People

Techies make the 'Sammies' finals

Service to America logo.

The Partnership for Public Service announced the 32 finalists for its annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America awards (the "Sammies") on May 2, and more than a few tech-literate feds are in the running.

For some, government work has been their life's work.

"Clearly the private sector was not for me," joked Mariela Melero, who was nominated alongside the Customer Service and Public Engagement Directorate she helps lead inside U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Melero and her team were nominated for their customer service-related work, particularly on Emma.

Emma is the smiling bot launched in December 2015 that guides users to the materials they need to access, understands idioms and should, by June, speak Spanish.

The work on Emma is just part of Melero's personal commitment – her "labor of love" – to immigration issues. Melero came to the U.S. with her parents from Cuba when she was a child. She had to tutor her own parents through the immigration process when she was young, and through 29 years of federal service with USCIS has sought to provide other immigrants with a technological helping hand.

Carrie Stokes, another Sammy finalist, also seeks to help people ,and uses maps to get the job done.

At the U.S. Agency for International Development, Stokes has worked since 2000 to integrate geospatial technology into foreign aid decision-making. At first she had a tough sell because Google Earth didn't exist as a demonstration of the power of maps, she said. She faced a tough sell because colleagues thought they could use Google Earth and call it a day.

Dynamic satellite imagery helps contextualize aid, Stokes said. USAID can predict the spread of malaria, watch for illegal mining and more, targeting resources based on a better understanding of place.

For Jenn Gustetic, assistant director for open innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Sammy finalist, the allure of federal service is in the challenges.

"It's like hand-to-hand combat trying to get something out the door the first time," she said, recalling the struggle she has faced trying to spread crowdsourcing over the past several years.

These days, however, almost every federal agency has some sort of hackathon or other crowdsourcing push, she noted.

For a look at last year's Sammy winners, see here.

The eight ultimate 2016 winners will be announced Sept. 20.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.

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