In our fourth installment of the Women in Defense Programs series, meet Laura Fornicola, who leads NNSA engagements with our nuclear security partners in the United Kingdom to ensure stability for our nation and our allies. This increasingly important mission plays a unique role in the Defense Programs portfolio, and Laura helped grow the small team into a full-fledged office handling international programs.
How do you support NNSA?
I am a Senior International Programs Analyst in the Office of International Programs. My main responsibility is to assist in the management of NNSA’s engagements with the United Kingdom under the U.S./UK Mutual Defense Agreement. I also lead the implementation of NNSA Policy 476.1, Atomic Energy Act Control of Import And Export Activities, and support Defense Program’s engagement with NATO.
How did you become interested in the field you are in? How did you end up on this career path to this point?
In undergrad, I double-majored in International Studies and Spanish, then I got an M.A. in International Affairs, with a concentration in Security Policy. During my time in grad school, I took some classes on nuclear security policy, nuclear science, and other related courses. Around the time I was finishing up my course work, it just so happened that my company, Leidos, was looking to fill a position in what is now the Office of Nuclear Threat Science. Shout out to my colleague Brooke Samples for seeing potential in me and bringing me on!
While working there, I was lucky to find a mentor in Doug Strack, the program manager for DP’s nuclear surety work. Eventually, I came over to DP to work on the U.S./UK engagements. That was about 8 years ago, and we have developed what was then a two-person embedded team into its own full-fledged office.
What’s one of your favorite things about working at NNSA?
NNSA’s mission makes the work incredibly rewarding. Additionally, our MDA work has given me the pleasure of fostering relationships with colleagues not only in DP, but across the NNSA’s Nuclear Security Enterprise as well as in the UK. On a micro level, knowing that I can help a British subject matter expert find answers to challenging problems, whether I have the answer or know the person who does, is gratifying, in a similar way as knowing our NNSA engagements with the UK ensure stability for our nation and our allies.
What are the characteristics of the best teams that you have been on?
Respect for one another, as well as a willingness to take on even the smallest tasks, are both key to effective teams. This is certainly the case in our office. I also value people who are doers; those who see something needs to get done and just do it.
What advice would you give someone who wants to do what you do for NNSA?
Gaining as much experience as possible in one’s desired field is, naturally, the best way to stand out. This includes joining and being active in relevant organizations, such as Women in International Security. However, the importance of attention to detail cannot be oversold. No matter the career path, one who shows a true attention to detail can succeed in just about any field.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Early morning runs, hiking and camping, and anything that involves spending time with my husband and daughter.