By Tonya Johnson
DCMA Public Affairs
FORT LEE, Va. — Noreen Cassaro mentored a lot of employees at the Defense Contract Management Agency, especially those who participated in the Keystone program.
“She was more than a mentor and instructor to me,” said Kim Carson Ray, a Keystone graduate who is now an administrative contract officer in DCMA Special Programs. “She will remain one of the biggest influences I’ve encountered on my DCMA career path.”
Unfortunately, Cassaro passed away four years ago. Her legacy lives on, though, largely thanks to some of the Keystones from Cohort 8 in 2009, who established an award in her name. Carson was part of that group, along with other current DCMA employees Chandra Brown, Edward Brown, Leroy Grant, Shakirah Muhammad, Neil Newmark and Mary-Kathleen Ryan.
The annual Noreen Cassaro Award of Excellence recognizes superior performers in the Keystone program. The employee must have contributed significantly to the DCMA mission and strengthened the knowledge of the acquisition workforce. The award was first presented in 2015 to Jennifer Reed, a DCMA Detroit contract administrator.
Cassaro served as the Keystone Distance Learning Center coordinator at DCMA Boston, and was known for developing, training and mentoring Keystones. Keystones used to spend a month at one of three agency locations — Boston; Carson, California; or DCMA headquarters — to learn more about the agency.
“As our DLC coordinator, she possessed great zeal in ensuring Keystones became proficient in our jobs to give our best contribution to the agency’s mission,” said Muhammad, an contract specialist in DCMA International. “She would stay in contact with you long after you graduated from the program to make sure you were okay. Even as she was working the role of a Keystone coordinator as a secondary function, we appreciated her support for new employees and helping them understand how their jobs impacted the mission of the organization to help warfighters.”
“I wanted to assist in the development of this award because Noreen not only helped me at the DLC to get off on the right foot, but she was always there whenever I had a question,” said Ryan, a cost analyst at DCMA Aircraft Propulsion Operations GE Engines in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Noreen made a connection with each individual. She made you feel welcomed and a part of something greater. I will always be grateful for the time I was able to spend with her and all the knowledge she provided me.”
Only third-year Keystones are eligible for the award. Each nominee must have a fully successful rating on all evaluations while participating in the program, attained Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act Level II Certification and submitted their graduation packet to their coordinator for approval at the time the individual is nominated.
Directors, supervisors and team leaders can nominate Keystones. The DCMA Council creates a panel to evaluate the nominees, looking at a variety of factors, including superior performance, teamwork, innovative improvements and demonstration of professional self-development. Tasking for the annual award is usually released in the first quarter of each fiscal year.
“This award demonstrates to the Keystones that their public service based on functional requirements and their demonstration of personal and professional integrity does not go unseen,” said Muhammad. “Also, it reminds them that that we, too, started as GS-5s and GS-7s, and many of us have worked hard with the foundation set by one of our teachers, Noreen, to reach even greater heights at DCMA.”
Muhammad said Cassaro was an inspirational leader at DCMA.
“Noreen pushed new trainees to excel within DCMA from day one,” said Muhammad. “During her civil service, she was widely recognized as an employee who promoted a cooperative spirit among leaders and improved operations and procedures while mentoring tomorrow’s leaders. Unfortunately, Noreen did not get to see us graduate from the Keystone program, but her teachings are still strong not only with us, but also with others who knew her.”
Muhammad added, “Recognizing the importance of the Keystone program to our careers, we, as alumni who established this award, wanted to give something back to the program for years to come, while paying homage to an individual that was vital to our successful completion of the program and one of the motivating factors of our continued drive for success today at DCMA.”
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