Unsupported Browser Detected

Internet Explorer lacks support for the features of this website. For the best experience, please use a modern browser such as Chrome, Firefox, or Edge.

Meet Ebony S. Contreras, Chief Learning Officer

February 11, 2021

Ebony S. Contreras is the Chief Learning Officer for NOAA Fisheries. She has been with the Human Capital Management Office since 2019.

Ebony S. Contreras Ebony S. Contreras, Chief Learning Officer for NOAA Fisheries

What are your key responsibilities?

I’m proud to be a part of the cadre of employees that make NOAA Fisheries so effective and resilient. As Chief Learning Officer of the second largest line office in NOAA, I am responsible for creating and leading our learning programs and strategy. My goal is to increase the overall capacity for leadership by developing a pipeline of diverse and prepared leaders across all levels. I collaborate with and advise learning coordinators throughout our regions and science centers, serve as the Human Capital Management Office representative on the Fisheries Strategic Action Team for Inclusion , and work alongside other Chief Learning Officers in two interagency Department of Commerce workgroups.

Where did you grow up? 

I was born and raised in the D.C. metro area. I spent all four years in the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program in my high school. I became the first black person—male or female—to hold the rank of Executive Officer (2nd in command) of our school’s unit. My instructor sent me to Norfolk, Virginia one summer where I spent time in a NJROTC youth leadership academy.

What is your educational background? 

I have a B.A. in Sociology from Sweet Briar College and a M.S. in Strategic Human Resources & Organization Development from Johns Hopkins University. I also completed a year of PhD studies in Organizational Leadership from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. I’m a voracious learner.

My mother was born into a single-parent household and was raised by her extended family “village.” My grandmother worked hard to ensure her only child wouldn’t have to struggle as much as she did. Years later my mother received a Ph.D. in chemistry.

My parents valued education and challenged me to be generous and compassionate with those who were less fortunate. My father was teased for being one of the slowest sharecroppers in his poor, rural community. Instead of trying to be a better sharecropper, he focused on academics and won a scholarship to Morehouse College. My parents took turns completing medical school at Howard University so one could work full-time while the other studied. Growing up, a variety of extended family and friends lived with us because my parents regularly took in those experiencing tough times or homelessness.

Can you tell us more about your career?

Where my parents spent much of their careers focusing on the health and well-being of their patients, I’ve spent much of my career facilitating the health and well-being of organizations. Professionally, I identify as a sociological practitioner (clinical sociologist). I apply a sociological perspective to my analysis, interventions, and creative solutions through organizational development. I was thrilled to finally join NOAA in August 2019 and bring this perspective to NOAA Fisheries.

I am grateful for being able to spend the last 17 years of my career in such a dynamic field in five federal agencies, non-profit, and private sectors. During that time I became a Certified Senior Professional in Human Resources and Certified Global Career Development Facilitator Instructor.

I’m a teacher at heart. I have also taught a wide range of undergraduate and graduate courses such as Managing Change, Strategic HR, Organization Theory and Behavior, Business Ethics, Human Relations, Ethical & Critical Thinking, Organizational Development, Career Management, Strategic Staffing, and Public Speaking.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Of my personal accomplishments of which I’m the most proud are the all-natural, unmedicated births of my two children and my fulfilling academic experiences. My children are now 8 and 6 years old and are working on becoming fluent in Spanish and American Sign Language. I’m beyond proud of my children.

One of the highlights of my career was being awarded as one of the top 10 out of 49 full and part-time faculty to receive the highest evaluation scores (5.98/6.0) for an undergraduate Business Ethics course.

Can you tell us about your involvement in community organizations and as a volunteer?

When I’m not overseeing the strategic learning plan, I volunteer with the NOAA Workplace Violence Prevention and Response Office for 5-6 hours a month. There I’ve completed the 40-hour Victim Advocate Liaison Training Program. I work on a volunteer team to support creating a culture of professionalism and respect where “sexual assault and sexual harassment of any kind is not tolerated, perpetrators are held accountable, and survivors are supported.” This past year I’ve had the honor of also serving as a mentor in the NOAA Mentoring Program and as a Coach in the NOAA Coaching Network.        

Outside of work I’m heavily involved in my Unitarian Universalist spiritual community where I serve on the Board of Trustees. I’m also a co-chair of our Diversity and Anti-Racism Transformation team. As a member, I was recently sponsored to attend a 3-day anti-racism and inclusion training. I am also the lead for a collaboration with a local organization in which we cook meals and put together hygiene kits. I oversee serving  50 meals a month to our marginalized neighbors who are often not served by existing structures (immigrants, migrants, undocumented folks, formerly incarcerated, LGBTQIA++, unhoused folks, sex workers, youth, elderly, people of color, and others). I have a certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages which I use in the Community Learning Center of my church. There, we also taught free English classes until the pandemic put a pause on things.

What advice would you have for today’s youth interested in a federal government career?

Bruce Lee is one of my greatest inspirations. His philosophy is that we shouldabsorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own.” And then he reminds us that “knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.” These perspectives connect deeply to who I am and how I work in the world. This is also the advice that I would give to today’s youth interested in a federal government career. I would remind them to take what they’ve learned and apply it to our current reality. Never take something at face value without adapting it to the current circumstances. Actions still continue to speak louder than wordsso pay attention to the actions of others as well as yourselves. Just as they speak without speaking, so do we.

Our younger generations are particularly interested in work that has meaning where they can experience work-life harmony and fairness. I am grateful for the strides toward equity and inclusion that the federal government, especially NOAA, has been making. I have seen a renewed sense of clarity and prioritization of these issues from NOAA Fisheries leadership that continue to make me more proud to serve here. The federal government is a great place to learn, contribute to innovation, and take the action needed to ready the American people for the future.

Last updated by Human Capital Management Office on February 12, 2021