RFG Alum, Adriel Taslim (UCSD 2018) has worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for close to three years, serving in different capacities as a Data Analyst, International Relations Specialist, and now Action Officer. This quarter, we connected with Adriel to learn more about his current work as an Action Officer within the Federal Insurance Directorate in FEMA’s Resilience Office. Adriel spoke on the nature of his role, growth opportunities within FEMA, and why he would encourage any current and future RFG Fellows to consider a career with FEMA. 

As an Action Officer in FEMA’s Federal Insurance Directorate, Adriel joins with his colleagues to manage business processes and the flow of internal and external tasks from the agency’s relevant stakeholders. Adriel’s portfolio focuses on longer-term project management initiatives, including building productivity tools and serving as the designated federal project manager for the Directorate’s start-up incubator R&D efforts across three contractors. His work includes projects in the predictive analytics, machine learning, remote sensing, Geospatial Information Systems (GIS), and emergency management fields. 

Adriel’s current position aligns well with his background as a project manager in the private sector and his data analysis training from his time at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy & Strategy. Despite his ideal training for work with FEMA, Adriel acknowledges that not many hard skills are prerequisites for joining FEMA. He reflects that “even though I joined as a data analyst, eventually working heavily with Python, R, and SQL; FEMA is an agency that is very willing  to invest in its workforce and help train you to fulfill the needs of your role.” Given this, Adriel underscores that being open and willing to learn is what is truly crucial for success within FEMA and that skills such as adaptability, communication, and project management are even more essential than a background heavy in quantitative training. 

FEMA’s willingness to train and support employees for success in their individual roles is a quintessential aspect of the agency’s workplace culture according to Adriel. “I appreciate how my supervisors are very supportive of my volitions in terms of work portfolio,” he shares. “If there are things I prefer to handle such as strategic project management over daily task management, they will do their best to make that happen.” Adriel also describes how FEMA employees have the opportunity to deploy to emergency response situations or to take a detail assignment within another part of the agency in support of their professional growth.  

Reflecting on his experience with FEMA, Adriel shared that his deployment to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey as part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) volunteer force in 2021 and 2022 is one of the moments in his career that he is particularly proud of to this day. The volunteer force was assembled to support efforts to resettle Afghan refugees after their evacuation from Afghanistan in August 2021. Adriel initially worked the helpdesk to provide Afghan refugees status updates on their resettlement cases, but was quickly assigned the vocational programs portfolio after the previous USAID lead demobilized. This position required intensive project management skills to organize donations, manage events, coordinate with the interagency, and communicate with all external stakeholders.

Specifically, the vocational programs that Adriel managed as a part of Taskforce Liberty connected Afghan professionals, in all fields, with resources to continue their previous vocations or reskill into new professions through relations with private companies, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. In addition, these programs provided an avenue for the Departments of Justice and Labor to present on the labor rights and specific work privileges afforded to Afghan refugees. Adriel, in particular, organized donation efforts through local community charities and coordinated volunteer Afghan and non-profit staff to stand-up a vocational resource center and computer lab. He also connected with industry partners such as Amazon, Google, Tyson,  FedEx, and others to staff job fairs and present in focus sessions to provide Afghan refugees with information on credentialing pathways and job opportunities in the United States. Summarizing his work, Adriel states, “I collaborated on interagency efforts to improve vocational opportunities, base access protocols, strategic communication, childcare, English as a Second Language (ESL) education, mortuary services, and cultural orientations at Taskforce Liberty.” To succeed in these efforts, Adriel also trained and oversaw a total of seven DHS team members to manage logistics, external affairs, project management, and event planning for these vocational programs. 

Through the efforts of the DHS vocational programs team and the interagency, Adriel and the other members of the Taskforce provided services to a population of approximately 10,000 people over the course of 6-7 months. For his individual efforts, Adriel received positive reviews from his peers and leadership at all levels, including a letter of commendation from the Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO), Robert Guadian. 

When asked why he would encourage others to consider FEMA as a potential employer, Adriel emphasized that the agency not only offers, but also values, on-the-job learning, whether that is through deployments, detail assignments, or training opportunities. “The type of learning that FEMA promotes is not the mandatory sort of training, but the sort that supports you in your self-actualization goals,” Adriel states. Separately, Adriel says that another benefit of pursuing a career with FEMA is that the agency has different means of funding itself, such as out of emergency response funding rather than traditional DHS appropriations. This means that the agency has diverse and less restrictive ways of hiring and retaining employees that other agencies may not be able to leverage. 

Looking ahead, Adriel aspires to engage more with the international side of his skill set through professional development fellowships. He also would like to enrich his experience at FEMA by engaging with stakeholders and consumers of the agency’s R&D work in the fields of flood mapping, machine learning, and predictive analytics. He remains deeply appreciative to both the Robertson Foundation for Government and his experience at UC San Diego for directly shaping his career path by connecting him to friends and networks that have led him to his work with FEMA and that have supported both his personal and professional development. Moving forward, Adriel seeks to continue growing in his current role, investing in the next generation of public servants, and exposing himself to new experiences in the Federal Government so that he can better understand how we all can come together to achieve our strategic goals.