Each year, thousands of TSA employees begin their journey at the TSA Academy and the agency’s Canine Training Center.
Dicy Peppers, Tiaja Pauls and Virginia Beauman are key players in making sure the journey is a successful one and officers are prepared to carry out TSA’s mission to protect the nation’s transportation systems.
Peppers, Pauls and Beauman shared some of their day-to-day activities during a Women Excel@TSA leadership event to help ensure TSA’s new officers and canine teams are prepared to advance the agency into the next generation counterterrorism organization.
Dicy Peppers, TSA Academy Federal Law Enforcement Training Center Supervisory Training Instructor
“A day in our life as a TSA Academy supervisor is rewarding and adventurous,” said Peppers. “I can honestly say you will never experience the same day twice. That really helps with sharpening your communication skills, your leadership and critical thinking skills.”
As a supervisor for the Academy in Glynco, Georgia, Peppers oversees 15 instructors and is responsible for many facets of leadership.
“I am responsible for all student issues, medical concerns, classroom organization and leadership communications for my senior leadership and students’ airport leaders’ awareness,” she described. “In addition to providing my instructors mentoring, coaching and guidance, I have the opportunity to engage with students and join with them on their daily learning journey.”
Peppers tries to be a visible source of support for the students and their instructors and visits their classrooms several times throughout the day. Her biggest reward is contributing to the success of students at the TSA Academy.
“Being able to plant a seed at the earliest stage of a student’s career with TSA is the highlight of my service,” said Peppers.
As an Academy supervisor, she is able to communicate and partner in training with airports across the country, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and its stakeholders. She coordinates domestic and international tours to the Academy for senior leadership and partnering stakeholders and regularly collaborates with the Operations Training Section Chief on important training issues. She also assisted in the initial rollout of our now fully operational TSA Academy West in Las Vegas.
“It is an honor to be trusted with so many opportunities to share my knowledge and leadership with the students and the Academy instructor family,” Peppers said. “It is through their dedication to our training mission that we are able to provide our airport families with new officers seeds that were properly planted, cultivated and nurtured to spring up and spread their growth as the future leaders for this agency.”
Tiaja Pauls, TSA Academy West Deputy Director
Just two weeks ago, TSA Academy West opened its flagship building on the grounds of Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas. The official grand opening is scheduled in June.
TSA Academy West had operated at another nearby location until the new training facility at LAS was ready to open.
As Deputy Director, Pauls’ three main responsibilities are strategic planning, staff development and collaboration. Staff is a key piece of the puzzle to make sure students get the proper training at TSA Academy West.
“My responsibility is to speak with my team and determine our staffing needs, understanding that our customers are the field, airports who are hiring massively and are looking for seats to train their new hires,” Pauls explained. “I’m working with airports to project their plans and determine what they need to support us and what we need to support them. I’m also working with my senior leadership to make sure I am implementing their vision.”
Pauls said she strives to make sure her team has the resources they need to be successful.
“Staff development is important to me,” she said, “either on a small level or larger level, because it’s all going to be beneficial to the individual and the agency as a whole.”
Pauls said without her team, TSA Academy couldn’t succeed.
“Although I’m responsible for it, I often rely on their expertise as subject matter experts when it comes to training,” she said. “When it comes to the business side of the house, I rely on my strengths as well as collaborating with the staff at Academy East, because they have been delivering (training) for years.”
Pauls makes a point to greet each new hire class and take responsibility for each student.
“It’s a friendly, exciting, energetic environment that I and my director create to make sure our staff and students feel like they belong, feel at home, feel welcome,” she said.
Virginia Beauman, Canine Training Center Supervisory Training Instructor
The love of canines has driven Beauman’s professional career. She has worked with canines for more than 40 years and was part of the canine program’s transition to TSA from the Federal Aviation Administration in 2003.
Like Peppers and Pauls, Beauman, who is in the Training Support Unit, is directly involved in supporting the instructors and students at the TSA Canine Training Center (CTC) in San Antonio, Texas.
“My team builds what we call the instructor candidate certification process,” said Beauman. “Once the instructor goes through instructor development, we don’t just leave them on their own. We build them, so they understand every lesson they’re going to teach, what it means to them and what it brings to the table for them when they’re working with a student.”
She said instructors don’t only teach students. They’re also training canines, which can pose a significant challenge.
“You’re teaching someone to teach a canine, and that’s very hard, because you have two working entities,” Beauman said. “One of them may not have a clue what the other one is doing, and you have to figure out how to teach them to walk backwards, talk to the dog without talking too much, get the dog to sniff someplace they may not want to.”
Beauman said the CTC takes new canine handlers and works with them to train their dogs and makes them better handlers in the future.
“It is a phenomenal job,” she proclaimed. “We have instructors here with everything from just a few years of training to over 40 years.”
TSA has over 1,000 canine handlers, many of whom have made a lifelong commitment to be part of the program.
“It’s not something you leave quickly,” said Beauman. “Once you get in, you love it for the canines. You get to play with dogs. When you’re down and don’t feel well, you come into work, and that canine loves you. You see it progress every day. You see the handlers progress every day, and then you get to see the final product.”
By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs