I spent many happy hours riding horses roaming Virginia’s rolling hills. My adviser at Vanderbilt University recommended I apply to the Woodrow Wilson School graduate program at Princeton University. What terrific advice! My time at Princeton really opened my eyes to the public policy world and I never looked back.
I joined the Department in 1986 and worked in the International Trade Administration before being recruited to join the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in 1993, working at the nexus of technology and trade issues. As someone trained in the social sciences, working with the outstanding physicists, chemists, computer scientists, engineers and other technical experts at NIST has been a real treat. It has allowed me to use what I learned at ITA about finding common ground between different cultures to help bridge gaps between the business and scientific communities and between the public and private sectors. It is through connecting these different cultures that both ITA and NIST contribute to U.S. manufacturing competitiveness and job growth.
In my relatively new position of Associate Director for Management Resources at NIST, I oversee a wide range of institutional support services on behalf of the NIST Director and the research groups and other organizational units. My portfolio is very broad and requires a combination of problem-solving, connecting people and groups with common ground, and coordinating across NIST units and with the Department. I am finding that my ability to understand and communicate about NIST technical programs is critical to my success in my new position. Everything we do in Management Resources focuses on enabling NIST to deliver its mission more effectively. That means delivering better facilities, IT, financial, human resources, or safety services so that NIST programs can promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness with better measurement science, standards and technology.
Throughout my career I have sought out new opportunities and embraced change. I’ve benefitted tremendously from mentors and have grown even more serving as a mentor and coach myself. I have learned that treating people with integrity and fairness and giving them the benefit of the doubt usually leads to a good result.
As a respected private sector colleague once told me, “If you do the right thing for the right reason, the right result will follow.” In the end, it’s about how to connect the right people with the right actions to make a difference. I truly believe that NIST and the Department are doing this every day.