My CBP Journey, Nina Scierka, a Veterans Affairs Non-Paid Work Experience Success Story
“Semper Paratus”, a Latin phrase meaning "Always Ready", has been a solid mantra that has guided my journey through life,” says Nina Scierka, CBP entry specialist, at the Centers for Excellence and Expertise (CEE) for Apparel, Footwear and Textiles. “It’s also the official motto of the United States Coast Guard. During my Coastie days as an active duty first class petty officer performing Maritime Security,” Nina continues, “I crossed paths with Customs and Border Protection Officers (CBPOs) regularly and quickly realized that these professionals I encountered shared this “design for living.” From participating in high profile security events, performing inspections on foreign cargo ships or opening shipping containers, or ensuring hazardous materials were in compliance with regulations, CBP officers were nearby and personified the “Always Ready” commitment that I lived daily during my ten year career in the Coast Guard.”
“Seeking new challenges after the Coast Guard and armed with a college degree along with an active secret security clearance, I imagined that finding my next career would come with ease. After all, I had over a decade of maritime law enforcement and regulation compliance under my belt, however, my career aspirations had changed from my early twenties to my then mid-thirties. I no longer had a “let’s see where this job takes me” attitude. I was looking for a career that I could build on, something that would make me feel like all my in-service deployments, my successes and failures that come with advancing in rank in the military and responsibility, were not a waste of time. I wanted a career with unlimited potential and ever present dynamic challenges. Fortunately, being “Always Ready” helped me find just that in CBP.”
“I quickly discovered that navigating federal employment wasn’t as easy as I’d imagined it would be, however, I was pleased to find out that my veteran status afforded me more advantages than I’d previously been aware. With the direct assistance of CBP’s Veterans Employment Program Manager Jeff Jack, I also determined that some of my previous misgivings regarding my disability status would prove to be strengths and not weaknesses when securing a job and being valued by CBP. As a veteran with service-connected disability conditions, I qualified for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) benefits. VA’s VR&E program provides veterans with 20% or more service-connected disabilities with 48 months of education entitlement along with access to their Non-Paid Work Experience (NPWE) internship program with Customs and Border Protection. CBP considers NPWE veteran interns strictly as volunteers, and the interns are paid a monthly stipend by the VA during their internship participation, which is a win-win for all involved in that I could prove myself to CBP, I would still be paid during this invaluable experience, and CBP could evaluate me prior to committing to hiring.”
“I cannot stress how amazed I was to be given the chance to prove my worth to a federal employer via this NPWE internship opportunity especially since most federal positions are only available via USAJOBS.gov. My “Always Ready” mantra was to be tested daily as I started my internship with CBP in the Mission Support Office at the Port of Charleston. This was a fast-paced office that always had employees coming and going. I enjoyed getting to know other port employees as well as getting a basic understanding of how CBP operated. I started off by being placed directly into the GS series/grade for which I was interning (CBP Technician – GS-5/7) with basic tasks until my background investigation was cleared. I was able to take over some Resiliency programs and quickly caught on to vehicle maintenance records and credit card reconciliation and inventory and destruction of property. I was comfortably navigating several CBP interfaces. After only 6 months into my NPWE internship, I was offered a full-time CBP Technician position. Because of my past experience and college degree, I was brought onboard as a GS-7. But this is not where my story ends.”
“As a CBP Technician, I shifted work to the Chiefs’ Desk. Here I was a secretary for the chiefs. I really enjoyed getting to learn more of the CBPO’s roles in the port. I built relationships with the officers as well as shipping agents. I scheduled Vessel Entrance and Clearance appointments after hours and on the weekends, as well as documented all foreign aircraft coming into the port. One point that is stressed when being hired as a CBP technician is the very broad spectrum of work that you may be doing. After about a year at the Chiefs’ Desk, I was needed to fill a CBP technician position in the Entry Department. Here I learned a new role and enjoyed working closely with the entry specialists and experiencing another side of CBP.”
“When a new position became available, all these twists and turns in my journey gave me the experience and confidence I needed to be able to apply and successfully secure a job as an Entry Specialist (GS-9/11). Shortly after this time, I was also offered a CBP officer position, but declined to stay in my current field. I know this is not the result for everyone, but as you can see the NPWE program has given me an amazing opportunity to learn and grow and successfully secure a career, previously as a CBP technician, presently as an entry specialist. Going forward, the sky is literally the limit in such a fantastic agency. Though I have a different role today, I still feel great satisfaction in doing my part to help CBP accomplish their mission of safeguarding America’s borders and helping facilitate legitimate trade and travel. I still get to serve my country, I believe that is a feeling all veterans strive for after their career has ended with the military.”
“Who knows if this is where I will stay? Recently, there was a solicitation for a 90-day temporary Entry Supervisor position. I don’t know if I will apply at this moment, but I want people to know I don’t feel stuck in a position. There are opportunities if you seek them out, there is movement if you desire it, and CBP does nurture someone willing to be flexible and learn new things. I am proud to tell my story, from intern to CBP technician to entry specialist to who knows? Maybe a supervisory entry specialist one day or higher! Why not? I’m always ready!”
To learn more about participating in the CBP Veterans Internship Program, please contact Jeffrey R. Jack, CBP’s Veterans Employment Program manager at email@example.com.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between official ports of entry. CBP is charged with securing the borders of the United States while enforcing hundreds of laws and facilitating lawful trade and travel.