“Up-and-coming” is a regular FedScoop feature profiling the rising stars in federal government.
Karen Lellock (@klellock)
Senior Policy Advisor
National Institutes of Standards and Technology, Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP)
Department of Commerce
What inspires you to work for government?
The mission of the MEP program. We work to improve the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers. This industry is crucial to the economic well-being of our nation. I am not sure most people understand how important a strong manufacturing base is to our country and the job opportunities that it provides today. For example, manufacturing in five states alone accounts for half a trillion dollars to the U.S. economy and each manufacturing job creates nearly three jobs in other industries. I can provide many more facts on why manufacturing is important to the U.S., but I think you get the picture. Once you have the opportunity to visit some of these smaller manufacturers — the clients of the MEP program – and see their passion and commitment for making things in the U.S., it is hard to not be committed to helping them succeed.
What does your typical day look like?
I don’t really have typical days. I work in communications so we are constantly looking for ways to highlight the work of MEP and our nationwide system of centers, demonstrate the importance of U.S. manufacturing and develop partnerships to leverage the resources and reach of the programs supporting businesses. We also respond to inquires from all our program stakeholders – this ranges from Congress to DOC to the general public. So, I never quite know what sort of question or inquiry might be coming our way. I think this diversity is the part of my job I like the best. It certainly keeps the job interesting.
What advice do you have for senior level executives to help them cultivate the next generation of public servants?
Continually challenge folks to suggest new ways of doing things. Often, the ideas generated have to be balanced against what can be done in the government environment but I have found this to be one of the best ways to explore new ideas and keep employees engaged. This is especially true in the area of communications. We may not be able to take advantage of the all outlets to share information on our program, accomplishments and resources, but in the last year we have come a long way. This is largely due to an energetic, mission-oriented staff always looking for new ideas for how to share information or how to take what we are doing to the next level.
Do you have any mentors? If so, what role have they played in your career?
Yes, my current boss and MEP Deputy Director Aimee Dobrzeniecki. Aimee has provided me with challenging opportunities and really fostered an environment where I could balance both personal and professional responsibilities. Over the years, she has provided me with developmental assignments and encouraged me to push forward on many issues knowing that I have her support and backing.
What’s your favorite DC hangout?
I live and work in the Maryland ‘burbs so I rarely get into D.C. unless it is for a meeting. When I do have the chance to venture into the city, I typically visit the museums with my family. I particularly like the gem and mineral exhibit at the Museum of Natural History.
How do you unwind?
Hanging out with my family. I have a 6-year old daughter that keeps me very busy. One of the best things about having kids is that you get to do silly things with them and you don’t feel completely goofy. I have a great example — my daughter and I are taking ice skating lessons together (yes, I am in the kid class because the adult class was canceled). It is hard not to feel a little goofy but we are doing this together, and I would never have considered ice skating if it wasn’t for her.