Local ’16 valedictorian recruited by AFTAC as nuclear data analyst

  • Published
  • By Susan A. Romano
  • AFTAC Public Affairs
PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Through the Palace Acquire Program, the Air Force Technical Applications Center here recruited a recent University of South Florida undergraduate to work as a nuclear data analyst in the center’s Ciambrone Radiochemistry Laboratory.

Victoria Scira joined the AFTAC team in June 2019 after graduating magna cum laude from USF in May with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. She was valedictorian for the Merritt Island High School Class of 2016, and simultaneously earned her associates degree from Eastern Florida State College during high school through Brevard County’s early enrollment program.

Eager to apply her newly-acquired technical knowledge, she sought out opportunities to get her resume in front of the right people. In October 2018, she attended the Society of Women Engineers Conference sponsored by the Air Force Personnel Center’s Talent Acquisition team. The Minneapolis conference – the largest of its kind in the world – works to connect, interview and recruit women from all walks of engineering life to help further their careers.

It was here where Scira met Rose Day, AFTAC’s civilian recruiting coordinator, who attended the conference to seek out highly motivated young adults interested in employment with the Department of Defense’s sole nuclear treaty monitoring center.

“I interviewed her onsite at the SWE Conference and after talking to her, I realized she was a super sharp chemical engineer major,” said Day. “As we spoke, I further learned she was from Merritt Island, which is only a few miles north of AFTAC’s headquarters at Patrick AFB. When she told me she was very interested in pursuing a master’s degree, I knew we had a perfect candidate for the Palace Acquire Program.”

Palace Acquire offers permanent full-time positions in various career fields to prospective candidates during a two- to three-year training period. Upon the successful completion of the formal training plan, the candidate is offered a permanent position in a relevant Air Force Specialty Code or job series.

“Candidates must have a degree before being accepted into the program, and some require a minimum grade point average and a willingness to relocate,” Day said. “In Victoria’s case, she well exceeded the GPA requirement and didn’t need to relocate very far!”

Once the interview process was complete and she was accepted as a PAQ intern, Scira was given a tour of AFTAC’s radiochemistry lab, a state-of-the-art facility that identifies radiological or nuclear debris in support of the center’s Nuclear Debris Collection and Analysis Program.

“Right now, I’m doing what’s called alpha-beta coder analysis,” she explained. “In simpler terms, I am utilizing a computer program to calculate radiochemistry results, and manually verifying all of the calculations using data analysis software tools. I’m eager to get trained on other lab positions like quality control and mass spectrometry analysis.”

Dr. Bill Johnson, senior scientist, had nothing but praise for the new member of the AFTAC workforce.

“Victoria has gotten up to speed extraordinarily fast in a very technically-challenging position,” said Johnson. “Her position generates information that is used at the highest levels of our government for those senior leaders to make decisions related to potential violations of international nuclear treaties. In the few months she’s been here, she’s done amazing things and is well on her way to becoming a certified data analyst.”

When asked who has been her most influential mentor, Scira quickly responded, “My dad.”

“He has been my biggest cheerleader throughout this entire process,” she said with a smile. “I have always been interested in STEM fields, and when I was a kid, my father was such a role model for me. He is a mechanical engineer and I always thought his job was super interesting. He took notice at an early age and always encouraged me to pursue all sorts of STEM opportunities.”

She added, “He’s been cheering me on every step of the way, and it’s always fun to talk about engineering topics with him.”

Laura Merritt and Robert Lucio, both from the Air Force Personnel Center’s Science and Engineering Career Field Team, manage the PAQ program and were instrumental in Scira’s hiring action.

“We were thrilled to welcome Ms. Scira into the Science and Engineering Palace Acquire program this year,” said Merritt. “The S&E PAQ program targets high-caliber, dynamic individuals with strong leadership potential and a desire to pursue higher career goals. Looking at her exemplary qualifications, Victoria encompasses everything we desire in a future leader in the engineering community. We expect she will continue to excel in our program and we look forward to her ongoing contributions to the PAQ program and the science and engineering career field.”

While unsure if she’ll make civil service a full 20-year career, Scira plans to pursue a master’s degree in a different field of engineering. “I’d definitely recommend the Palace Acquire program to others. It’s a long process, but very worthwhile!”