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South Carolina Air National Guard Veteran Topeka Ham Finds New Calling with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service

Posted by Melissa Blair, Public Affairs Specialist, USDA Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement in Equity Initiatives
Oct 11, 2023
Topeka Ham

Georgia native Topeka Ham found a new calling serving the American public through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) after 26 years in the South Carolina Air National Guard.

“I helped fulfill my mother’s dream of joining the Air Force by becoming the first military enlistee in my immediate family,” said Ham. “I wanted to continue government service after I retired, and the doors opened in an area that I didn’t even know existed.”

As her Air Force career began winding down, she began looking into opportunities to continue her federal career in the civilian sector. She reached out to the USDA’s Military Veteran Agricultural Liaison (MVAL), Monshi “Ram” Ramdass.

“I sent my resume, and within an hour I was contacted about an opportunity with the Agricultural Research Service in South Carolina,” said Ham. “Ram told me about the SkillBridge program, where I was approved by my military supervisor to intern for four months with the research facility. I was blessed and offered a permanent full-time job.”

The Department of Defense’s SkillBridge program allows transitioning veterans to receive their military paycheck while interning with USDA across the U.S. and/or at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C. to gain valuable civilian work experience.

Ham says her military experience, where she honed her administrative and multitasking skills, helped prepare her for her current position as a program support assistant at the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Coastal Plains, Soil, Water and Plant Conservation Research in South Carolina, which she now calls her work family.

James Dann, Administrative Officer for the ARS, connected with Ram for help in filling USDA positions vacated during the pandemic. Dann knew USDA had a Military Veteran Agricultural Liaison from word of mouth, so he reached out about hiring veterans.

“Through Ram’s assistance, I have successfully hired three veterans, including Topeka, utilizing the Veteran Recruitment Appointment Authority hiring process,” said Dann. “All three candidates are on track to have successful and rewarding careers with USDA.”

As the MVAL, Ram can assist veterans and military spouses by connecting them with opportunities available through the USDA Veterans Employment Program and the Military Spouse Employment Program, helping them to align their skills, knowledge and career goals with an USDA occupation and agency. Veterans can contact their supervisor or the USDA Target Center for reasonable accommodation needs upon employment.

Category/Topic: Equity Initiatives