Sonia Kassambara is Operations Manager in the Office of Business Operations in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, a role she’s held for the last two and a half years. In this position she brings together overarching needs of operations, including workforce management, project management, and IT services. She sat down with us recently for a brief discussion as part of a Black History Month Blog Series.
Tell me about your role at the Energy Department
I bring together the suite of needs for the Business Operations offices. Some things overlap, like the Change Control Board where we adopt and revise policies for EERE.
What do you like most about your job?
What I like best is bridging gaps and anticipating needs within the organization. Also, promoting employee engagement as well as enhancing communication between different offices.
How would you describe your current thinking about diversity, and how has your thinking changed over time?
My definition has expanded to include a myriad of personality styles and capabilities, as well as strengths that people with different perspectives bring to an organization. It does not stop at people’s ethnicity; a certain vantage point or experience can enrich how we do things in EERE and across the government.
When I first started doing equal employment work, we emphasized workforce representation, how many people from all ethnic groups and abilities are represented in all facets of the workforce. I’ve now grown to see how various strengths, backgrounds, and outlooks can be added to define diversity.
Who were some of your heroes growing up?
I would say James Baldwin and Toni Morrison were both literary heroes, and I thought they were audacious writers. They wrote about things beyond their time. I was also very influenced by Thurgood Marshall, especially in high school, and Benjamin Banneker. They both had local and national impacts and histories.
I would also add my mother and grandmother as heroes. Both have been civically engaged. My grandmother, Fanny Thomas, was involved in the decolonization of Sierra Leone. She participated in an international peace meeting in China and met Egypt’s President Nasser in the 1950s. My mother is the first African immigrant member of Prince George’s County’s Central Committee, and she cast a vote in the Electoral College for 2016. I am very proud of their tenacity.
All of these people shared visions that went beyond themselves and spoke to their nation in some way. They left legacies and honed who they were instead of adapting. Adaptation is important, but I have seen visionaries shine brighter as they get more focused.
Has your perception of Black History Month also changed over time?
It’s an interesting time to be working on an energy portfolio right now, and people are recognizing some of the achievements and contributions of African Americans in the sciences. I took my daughter to see Hidden Figures, about a team of female African-American mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program. Their contributions weren’t explored, even though that information was available, when I was growing up. Now that this and other examples have been brought to the fore, I think now people are making more linkages in history for African-Americans in particular beyond entertainment, civil rights, and athletic prowess. Given events that have happened throughout history, I think people are trying to tell a more composite story right now.
What’s one thing about you people would be surprised to know?
Most people don’t know I was training to dance in a West African dance troupe. I realized trying to do that while in graduate school full-time wasn’t a very good idea, but I enjoyed studying West African dance. In addition, I’m an avid Harry Potter fan. I’ve seen every new movie at 12:01 a.m.