Alumna Receives a Medal of Honor for Her Service at the Department of Homeland Security
Alumna Karlas Madera (’13), now employed as an industrial engineer and cost analyst with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has been awarded a medal of honor and certificate of recognition for outstanding performance at the agency.
Karla (as she is known) was cited in July for leading a project to organize the 2018 FEMA Component Acquisition Executives (CAE) Program Management Seminar, an event that hosted speakers from industry and federal government who offered insights on program management issues.
“We were named “Division of the Year,” said Karla, whose entire CAE team was also commended. In fact, the seminar was so successful that Karla was invited to a CAE Forum as a presenter on how to organize a Program Management Seminar.
Karla’s organizational skills were honed at PCCC where she graduated in the Class of 2013 with high honors and an Associate in Arts Degree in Liberal Arts/Humanities. A recipient of the Robert A. Shea Memorial Graduate award – given for both academic achievement and leadership skills – Karla was also listed in Who’s Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities.
Karla graduated magna cum laude from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering on scholarship. As a student there, she participated in a pilot program for exchange students and spent a semester researching supply chain management at the University of Parma in Italy.
While at NJIT, Karla was a Member of the Institute of Industrial Engineers, Industrial and Mechanical Engineering Club, and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). She is currently Vice-President of the DHS recognized Affinity Group “DHS Adelante” which aims to identify and address issues impacting the Latin/Hispanic community at the workplace and to foster professional and leadership development to improve Latin representation, retention, and recognition.
At FEMA, Karla is responsible for estimating the cost of establishing or running certain federal programs, such as the Integrated Public Alert and Warning Systems. “That’s what most of us know better as amber alerts, flood warnings, and other emergency notifications,” she explained.
Previously, Karla worked as a deployment disaster survival assistant, traveling around the U.S. to visit areas that have been struck by storms and other disasters in order to assist survivors in filling applications for assistance and providing status of their cases. Her duties have taken her to work assignments at the Border and Customs Patrol in Arizona and California and to Puerto Rico right after Hurricane Maria.
Working for FEMA in the nation’s capital was not in Karla’s original career plans. “I wanted to go into public relations and marketing,” said Karla, “but my mom pushed me toward math fields, because that was my strength, and she thought I would make a better living.”
Born in New York, Karla grew up in the Dominican Republic and graduated from high school there. In 2010, she returned to the U.S., settled in Passaic, and started thinking of college.
“I did not go to school in the U.S. so I knew nothing about the difference between community college or regular colleges,” she said. PCCC’s Passaic Academic Center was local, so Karla enrolled there.
“It was the best decision I ever made,” she said. “At PCCC, the classes are smaller, so you get more one on one time with your professors. PCCC helps you to build a strong foundation.”
Karla immediately became involved in student life. Over the course of her PCCC career, Karla served as president of the Student Government Association, chair of the Student Programming Committee, a student ambassador, a member of several clubs, and a work study who was later hired on by the College as a part-time employee.
“I learned a lot about time management at PCCC,” said Karla, explaining how she was able to be so active, hold down several jobs, and maintain high grades.
That skill served her well at NJIT. “At first I was nervous walking into a large lecture hall where there were so many students,” said Karla. “But after a while, I realized that I had been well prepared at PCCC to handle almost any challenge.”
At NJIT, Karla served an internship at a Bergen County technology manufacturing company that was clearly impressed by her capability. When the internship ended, Karla was hired on as a part-time employee and invited to become full-time after she graduated.
Her post-graduation plans seemed to be falling into place, but then Karla saw a listing at NJIT about job opportunities with the DHS. She applied, but didn’t expect much. “It was a shot in the dark,” she said.
That shot turned to shock when Karla received a phone call from DHS with an offer. “I couldn’t believe they actually called me,” she said. At first, she was reluctant. “I would have to move to Washington, and I didn’t know anyone there,” she said. “I had just built a life in New Jersey.”
But the opportunity seemed too good to refuse. Karla recommended to her employer a fellow NJIT graduate who took over her job, relocated to a suburb of the nation’s capital, and embarked on this career adventure. “It was hard in the beginning, but I really enjoy life and work where I am now,” said Karla.
Though she has not yet actually encountered the president or any of the other well-known political figures, Karla says her daily duties and FEMA colleagues provide plenty of excitement. “I never imagined I would be working for a government agency in Washington, D.C.,” she said. “I love my job.”