Written by Mary A. Dempsey
Melissa Ezzell-Maddy is unequivocal about how she ended up in her dream job. She credits her capstone project at University of Maryland University College (UMUC).
Ezzell-Maddy is an environmental health and safety engineer at Lockheed Martin in Colorado. She landed the job immediately after receiving a master’s degree in environmental management from UMUC. The capstone project that wrapped up her final term involved waste management at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Boulder, Colorado. “I think I got the job because of the success of the capstone,” said Ezzell-Maddy. “It gave me a foothold into Lockheed Martin’s environmental programs and processes.”
Thirteen years ago, Ezzell-Maddy had a very different career plan. She was an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, married to another service member, and they both planned to remain in the military until retirement. But health problems precluded her from re-enlisting a third time, and an ankle injury dashed her husband’s military aspirations.
“So we moved to Colorado and [my husband] got a job. I dabbled in health care for a bit and worked in security for a little bit,” she said. A security guard job for a Lockheed Martin subcontractor led to another subcontractor position in Lockheed Martin’s mailroom. Then, at age 35, Ezzell-Maddy suddenly decided it was time for a career change.
While earning an undergraduate degree in business from Regis University in Colorado, she had taken—and enjoyed—a few environmental and sustainability courses. As she began eyeing a graduate degree in environmental management, she said UMUC seemed like the logical training ground. “UMUC was one of the few universities that offered an environmental management degree,” she said. “Also, I had taken some UMUC classes in Korea while in the military, so I was familiar with how UMUC worked and I liked what it had to offer.”
Ezzell-Maddy’s capstone project wove together several issues addressed in the UMUC program, including environmental laws and regulations and waste disposal, according to Robert Ouellette, chair of the graduate program in environmental management at UMUC. Ezzell-Maddy said the capstone project streamlined waste disposal processes in the cafeteria at Lockheed Martin’s Boulder facility, making the most of the corporation’s contract with a municipal composting program.
“Boulder requires [corporate] composting, with the goal by 2025 to have just the smallest percentage of waste go to landfills,” said Ezzell-Maddy. “They require all companies in the city to work toward this goal. I helped [Lockheed Martin] discover ways to make the most of the service… and improved their ‘clean’ scores and put them ahead of the game on compliance.” Employee education was a big part of the effort.
Joan Berkowitz, the Graduate School adjunct professor who taught the capstone class, said that while the capstone projects give her students real-life experience in problem solving, it’s not common to see such dramatic results as in the capstone led by Ezzell-Maddy.
Ezzell-Maddy was the only member of the four-person team who lived in Colorado, and her teammates chose her to lead the project. For 12 weeks, the students conducted a waste survey focused on Lockheed Martin’s dining rooms, with an eye on ways to channel more waste away from landfills. The capstone team communicated by email and weekly teleconferencing, working across multiple time zones, with Berkowitz participating as an observer. “During the course of what looked like a fairly routine project, Melissa … looked at compliance, got to talk to other facilities within the Lockheed organization and she got a promotion. So I was very pleased,” Berkowitz said. “The capstone project really improved her management skills.”
About the author:
Mary A. Dempsey is a D.C.-based writer and editor who began her career as a wire service reporter. She has worked as an editor at newspapers and magazines in the United States and Latin America. Her book-editing credits include Mine Eyes Have Seen, a visual journey through the Civil Rights Movement featuring photos by Bob Adelman, and Remembering Jack, with Kennedy family photos by Jacques Lowe.
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