How Did I Get Here?

I was just asked by a recent college grad: How did I get where I am in my career? This is a typical question for persons early in their career who are trying to determine what paths they may want to choose. I think one of the best things about telling your story is that everyone will glean something different from it and remember different parts of it as it relates to their own journey. My yoga instructor always says that we are all connected and this blog is one way that I honor that connection. 

‘He will open doors’   

My last 3 jobs were opportunities that opened doors for me: 

1. Working as an Assistant Research Professor at the United States Naval Academy (Annapolis, MD) 

2. Working as a Business Specialist (contractor) at the Office of Naval Research (Arlington, VA) 

3. Starting my own company, The Westmoreland Group and continuing my work as a Business Specialist at ONR under a subcontract with ADS Corporation (now ADS Federal) 

As I entered my final year as a graduate student (ABD – all but dissertation) at the University of Maryland – College Park (my 5th of 5 years – Wooosa..) my advisor heeded that it was time to start searching for a job. I researched schools with top Mechanical Engineering programs with a design emphasis, as the Capstone Design Process was my (and my advisors) specialty. I purchased a shiny new teal notebook where I would collect ‘job’ information and keep need-to-know details, because buying something new and shiny is my love language to myself! I was now ready to find a job. I did the traditional online job searching and also attended a few job fairs. I spent plenty of time searching for the best school for me to become a faculty member, reading school profiles, reading job descriptions, reading research agendas, and learning about course curriculum. In the end I was offered 3 opportunities: 

1. Texas A&M University (College Station, TX) [read…home] 

2. Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken, NJ) [read…I’m no city gal] 

3. United States Naval Academy (Annapolis, MD) [read…yep yep yep] 

In the end I chose (and they me) USNA because of (1) my prospective mentor who also happened to be the chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department and (2) the student centered focus of USNA. The pro was that I could focus on students first but the con meant that research would have to be fit in after my teaching responsibilities. The learning curve was steep and challenging but I was more than prepared. I signed a 2 year contract as an Assistant Research Professor. 

As I entered the second half of my second year at USNA, it became clear to me that I may want to choose a different path. I pulled out my shiny (old) teal notebook and started my job searching again. Enter the age of LinkedIN, I had a profile but hadn’t updated it in a while so I dusted it off and updated it with my latest accomplishments since being at USNA. What happened next was surprising – the job found me. A recruiter for ADS Corporation contacted me via message on LinkedIN and I responded and set up a phone interview. The interview was pleasant and informative. I followed up with an in person interview at the ADS Corporation office in Arlington, VA. The contract for my position had not yet been awarded but I was offered a contingent position. I was thrilled but understood that no contract meant no position for me so I continued to search. In December 2014 the contract was awarded and I started my new position at the Office of Naval Research as a Business Specialist. 

The government contracting world was brand new to me, there was so much for me to learn. I thrived in my new office environment and learned my clients’ needs and exceeded them with efficiency that even surprised me. As a Business Specialist I work on finance, project management, program management, technical reviews, technical reports, briefs, speeches and presentations, program outreach, program planning, and ‘other duties as assigned’.  This means I can do many important things for the programs I support (within the confines of my contractor position). During my second year in this new position I started talking with the CEO of my company about pursing a PMP Certificate. In talking with the CEO regularly I gained a lifelong mentor and I was able to successfully obtain my PMP Certification through training at Georgetown University in November 2016. 

In August 2016 I formed The Westmoreland Group LLC as a company of 1, woman-owned small business firm specializing in Project Management, Financial Management, and STEM Programs. Through the guidance of my mentor I was able to go through the steps of forming my own company; acquiring government permission to sub-contract to ADS Corporation and continue to support my same client.  In December 2019 I will have spent 5 years at the Office of Naval Research and the future for me and The Westmoreland Group is bright and abounding with opportunities. 

www.thewestmorelandgroup.com  

In the right season in my life God has opened doors for me. 

I am grateful for the opportunities and also for Him preparing me to walk in them. 

He will open doors for you. 

DREAM BIG! 

-Sophoria Westmoreland

….

Image by seth0s from Pixabay

An ‘Unlikely Accomplice’ …

Becoming Better is the brainchild of my dear friend and our generous benefactor, Dr. Westmoreland. She is a perpetual optimist, you know – the type that’s an early riser, never late, generally good-natured, smiles on and off cue and sees the proverbial glass as half-full. 

She challenged me to blog a few years back … I’m not sure if she knew it then but I secretly thought about blogging … but I blew it off. I was no writer. I didn’t have anything special to share. But, I’ll tell you – it was life changing for me, personally, and for two of my dearest friends and my BFF’s mother who read it faithfully. Dr. Westmoreland was even kind enough to share that old blog, right here on Becoming Better. 

Dr. Westmoreland’s challenging me to blog back then …  gave me license and freedom to write about everything and nothing. It made me believe that I had something to say and at least one person who would take the time to read it. Thank you, Dr. Westmoreland

One may call that affirmation, encouragement or perhaps, Dr. Westmoreland was simply being a good friend. Aah, but I’d say that in that moment, Dr. Westmoreland was an ‘unlikely accomplice.’ That’s the term I use to describe those moments in life when you need something extra – some kind word or nudge that puts you back on the ‘proverbial path.’  I’ll share with you, the unlikely accomplice can manifest in a number or ways. 

My grandmother passed in December 2017. And just one day afterwards, my dear friend lost her husband and asked me to speak at his funeral. I called him “My Brother” and there wasn’t one phone conversation where he didn’t end it with ‘Love ya, Sis.’ I couldn’t speak at his funeral for it was the exact same time as my grandmothers. And it had me in a bad way.

To tell you the truth, my mind was blown for quite some time. I was surprised to be so sad about my grandmother for she had lived a full life. But all I could think about were the things we never did. She took me on my first trip, she taught me how to play cards (for money no doubt to my mother’s dismay), she taught me the importance of grinding, having a side hustle, fun money and how to run a house. And she took me everywhere with her. And of all the fond memories I had … I couldn’t stop regretting that she had never been to my home. 

Oh, we talked about having Sunday dinner like we used to have when I was growing up. But needless to say it never occurred. For quite some time, I was stuck. Stuck regretting, reminiscing and focusing … on what I didn’t have or didn’t experience. I struggled, in a way, that I couldn’t even communicate but grief will do that.

There were all of these things I wanted to say to my grandmother and share with ‘My Brother,’ but there was no time. Looking back, I needed something … and that something was … an ‘unlikely accomplice.’ I needed something to remind me that life is for living. That my focus now and forever should be on being grateful. 

Say out loud, “I’ll never be happy” and trust me, you never will for that is a declaration. Think to yourself, “I’ll never amount to anything “ … and sure enough, your proclamation will come true, you never will. Proverbs 23:7a says “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:” They don’t say words have power for no reason. 

What I needed was a reminder – and in that moment and even now as I capture my thoughts, I’m sitting here with my current ‘unlikely accomplice’ … my Christmas Tree. Yes, it’s April but this ‘unlikely accomplice’ helped me get through. It made me smile during that December and this one. How many times have I had prayer by its light? How many times have I hit that door in a bad mood only to feel better simply by its sheer presence? How many times has it caused me to remember fondly past Christmas’– where I felt safe and sound? This ‘unlikely accomplice’ is my daily reminder to choose joy and to be grateful in any and all circumstances. Now, I have in my mind that I will take that tree down on Good Friday. And I will but … there are one or two things I’ve learned with this ‘unlikely accomplice.”

I’ve learned to live better in the moment, to be present, and less distracted, when spending time with others. I’ve learned to cherish those moments doing absolutely nothing. And, I continue to learn to be still and relax with what I have. 

A word of advice … Whenever you experience one of life’s moments when an ‘unlikely accomplice’ is needed … remember Dr. Westmoreland’s outlook that the proverbial glass is half-full and that becoming better requires your daily, active, intentional participation. Be Better.

Black Inventor Brilliance

During Black History Month we should all take the time to learn the inspiring history of notable African- Americans, both past and present. African – Americans are famous by leaps and bounds for everything from Hollywood to Wall street. As an engineer, most fascinating of these icons are the inventors, who have taken an innovative idea from conception to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Inventors are out-of-the-box tinkerers who are able to see the unseen and in most cases willing to fail forward.


“Education is the key to unlocking the golden door of freedom”  

George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver (peanut products), Thomas Jennings (dry cleaning system), Norbert Rillieux (sugar-refining process) Garrett Morgan (improved gas mask), Marie Van Brittan Brown (audio-video alarm system), Charles Drew (blood preservation for transfusions), Dr. Patricia Bath (laser cataracts surgical device), Lonnie Johnson (super soaker and more than 80 other patents), Frederick Jones (refrigeration machine), Granville T. Woods (streetcar and telephone), Madame C.J. Walker (hair care products), Elijah McCoy (cotton gin and 57 total patents), Percy Julian (chemical synthesis of drugs), and Henry Blair (seed planter) just to name a few. These are some amazing pioneers that were able to achieve success through perseverance and trial and error during times in American history that were not so favorable for professional African – Americans. These genius inventions help us in our everyday lives and most of them we can’t live prosperous and comfortable lives without. 


“I want the great masses of my people to take a greater pride in their personal appearance and to give their hair proper attention” 

Madame CJ Walker

An awarded patent is automatic monopoly for the inventor for a period of time – which is a dominant asset. In American history there existed a time when African – Americans were not permitted to apply for patent rights because they were considered property and not extended the rights granted to those considered a whole human. At times some of the unknown inventors would apply for a patent under the name of their white slave owner of their respective lawyers, also generally white males. African – Americans knew during these times that they were more likely to have their patent approved using a white person’s identity. Unfortunately, during this time many of the slaves’ inventions were exploited by their white owners for economic and social gain. Nevertheless, these pioneers have fully contributed to the industrialization of a nation and the progress of a people. 


“Excellence of performance will transcend artificial barriers created by man” 

Dr. Charles Drew

I’d like to take this time to say “THANK YOU” to these black inventors who embody the true entrepreneurial spirit. The intellectual contributions they have made to society through their devices and products will forever stand in perpetuity. I stand on the shoulders of these brave titans and others whose names we do not know and I celebrate their achievements not only during Black History Month but 365! 

-Sophoria Westmoreland

Becoming Better … A Journey

In January of 1980, I was given the news that I would not graduate with my class. I was one credit short. So with that blow, I decided it was time for me to change my life for the better. I pushed through; passing my test in summer school. And in the summer of 1980, I graduated and gave birth to my third daughter Nicole that evening.

except from “The Start of My Transformation” by Anita Westmoreland

On that evening in the summer of 1980, Dr. Sophoria Westmoreland, CEO and President of The Westmoreland Group, was born – that was an excerpt from her mother’s testimony.

And with that our story begins.

It was just over two years ago that my generous benefactor, good friend and colleague, Dr. Westmoreland would launch her company, The Westmoreland Group, secure a contract and become employee #1. Congratulations, Dr. Westmoreland. 

So, it was no surprise that Dr. Westmoreland would elect to embark on a new journey – to share her dream. One that celebrates her entrepreneurial spirit. One that promotes women in leadership. One that embodies her commitment to serving others. One that hopes to leave a legacy for future Westmoreland generations. And one that promotes her relentless pursuit of joy and encourages others simply to do the same. That’s a good dream.

If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.”

Dolly Parton

Becoming Better, is Dr. Westmoreland’s new journey, a dream to simply encourage others in becoming better both personally and professionally. 

While, Dr. Westmoreland’s mom graduating and giving birth on the same day could be an interesting coincidence, I beg to differ. Dr. Westmoreland was ‘different by design’ even before she was born.

Dr. Westmoreland holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, a B.S. in General Engineering, and dual degrees, M.S. and Ph.D., in Mechanical Engineering. Clearly, she is bright, accomplished (just google her) and well educated. But, wherein lies her strength, is her desire to exceed expectations, express joy by how she elects to live her life and empower others to do the same. 

Dr. Westmoreland believes that the key to succeeding is through service. She is an active member of her church, Metropolitan Baptist Church, participating in various ministries to include the choir, Vacation Bible School and P.U.S.H., the prayer ministry. She is an active member of her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., having served as her chapter’s chaplain.

Dr. Westmoreland’s past work experience includes teaching an 8th grade engineering design course at the Grantham Academy for Engineering and Senior Design, and Statics as an Assistant Research Professor at the United States Naval Academy; where she mentored and served as a faculty advisor to the academy’s NSBE Chapter.  

Currently, Dr. Westmoreland supports the Office of Naval Research (ONR) as an employee of none other than the Westmoreland Group. Dr. Westmoreland seeks to provide customer-focused, technically astute support – believing that clients should be served, not simply supported, with integrity. Dr. Westmoreland is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and currently supports her client, ONR, as a Business Specialist, providing Navy financial management system expertise; giving administrative direction and support to ONR research, STEM outreach and NREIP/SEAP internship programs. Her other duties encompass event planning, logistics and administrative program support. 

Dr. Westmoreland is published in a number of academia and technical publications and has been formally recognized by both NSBE and the National Science Foundation to name a few. Her dissertation, entitled ‘Design Thinking: Cognitive Patterns in Engineering Design Documentation’ was featured in a book, Sisters in the Dissertation House. She is a consummate thinker, problem solver and continues to color outside the proverbial lines. 

In her free time, Dr. Westmoreland enjoys writing, baking, event planning, reading, singing in the choir and working out. Her hobbies include history (she volunteered as a docent for the Smithsonian), photography, being punctual and helping others become more organized. 

Dr. Westmoreland is outgoing, engaging, easily affable, humorous and comfortable with herself. She is well versed, unpretentious, unencumbered with titles or pedigree; and her humility belies her personal and professional accomplishments. 

One of her favorite poems is Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken which she has prominently displayed in her home. The last two lines read:

“I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

That is Dr. Westmoreland’s daily reminder to be fearless on this journey to becoming better. We hope you enjoy the ride.

“Be light … be you … be better.”

~Blog by Dorothy’s Daughter