Today on National STEM Day, PRSA-NCC observes the holiday set aside to encourage individuals to follow their passions in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. Recently members of PRSA-NCC had the opportunity to interview Raushaunah Muhammad of the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Press Office on the FBI’s efforts to spotlight STEM.
PRSA-NCC: We understand you have a background in STEM and now work in Public Affairs at FBI. Tell us a little about your background and how you transitioned from working in STEM to the National Press Office for the FBI.
RM/FBI: Currently, I am a Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) with the FBI’s National Press Office where I handle most of the science and tech portfolios. I earned a degree in Electrical Engineering from an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and have a research background in cryptology. Before joining the Press Office, I was assigned to the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) for nearly 12 years where I worked extraterritorial matters emanating from the continent of Africa.
I learned of the Office of Public Affairs shortly after joining the FBI. Since then, I have always wanted to work in this field. I have been fortunate to have deployed all over the world, and our reputation precedes us. I am grateful to have found a career with the FBI. We do a lot of amazing work, and I am proud to share those successes with the world—when we can. From an operational lens, when my colleagues and I stack up on a door or go interview a subject, I want that individual to think twice about their next move. So yes, I can take down a bad guy with my pinkie finger and one hand tied behind my back and look good in a suit while doing it!
PRSA-NCC: You’re currently doing a campaign at FBI that promotes these fields and the people who work in them. What made you want to put the spotlight on this industry and why now?
RM/FBI: I remember coding for the first time when I was in third grade; STEM has always been an important part of my life. I have experienced firsthand the benefits of a STEM education but have also seen all the amazing work done by the Bureau in the STEM arena. I have always wanted to give back to a community that has given me so much. Obviously I am a big proponent of STEM, especially among women. After being assigned most of the science and tech portfolios, I realized in keeping with the FBI’s vision is to stay ahead of the threat through leadership, agility, and integration, I could contribute through our acknowledgment of the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in our communities and inspire future generations to consider a career in STEM.
PRSNA-NCC: What skills does one need to have in order to work in these fields and how is it different in the FBI than in private sector?
RM/FBI: STEM professionals at the FBI have opportunities to work with advanced technologies to address unique investigative and intelligence challenges not found in the private sector. STEM skills such as critical thinking, communication, problem solving, creativity, data analysis, and increased science and technical literacy are transferable across numerous job paths within the FBI. The FBI seeks and recruits graduates with degrees in a variety of STEM-related degrees to serve in roles such as Special Agents, Intelligence Analysts, Computer Scientists, Electronics Engineers, Information Technology Specialists, Chemists, Biologists and Physical Scientists. That’s just to name a few. At the FBI, we are about the mission, and our mission is to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States against all threats foreign and domestic.
PRSA-NCC: What has it been like promoting the STEM campaign in the Press Office? Do most people know what it is? What has been the reaction?
RM/FBI: This is my first nationwide initiative. It has been a labor of love, but I have received overwhelming support from the Office of Public Affairs, the various divisions within the FBI, and FBI executive management. Most people I encountered knew about STEM; however, for those that did not, once I explained what it is and what I wanted to accomplish, they were all in.
PRSA-NCC: How are you reaching out to people to inform them of the STEM opportunities at the FBI from a Public Relations perspective?
RM/FBI: At a HQ level we are issuing a press release, hosting a live Twitter chat, posting a lead story to the FBI.gov website, and doing a podcast. We are also posting a story on our internal website. Most importantly, we are very fortunate that in addition to the Office of Public Affairs at FBIHQ, we have Public Affairs Officers in each of our 56 field offices. The field is our greatest resource. They are promoting our efforts in their markets. Additionally, they are working on their own STEM-related projects and engaging with their offices’ community outreach specialists and human resources departments. The success of this initiative will be mainly as a result of their hard work; they are a force multiplier.
PRSA-NCC: When most people think of the FBI, they might think of agents fighting crimes. How does STEM play a role in solving crimes?
RM/FBI: We understand when most people talk or think about the FBI, they may not immediately be thinking of how the FBI’s mission relates to STEM or is supported by people who have backgrounds in STEM. However, in today’s world, every investigation is touched by science and technology. The FBI develops cutting-edge technology and uses science to help fulfill its mission. All of these disciplines and the skills that are inherent to them are vital tools within law enforcement. We have STEM professionals in every field office and at Headquarters. They are mostly in divisions such as the Laboratory Division, Operational Technology Division, Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate and Cyber Division, but they are also in our Criminal Investigative Division. Matter of fact, CID recently reshaped a portion of its organization model to manage hi-tech criminal threats.
PRSA-NCC: How do you think the public’s perception of these fields has changed over time? Do you think shows like “Big Bang Theory” or “Project MC2” have helped make these fields seem cool to get into now?
RM/FBI: I believe STEM has always been cool. However, I think there is more of an awareness now of STEM and how it permeates every part of our daily life. It’s not just science fiction anymore. Television shows and hopefully outreach efforts such as this will make it even cooler to pursue a STEM education. Also, an important underlying theme is diversity and inclusion. Maybe a child will see a character or see an FBI employee that looks like them and see themselves in that world, see themselves in STEM.
PRSA-NCC: How do you recruit people in these fields to work for the FBI?
RM/FBI: We like to say that everyone is a recruiter. First and foremost, we recruit through word of mouth. The FBI is a great place to work. Bureau personnel regularly visit colleges and universities to speak with prospective job candidates. Matter of fact, I was recruited at my HBCU’s career fair. I had never considered a career with the FBI prior to that. We also have a unit within HRD solely dedicated to the recruitment of STEM personnel. Further, the FBI maintains educational outreach academies. Some of these programs promote STEM in the communities we protect and serve such as the FBI’s Teen/Youth Academies, Future Agents in Training (FAIT), Safe Online Surfing, and Cyber STEM. For a more robust list of our outreach programs visit https://www.fbi.gov/about/community-outreach.
PRSA-NCC: What are some of the challenges and rewards with recruiting for STEM?
RM/FBI: The market for STEM expertise is highly competitive to say the least. STEM skilled and trained personnel are an integral part of the FBI. We work to recruit and retain top talent from both private and government sectors to maintain an exceptional cadre of diverse professionals. What we offer at the Bureau is an opportunity to make a real and positive difference in the world. We want those individuals that are about service over self, and when you meet someone with the skills and the drive to do just that, it’s exciting to see. Best of all, you know when they join the FBI family—and we are a family, that they will have a unique, inspiring and fulfilling career.
PRSA-NCC: Where can people go to learn more about STEM work at the FBI?
RM/FBI: There are a wide range of STEM careers at the FBI, each with its own advantages and opportunities. For more information about STEM-related career paths in the FBI, please see https://www.fbijobs.gov/career-paths/stem. However, for a look at which positions are currently available, please see www.fbijobs.gov. Also, students majoring in STEM fields in undergraduate, graduate, or Ph.D. programs are encouraged to apply to our Honors Internship Program and Collegiate Hiring Initiative.