In her nearly three years as Senior Associate for BayFirst Solutions, Yolanda Saunders has been consistently recognized for her hard work, her performance, and her strong client services by both the company and the clients she supports. At every turn, Saunders has helped BayFirst’s government clients make strategic program advances in their technical systems while achieving substantial cost-saving measures for U.S. taxpayers.
Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary for Science and Technology publicly honored Saunders for her valuable support of the Department’s Aircraft Cyber Evaluation project, for which she received the DHS “Unity of Effort” award.
BayFirst CEO Kevin Gooch received a letter of commendation from the DHS Undersecretary that read, in part:
“I would like to express my appreciation to you and BayFirst Solutions for your valuable support of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) by participating and exhibiting an outstanding Unity of Effort toward the DHS S&T Aircraft Cyber Evaluation project. The individual contributor from your organization was Yolanda Saunders and she deserves a special thank you and job well done. Securing and safeguarding cyberspace is one of the core missions of the Department . . . Support from partner organizations like yours make S&T’s projects possible, and I am grateful for your service and shared dedication to homeland security.”
Below is an interview that BayFirst Solutions conducted with Yolanda Saunders about her work, her passion to support BayFirst clients, and her unique contribution to the company’s success:
1. How did you came to BayFirst Solutions. What attracted you to the company?
I came to BayFirst Solutions through a contract recompete. My previous company was not eligible to bid on this work so BayFirst was my top choice for a company that could provide me with a new home but still allow me to support my client in the Cyber Security Division. I knew how great the company was because of several comments and stories from BayFirst employees that I already knew. They feel like a family and that was very important to me.
2. Given that you work in a context that requires top security clearances, what can you tell us about the sort of work that you do?
I currently support the Aviation Cyber Security project. We have a team of researchers and white hat hackers who perform various penetration tests on an aircraft that we were able to purchase strictly for research purposes. Our researchers are from various academic institutions as well as industry and a big part of my job is to interact with those researchers on a daily basis, keeping track of their funding and their deliverables and making sure that they are providing everything that we need from a scientific perspective. I often attend high level meetings with the Undersecretary and Deputy Undersecretary for Science and Technology because this is a high-profile project.
3. Your team has been recognized for several awards in recent months. Tell us about your team, and what you’ve been recognized for?
Every member of the Bayfirst team is very driven and they all take great pride in their work. We all have a very good relationship with our individual clients/program managers as well as the Division Director and the Chief of Staff. I was recognized for Outstanding Contractor Support to the Software Quality Assurance and the Software Assurance Marketplace programs. These are two of the programs that I supported within the Cyber Security Division prior to joining the Aviation Cyber Security team.
4. You were personally commended recently by the Undersecretary. Tell us about the award?
The award was for my work on the Aviation Cyber Security Project and the support that I give to the client. For example, when the Undersecretary was planning his trip to visit the aircraft and view our testing, I worked with his Executive Assistant to make sure that his travel from Washington, DC to Atlantic City, NJ was simple and easy. I also made sure that every VIP that attended the testing had everything they needed to include transportation, access through the gate and access to the aircraft.
A big part of that was being able to work through the logistics with the Federal Air Marshals because we did take over their training facility. A lot of what I’m recognized for is being able to talk to people on any level and being able to negotiate my way through any challenge.
5. What do you think of when you hear the word “consultant?” It’s a word that can mean many different things. What does it mean to you? Do you think of yourself as a “consultant”?
I do think of myself as a consultant in a sense because I provide knowledge and suggestions to my Program Manager in regard to the program and to the Division Director in regard to the overall health and well-being of the division. They both respect and value my opinion and I feel very comfortable providing my honest, unfiltered feedback to both of them. The program manager relies on my expertise and leadership on a daily basis; and while i’m an outside contractor, he very much makes me feel an integral part of the team.
6. BayFirst describes the company’s work as “the convergence of people, process, and technology.” Tell me how that describes the work you do?
In that statement, I believe that people are the most important because without a good team, you will not be able to trust the process that gets you to the ultimate goal. That ultimate goal is to be able to utilize technology to create and accomplish something that initially seems unreachable but once you put the right people who know how to negotiate, work within the process, and understand the technology together in one place, I believe that you can accomplish some great things. One of those things is the non-cooperative penetration of an aircraft by an outsider which is what was accomplished in Phase I of the Aviation Cyber Security project.
7. Tell us something about you that your co-workers might not know? Something you’ve done? Somewhere you’ve traveled? A hobby? What makes you, YOU?
One thing that my co-workers may not know is that I studied the Japanese language for three years in college. I learned how to write in Kanji and Katakana and have a full blown conversation for thirty minutes or more. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much of it at this point. They also may not know that I served on the Board of Directors at my college for several years which provided me with the opportunity to meet some magnificent people who I may not have had the pleasure or opportunity to engage with otherwise.
8. Tell me some of the qualities of successful team leadership that you seek to incorporate into your career?
Understanding, Honesty, Confidence and Transparency
9. Tell me something that people may not know about BayFirst?
I think that people don’t realize how much of a family BayFirst is….meaning that from the outside, we may look like any other contracting or consulting organization but the reality is that everyone works hard to do their part at making the company successful while maintaining that ability to make everyone feel like they are a valued part of the family.