Building a Network of Support

Empowering colleagues and giving back to the community.

Rickell Sheppard
Rickell Sheppard

Rickell Sheppard is a super-connector. Have a question? She can help find the answer. Need more information about benefits? She will make time to talk through the details in person, on the phone, or via email—whichever you prefer. She embodies the welcoming culture of the institute, in part because she’s a longtime employee. Sheppard joined STScI in 2008 as an intern from My Sister’s Circle and quickly became a full-time employee, transitioning from an administrative assistant to a senior human resources assistant. Read on to learn how this role and her volunteerism go hand in hand.

Why did you choose to build your career at STScI?

I learned about the institute through the mentoring program My Sister’s Circle. I began as an intern, before being asked to join full time as an office clerk. Within a few years, I became an administrative assistant, supporting our business resource center and the Youth for Astronomy and Engineering program. In 2017, I joined the human resources team when a colleague encouraged me to apply. It’s a great fit for my interests.

What does your role as a senior human resources assistant entail?

I educate new employees about their options when it comes to health care, insurance, and retirement programs. I really enjoy meeting the new hires in their first week. I get to talk to them about their options and answer questions, while also learning about their backgrounds and making connections. Since I meet them as they join, I remain a contact. People will reach out to ask questions and I help connect them with the people who can answer. Throughout the regular workweek, if I see someone I know, I ask how their day has been. I’m genuinely interested in how everyone is doing. I also love learning about weekend plans and reconnecting.

Another part of my role I enjoy is helping to produce our annual wellness fair. Each year, our team assesses the opportunities we provide, which include booths for our health care provider and vendors who can provide a full biometric screening, bone density tests, brain games, and a live cooking demo. This year, we introduced a meditation van, which was very popular. I learned about it when I visited a symposium held by BHS, which provides local wellness and employee assistance programs.

When I saw the new mobile meditation studio, I knew it would be a great fit, since we’ve received several requests to meditate on site. The van offered guided or unguided sessions, and each pod provided headphones and a weighted blanket. We received a lot of positive comments following the fair. People felt rested and relaxed before returning to work. We want all of our employees to stay healthy and active—and learn about activities they can integrate into their regular routines. We want them to feel they are at their best when they come to work.

Why do you enjoy working at STScI?

I’m a mom. It’s nice to have sick leave and vacation time so I can find a good life-work balance and be around for my family. I’m also part of a very easy going team, which was helpful when I transitioned a few years ago. My colleagues have been huge resources. They share so much information about their areas of expertise, which has helped me advance my career.

Why is it important to you to volunteer?

I benefited from a mentoring program that I started in elementary school. My Sister’s Circle offered reading and support groups as my group of mentees transitioned from elementary to high school. I got to attend cultural and educational events, received support when I applied to college, and attended summer camps. As an alumna of the program, I go back to talk to students to share my story, and the importance of internships and education.

I also volunteer with Rebuilding Together Baltimore. The nonprofit organizes daylong events where contractors come to help homeowners repair and beautify their homes. I’ve served as a street captain to ensure both the homeowners and contractors have all the information and tools they need. I’ve also helped paint a mural and plant flowers. This work is very important to me. I volunteer because I believe it is our civic duty to share our time and resources to empower our community.

Article updated March 2020.