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Michael Kleinberger: Program Manager

Michael KleinbergerB.Eng., Mechanical Engineering, The Cooper Union

M.S., Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering, Duke University

Describe your work. As a Program Manager in APL’s Research and Exploratory Development Department, I work with APL’s technical staff and our sponsors to develop programs to solve their most challenging problems. This involves being aware of the sponsors’ needs, writing proposals to obtain funding, and assembling and managing a technical team with the required mix of knowledge and expertise.

What made you decide to come to APL? Before coming to APL, I worked for the U.S. Department of Transportation as a Senior Researcher and Program Manager. I was a bit jealous of our contractors that were conducting the hands-on crash tests with anthropomorphic dummies. They always seemed to be having more fun than I was analyzing their data. When APL decided in the late 1990s to create a Transportation Thrust Area, they asked me to come to the Laboratory and establish a crash test facility and a program in biomechanics and injury prevention. I couldn’t pass up that opportunity.

How has your job changed over the years? Part of the challenge of being a Program Manager is to be aware of the changes in sponsor needs. In the post-9/11 era, there has been an increased demand for technologies directed at protecting Americans both at home and overseas. This has changed the priorities of our sponsors and caused a shift in the type of work being performed by APL. For me, that has meant a shift away from civilian Department of Transportation research and into Department of Defense-funded research.

What challenges you in your position? One of the biggest challenges for a Program Manager at APL is assembling a team with the necessary expertise. For an organization like APL, with over 4,000 highly skilled staff members, the real problem is not just finding someone with the right expertise but convincing them to work on your program rather than someone else’s. There are only so many experts around in novel technologies like adaptive laser optics or biomimetics.

What advice would you give to a recent hire trying to learn the ropes? The best advice I can give to a recent hire is to keep your eyes open to the vast array of programs being performed across the Laboratory. Seek out opportunities to work with teams in other departments or mission areas. Offering your unique skills and a fresh perspective to a given problem can help maintain your level of excitement while possibly providing a creative new solution to the sponsor.