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Unexpected path

Inspection Service employee discovers dream job

Stephanie Smith is using her education in biodefense and policy to help the Postal Inspection Service protect the nation’s mail. Image: Ron Aira, George Mason University

When Stephanie Smith began a detail assignment four years ago, she didn’t realize the move would change her life.

Smith, then a chemist in the Postal Inspection Service’s Forensic Laboratory, was sent to lend her expertise to the agency’s Dangerous Mail Investigations program.

One of her first tasks was to write the job description for a new position: scientific and technical advisor.

“I believed the person should have an advanced degree,” Smith said. “I envisioned the role as a safety officer with a laboratory background who would evaluate new equipment and have a quality assurance role.”

Smith realized while writing the description that she wanted the job — but there was a problem.

“I looked at my strong background in the laboratory,” she said. “But what I didn’t have was a strong background in immunology, biodefense and biology.”

Smith then learned about the master’s in biodefense program at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, and enrolled.

“After the first semester, I realized how valuable it was,” said Smith, whose final project involved her testing a new method of detecting bioagents in the mail.

In 2014, after the position description was approved, there was a clear choice for the job: Smith.

“We were very fortunate to get someone of Stephanie’s caliber,” said Inspector in Charge David Bowers, Smith’s boss. “From the very beginning, she has been an extremely valuable contributor to the group and to the Inspection Service.”

Smith, who graduated from the university last month, has advice for other postal employees.

“Be open to the way your skills might help the organization in a way you may not have thought of,” she said. “I wouldn’t have considered the possibility of this path, but I was open to using my skills in a way that was nonconventional.”

Smith knows she made the right decision.

“I love this more than anything I’ve ever done,” she said.

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