Science and Technology

Alumnus helps JMU students 'engineer' career success

Spraggs Portrait

SUMMARY: Award-winning program manager Paul Spraggs ('78) praises JMU's ongoing efforts to meet the needs of government and industry and shares some advice with his fellow Dukes.

from the Winter 2018 issue of Madison

When Madison caught up with Paul Spraggs (’78) in Fall 2009, he was anticipating his new position with the Department of Homeland Security with a goal of “fulfilling a desire to work as part of our national government on items of national importance.” As evidenced by the awards he has received since accepting the job, he has been fulfilling that goal while making important contributions along the way.

Since entering DHS, Spraggs has been the recipient of six major awards for excellence, leadership and teamwork, the most recent being the 2016 Acquisition Program Manager of the Year.

“I feel very blessed to be part of a great organization with an important mission and to work daily with great teammates,” says Spraggs. DHS plays a key role in protecting our nation in a number of areas, including cybersecurity, airport security and maritime security.

Spraggs group photo
Spraggs with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Radiation Portal Monitor Team in November 2015. The group received an award recognizing outstanding achievement in support of DHS' mission.

While previously employed at Science Applications International Corp., Spraggs was recognized as a Black Engineer of the Year Award winner in 2009.

Spraggs keeps tabs on JMU’s students and curricular developments.

It is fantastic to read about the great things happening at JMU and with alumni,” he says. The school’s ranking nationwide reflects its growing reputation and commitment to excellence.”

It is really impressive to see the evolution of the JMU course curriculum to mesh with the evolving needs of business and industry,” Spraggs says. The Hacking for Defense course seems like a great example of this.” Designed to provide students with experience working on problems faced by the Department of Defense and U.S. intelligence communities, Hacking for Defense was established at Stanford University as a graduate-level course. JMU offered its initial course in Spring 2017, becoming the only undergraduate program to participate in the initiative.

Nearly 40 years after his own graduation from JMU, Spraggs is happy to share a few tips with today’s Dukes—advice garnered from a career of government and business service.

  • Understand your personality type and its associated strengths and weaknesses — He notes that lots of online tools exist that allow you to answer a series of questions and get a feel for your personality type. I suggest trying a few sites and seeing if they align. In my case, I was classified as a Reliable Realist, and that description fit me very well. In my career, I have seen where it helps and also in cases where I need to be careful.”
  • Take advantage of low-risk learning opportunities — He recommends that students “take advantage of being part of clubs or activities to try out your skills and be exposed to teaming environments. It’s a great way to practice skills and do some things outside your comfort zone when the pressure of grades isn’t part of the experience. JMU offered lots of these opportunities when I attended, and they appear to have grown tremendously over the years.” 
  • Seek networking opportunities — Networking is a big part of the Madison Experience. Spraggs says, “I run into young JMU alumni at the gym or other locales and ask them when they graduated or are graduating and what they plan to do career-wise. It is fun to compare the experience of campus life almost 40 years ago and today. The great thing is when I have been able to link them with personnel in their areas of interest to provide them with career advice.”
  • Understand what additional learning accomplishments are valued — “Certifications in areas such as project management, information technology and software development may be important baseline requirements in some jobs and may help differentiate students in competitive situations. Be mindful of what certifications are most desirable and, in many cases, you can get your company to help fund the certification test and prep seminars/classes. But if they do not, always consider investing in yourself and pursuing important ones on your own.” 

Published: Thursday, January 18, 2018

Last Updated: Thursday, March 1, 2018

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