Helping veterans and people of color make an impact on government services
This interview marks the tenth installment in the Making an Impact series, a collection of profiles and articles introducing some of our best and brightest leaders — individuals who are making tremendous impacts in the government sectors we serve.
Kari Ortiz, Outreach Manager, Veterans and People of Color
As a veteran, Kari uses her background and knowledge of the veteran experience to perform outreach and help recruit more veterans and people of color to join the Maximus team.
We caught up with Kari over Zoom to talk about her career, the changes she saw for veterans and people of color in 2020, and her time in the U.S. Army.
When did you start with Maximus, and what was your first role?
I started here at Maximus recently, October 5, 2020, as the Manager of outreach for veterans and people of color. Before Maximus, I worked at Boeing on the International Space Station program. It was a really cool group because we were like this elite team, where we handle all types of procurements, and we had to get it right for Boeing. We were hiring people and contractors; it was a lot of fun.
Before Boeing, I did a lot of stuff with the military. I created the Air Force's wounded and injured Community programs for AFW2. I also helped put together the paralytic military program for all the wounded veterans.
While in the Army, I served in ADA November, where I was the Transportation Management Coordinator. We were responsible for moving units into and out of the area of fighting. We called it "The Box." We moved all forms of transportation — from highway, rail, plane, and barge around Europe, Asia, and Korea.
What inspired you to go into this line of work?
My inspiration lies in being both a veteran and a woman of color. I understand and have lived firsthand through many of the challenges faced in the work environment and finding work. To be able to drive change in a manner that assists others in their process truly inspires me.
But what brought me to this role was initially I was working at Boeing, and it was a great job. It was a lot of fun, but I didn't feel like I was making a positive impact on people. Service is important to me. I grew up in it, and it's being able to help and leave a legacy of having helped someone else that matters most.
Transitioning from creating programs and helping service members to go from their worst possible point to competing in a sport — it's incredible to help give that lift to help people move forward and thrive. To be able to help assist people of color, individuals with disabilities, and veterans with being able to help support their families — it's an incredible feeling.
I think seeing my mom, a single mom, growing up — and she had me when she was super young — and just the pride when she got her first real job. She started working as a police officer, and it's changed the dynamic of our whole family — the ability for her to pay for us to go to private school and move forward.
To be able to share and to be able to help people on that level was a great draw to me, I mean, yes, it's cool working on spaceships, but it's way better to be able to change people's lives.
How do you approach big challenges?
When approaching significant challenges, I first adjust my mind to see the challenges as opportunities (to grow, learn, and be successful). The second thing, operationally, I like to plan it out and take the task one step at a time.
I remember with my grandmother, she was working hard, and I go to work, then classes, then more work — and I was always broke. So, I would go to her to talk, and I was just whining because you know this is your due to your grandma. I said, I just work hard, and everyone else is playing. I don't get to play or have a good time. She told me that life is like a race with a bunch of hurdles. You'll be running smoothly and just preparing for the next one. That's just one of the things that I kind of keep in mind — like, okay, this is an opportunity for me to take this challenge and turn it into an opportunity, a success, or a learning experience. And that's how I kind of look at these challenges: more opportunities.
What do you see changing in veteran and people of color outreach in the 2020s?
One of the changes that I see is that there is a spotlight now on the need for change in the way we look to hire our workforces. There is an understanding that each of these groups brings unique skillsets and points of view that are needed.
I see a lot of change, and I think a lot of it is because of what's been going on in society as a whole. There is this kind of tear where we're trying to learn and grow from, you know, the things that have happened in the past and the things that are still going on. I think the current turmoil has created a time when people are starting to understand we need to reach out to these populations. I see a lot more people are actually more conscientious in the way they say things and how they're going about business. They're saying: "You know what? — we might want to see this insight, or we might want to delve into these different groups because they do have a voice that we may need or that we can actually get valuable information from." I think that's kind of where the mindset is changing and where they're coming to see the value in diversity.
What inspires you?
I am inspired to be of service and to be a part of affecting positive change wherever possible. I aspire to be able to look back on my career and see that I was able to effectively do my part to create positive change. To be a part of growth to be a part of a positive change, to look back on it and go, you know what I was a part of — that I helped these people leave a legacy worth having. Not just talked about something, but actually been a part of and contributed to positive change.