Young Professional 2022: Cynethia E. Sims
“Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory” (1971 original version)
Favorite thing to
do in Tri-Cities?
Walking the trails and parks.
What would people
be most surprised to learn about you?
I was a contestant on “The Price is Right” and “The Steve Harvey Show,” all in the same week.
Most disliked food?
Boiled brussels sprouts
Current city of residence: Pasco
How long have you worked there? 15 years
Briefly describe your company:
Bechtel is an engineering, project management and construction company that helps its customers deliver projects of purpose that create a lasting positive legacy.
These are projects that create jobs and grow economies, improve the resiliency of the world’s infrastructure, connect communities to resources and opportunity, get us closer to net zero, protect U.S. and allied interests, tackle critical environmental challenges to protect people and the planet and accelerate progress to make the world a cleaner, greener and safer place.
Since 1898, we have helped customers complete more than 25,000 projects in 160 countries on all seven continents.
Education: Please list your degrees and professional certifications.
Master of Business Administration, University of Tennessee, Chattanooga.
Bachelor of Science, accounting and finance, University of Tennessee, Chattanooga.
Briefly describe your job and how you got into it:
I have been an accounting and finance professional for over 13 years.
Most of my experience has been within Bechtel in its government sector, which includes nuclear, security and environmental.
I have progressed from learning and performing the basic accounting functions in the Oak Ridge Controller office to understanding how core financial functions impact the large construction project operations and managing teams to perform various accounting functions.
My current role is at the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP), where I am the controller operations manager. I lead a team of about 10 project accountants.
My father, an accounting manager, and my mother, an administrative assistant, both worked at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for over 30 years.
They always made sure I participated in “Take Your Kids to Work Day.” I remember my father sharing that the finance department keeps track of the money to ensure projects can be completed. I remember thinking that was a very interesting way to contribute to major projects that can change the world.
In high school, I took accounting as an elective. I excelled, which led me to complete a double major in accounting and finance at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga.
Bechtel was my first job after graduate school. I have been able to explore several different roles within accounting, ethics and compliance, and project controls functions.
Being the controller at WTP was my first opportunity to be a manager and learn how accounting supports a first-of-its-kind project that will advance DOE’s cleanup mission at Hanford.
How long have you lived in the Tri-Cities? 3.5 years
How did you earn your first dollar?
My dad began teaching my brother and me about money when I was in the first grade. By the fourth or fifth grade, we had chore charts and academic goals as ways we could earn money.
This taught me a lot about goal setting and financial management early in life.
My first job was a summer internship for eighth-grade students at the University of Tennessee.
The program paid students a stipend to learn about various educational departments to support their summer initiatives.
I supported the UT Gardens, which was used to teach both the community and college students about horticulture, ecosystems etc. I have my parents and community to thank for ensuring that I was aware of and engaged in many community programs that enriched my educational and personal life experiences.
What professional lessons, if any, have you learned during the pandemic?
I became controller in January 2020. As a new manager during the pandemic, a few of the professional lessons I learned are:
We are stronger together. During the pandemic, the WTP team pivoted to a new environment, sending a majority of the workforce home and identifying critical workforce and developing plans to be safe as well as maintain a nuclear site.
The leadership consistently reminded us that no matter what the circumstance, we are in this together and we are stronger together.
They reinforced that we may have differences of opinion, but we can all agree that we want to be safe, we want to be alive, we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers when it comes to performing WTP work, and we will lead through this crisis together.
What was your dream job as a child?
I wanted to be a singer.
I have been singing with my dad in church for several years. We even tried out for a gospel singing contest “Sunday’s Best.” I still sing quite a bit with my dad at church events, weddings etc. So even though it’s not my job, it is still a big part of my life.
Tell us about your community involvement/community service:
- Women@Bechtel Employee Resource Group: The Women@Bechtel group has a vision to make Bechtel the employer of choice for women. We help supply, sustain and develop the female pipeline by empowering women to join, stay and thrive at Bechtel. Taking this mission to heart, as chapter president, I led a team that completed the following activities:
- IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Summit hosted by PNNL. The summit included interactive sessions and panels around topics of inclusion, work/life balance, building confidence, mentorship and more.
- Girl Day (introduce a girl to engineering) hosted at Richland Public Library. About 105 students participated in a half-dozen STEM activities held in conjunction with Engineers Week. Volunteers from the WTP NexGen group, the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers and other local companies participated.
- Kennewick Boys & Girls Club Mobile STEM & Lego Robotics Programs. Worked with our WTP leadership and the Boys & Girls Club team to establish a volunteer program to support the launch of two new Bechtel after-school programs (Mobile STEM & First Lego League) at the Kennewick Boys and Girls club during the 2019-20 school year.
- Member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. since 2006 and joined the Psi Nu Omega graduate chapter in 2019. This sorority is the first intercollegiate historically African American sorority with a mission to cultivate and encourage high scholastic and ethical standards, promote unity and friendship among college women, to study and help alleviate problems concerning girls and women to improve their social stature, to maintain a progressive interest in college life and to be of “Service to All Mankind.”
- The local Junior Achievement organization. I served as WTP’s executive ambassador to the local Junior Achievement organization with a focus on championing and advocating for Bechtel’s involvement in recruiting and retaining employee classroom volunteers and mentoring JA event coordinators for events such as the annual Bowl for Kids’ Sake.
How do you achieve work-life balance?
During the pandemic, I took time to think about work-life balance. Prior to that, I really did let work be my life. Now, I focus on my life’s work.
By this I mean that it’s all a part of life. What impact do I want to make with the time I have whether that be at work, home, in the community or with family and friends etc.?
It made me shift to a better understanding how I can better be present everywhere I am (work or home) and seek to engage at a level that is impactful in a balanced way that doesn’t create burnout.
Practically, that looks like not taking every single extra work assignment, acknowledging that I am only one person, not keeping my calendar so overbooked, looking for what opportunities to serve align with my goals for the year and being OK with saying “no.”
I’m also a big advocate for utilizing counseling as part of your “village” to help process life changes, situations/problems with yourself/others, trauma, societal impacts etc. We all carry and experience situations that have an impact on our mental health. We should feel comfortable in talking to an educated professional to help us understand purpose, process feelings and emerge in a better mental state.
List any awards/honors you have received:
Featured on various panels, employee spotlights, leadership awards within Bechtel.
Do you have family? Pets?
I am not married yet (dating) and do not have any kids (also yet). However, my mom and dad who live in Tennessee, a brother and sister-in-law who live in Peoria, Illinois, and have two kids, and a village of people who have supported me wherever I go.
I always say, “It takes a village.” This family is at the core of every success I’ve ever had, and every dream I have realized.
What brought you to the Tri-Cities? Did you grow up here?
What brought me to the Tri-Cities was the opportunity to be a part of a first-of-a-kind environmental cleanup project with a significant mission.
I remember thinking, “It will be amazing to actually be able to see nuclear waste turned into glass, and then safely stored!”
I also desired to experience a new place outside of the East Coast. I have been at many projects or home offices that allowed me to live on the East Coast, but I had never lived in the Pacific Northwest.
It was a new experience all the way around.