ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — It’s not every day that a novice is hired to replace an experienced and seasoned professional, but the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, or ATEC, did just that when it hired a young intern in February 2015 to replace a long-time ATEC employee who had recently retired from civil service.
ATEC brought Alison Cheung aboard as an Army Civilian Training, Education, and Development System intern in the G9 Test Management Directorate to serve as its international point of contact, or IPOC. Cheung replaced Steve Clark who had worked for ATEC since the late 90’s before retiring in April 2015 with 44 years of civil service under his belt. Clark had been the IPOC for a number of years before Cheung arrived.
Eberhard Kloeckner, ATEC’s German liaison officer, who has worked closely with Cheung since the beginning, shared how impressed he was with how quickly Cheung got the hang of her new position.
“When Alison came aboard as the new ATEC point of contact for both international matters and foreign liaison officers, I was amazed that ATEC had hired an intern to replace someone who had decades of experience in international relations,” Kloeckner said. “However, it didn’t take long for me to see that the ATEC (G9) leadership had made a perfect decision.”
Kloeckner was so impressed with Cheung that his German Liaison office awarded her a certificate of appreciation in February for her outstanding support in representing ATEC during negotiations between the U.S. and Germany when the new test and evaluation, or T&E, program memorandum of understanding was drafted. The new agreement, which was signed Jan. 11, 2017, permits reciprocal test events, information/data exchange and opened the doors for the use of test facilities in the two countries.
According to Cheung’s supervisor, Alicia Baldauf, chief of the Test Operations Division, Cheung more than deserves the accolades she has received from ATEC’s international customers.
“As the international point of contact, Alison has been highly committed to doing her job well and her commitment shows in the many international interactions she has had with countries such as Australia, Brazil, Korea, Taiwan, France, Germany and Canada,” Baldauf said.
“She goes above and beyond her duties of coordinating foreign visits, hosting foreign visitors, and arranging briefings,” Baldauf added. “Alison makes a point to ensure all questions, concerns and requests for information are answered accurately and expediently.”
As the IPOC, Cheung is the conduit for the seamless exchange of test technology information between the U.S.’s T&E community and the international test communities abroad.
Cheung demonstrates that the lack of experience shouldn’t serve as a barrier to what you can achieve. She credits her determination and her candidness as two reasons she has been successful in her role as the IPOC.
“In my current position, I do my best to meet the needs of our liaisons, but I won’t beat around the bush if we can’t make something happen,” Cheung said. “I believe two keys to success are being transparent and genuine when working with others.”
A native New Yorker, Cheung graduated in 2007 from Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Queens. She started college in the fall at New York’s Bernard M. Baruch College and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in public affairs in June 2011.
Cheung entered a student internship program in May 2008 and started working as a general supply specialist for the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command, or CECOM, in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, during the summer and winter months of school. Along with her other team members, Cheung was responsible for providing the U.S. and allied military forces with the combat net radios used in the field for voice and data communications.
Cheung went back to school for her second bachelor’s in January 2012 and received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Queens College in New York in December 2012.
Cheung had originally planned to attend graduate school full-time and afterwards, start working toward a doctorate in psychology, but she chose to enter the federal workforce as a full-time employee instead.
Cheung continued working with CECOM as a GS-7 program support specialist in their G3/5 Plans and Operations Directorate after her student internship ended in January 2013.
Cheung said the program support position gave her the opportunity to gain a variety of experience in many different areas including public affairs.
“I had many duties including security manager, timekeeper, information management officer, records manager, and training coordinator,” Cheung said. “While in this position I also assisted CECOM’s public affairs office with writing articles for their newsletter, CECOM Dots and Dashes.”
Although Cheung appreciated the wide range of experience the position offered her, it didn’t afford her the career growth or promotion potential she was looking for at the time.
In February 2015, ATEC offered Cheung a lateral transfer and brought her on board as a local intern to work for its G9 Test Management Directorate as the IPOC.
“Between all of the foreign ally nations, the international T&E communities share information with each other on new military systems, testing procedures, and general information through me as the IPOC. For example, ATEC’s in-house Canadian and German liaison officers relay information to me, and I pass the information along to ATEC leadership and other interested parties,” Cheung said. “Additionally, the foreign liaison officers receive news on test events throughout the command, along with responses to requests for information.”
When it comes to the exchange of test technology between German test organizations and ATEC, Kloeckner said Cheung is one of the most capable individuals he has seen.
“Her hard work will keep ATEC up to date with the newest test technology overseas, which will support ATEC’s core mission,” Kloeckner said.
While she was gaining valuable experience in her new position by day, Cheung continued to pursue her educational goals while off duty. She enrolled in John Hopkin’s University’s online master’s degree program in system’s engineering in the summer of 2016.
Although Cheung credits education for helping to shape her career as well as propelling it forward, she said she’s equally grateful for the guidance she received from Don Timian, a former operations research systems analyst who was her first supervisor at ATEC. She said that Timian, who was also her mentor, was very instrumental in influencing her career development. Timian retired from ATEC in June 2016 with 12 years as an Army civilian and 20 years of active duty service as an Army officer under his belt.
“Don was a great mentor because he always encouraged me to explore what my interests were beyond my position as IPOC,” Cheung said. “He understood my desire to pursue psychology and allowed me to accept a developmental assignment as an engineering psychologist at the Aberdeen Test Center.”
Cheung completed a four month developmental assignment with Aberdeen Test Center, or ATC, from June through September 2016. Cheung said she gained valuable experience in measuring human factors and human performance assessment of signatures and sensors. Glenn Rogers, her onsite ATC supervisor, said when Cheung learned that one of his current interns was an engineering psychologist, she requested a specific detail in that position.
“She got to see many aspects of field work in the Signatures and Sensors Branch where she supported everything from signature measurements of combat vehicles to testing that used human subjects (Soldiers) to assess performance of weapons mounted sensors,” Rogers said.
Rogers praised Cheung for her determination and the energy she brought with her, which he watched her apply to her developmental assignment.
“I told her I was surprised I didn’t see smoke rolling out of her office when I heard her rapid non-stop tapping on her keyboard while she worked on cost estimates, test plans and reports among numerous other planning documents,” Rogers said. “Fortunately, she got to work the entire gamut from test planning, to eye tests and background skill information collection on Soldiers, to overseeing data collection while they looked through weapon sites searching for targets under a wide range of challenging lighting conditions.”
Rogers said Cheung’s most notable contribution was her successful initiation of three projects in the absence of the branch engineering psychologist.
“I called her our good luck charm because several projects we were working for many months suddenly took off as soon as she walked in the door,” Rogers said. “Without Alison, I truly don’t know how we would have done it. Her efforts substantially helped lead to $250,000 of new work in the six months after her departure. We owe her a debt of gratitude for her contribution here.”
When her developmental assignment ended, Cheung returned to her IPOC position at ATEC. When Timian retired in June, Baldauf became Cheung’s new supervisor.
Baldauf said a part of Cheung’s responsibilities is to ensure T&E Program Cooperation Memorandums of Agreement between the U.S. and another country are fully vetted and approved by the Army and the DOD within specified timeframes. These Reciprocal Use of Test Facilities Project Agreements specify the cost, schedule and performance aspects of a test effort to be conducted at a U.S. Army test facility for a foreign customer or to be conducted by the U.S. Army at a foreign test facility.
“Nobody can tell by her interaction with her customers that she’s a junior scientist,” Baldauf said. “She speaks and collaborates with others like an expert. She navigates through the bureaucratic channels with ease and determination to obtain her goals.”
When Cheung is not hard at work at ATEC, she’s focused on maintaining a healthy work and life balance and makes a point to live an active lifestyle. She enjoys hiking, running and various water sports. Cheung said when’s she not engaged in some form of physical activity, she can be found indulging in her all-time favorite pastime – video gaming.
Cheung said she’s excited to see what the future holds, but for now her plans are to one day return to New York to be closer to her family and study toward her doctoral degree in psychology.