"What Are You Working On, V. Chapman-Smith?"

Ever wonder what exciting new projects the many employees at NARA are working on? The “What are You Working On?” blog feature aims to introduce a variety of NARA employees and highlight some of the exciting projects we are working on around the agency. Check for this blog series on Wednesdays!

This week, we introduce V. Chapman-Smith, Regional Administrator for the National Archives Mid Atlantic Region.

What is your name and title?

V. with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter at the Mayor’s Reception and Press Conference for Philadelphia’s National History Day winners from the Pennsylvania NHD State Finals.  The Mid Atlantic Region raised the funding to send the students on scholarship.
V. with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter at the Mayor’s Reception and Press Conference for Philadelphia’s National History Day winners from the Pennsylvania NHD State Finals. The Mid Atlantic Region raised the funding to send all of the students on scholarship to the national competition. (Mayor's press event - City of Philadelphia, Department of Records)

My name is V. Chapman-Smith.  I am the Regional Administrator for the National Archives Mid Atlantic region.  My region covers five states: Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Where is your job located?

My operations are located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  I lead a life-cycle records program, which addresses federal records from creation to their final disposition, which can be in our archival holdings or destruction.    Our Federal Records Center and records management divisions are located in Northeast Philadelphia, twenty-three miles from downtown Philadelphia in an industrial park.  Our public Archives facility, located in the Robert Nix Federal Building, is in downtown Philadelphia, just a few blocks from Independence National Park.  My permanent office is in the downtown facility.  When I became Regional Administrator, I moved my office there permanently, so I could more readily engage our region with the federal, education, business and cultural communities of Philadelphia and the Mid Atlantic.  I spend a great deal of my time working outwardly on behalf of the region. I am fortunate to have a very talented Assistant Regional Administrator, David Roland, who functions as our region’s Chief Operations Officer (COO) overseeing day-to-day operations.

What is your job in a nutshell?

My job is to think and work strategically and long range for my region, building capacity and a future for the National Archives in the Mid Atlantic.  There are three core things I embrace every day in my work:

  • Leading Change – Ensuring that the region does not remain static and is able to respond to ever changing situations and conditions.
  • Managing Performance – Ensuring that the region is a top performer, meeting or exceeding the National Archives’ performance standards.
  • Creating Capacity – Building and creating new opportunities and organizational competencies that ensures a future for the National Archives in the Mid Atlantic and nationally.

My work requires that I inspire and motivate my team to achieve the best possible outcomes.  I also must be our region’s “goodwill” ambassador and build alliances and partnerships that extend our capacity to perform at the highest possible level.

During my first seven years here, I spent a great deal of time making sure we understood the agency and had a visible presence in our region.  I immediately got us invited to the table with larger federal agencies by serving on the Federal Executive Board Policy Committee.   I then served as Chair of the Federal Executive Board for 2 ½ years, helping the federal agencies build stronger alliances and a national network via the Office of Personnel Management.  Simultaneously, I reached out to programs and operations within NARA, as well as volunteered for various agency national projects, where I got to see other parts of the organization across the country. (One of these projects even took me to Alaska!) Additionally, I reached out to our region’s cultural community and began to align our efforts to those that were building a stronger presence for collecting institutions, creating new and innovative interpretive programs using heritage assets and improving education outcomes.   This latter work took me into the streets of Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania, as well as parts of the Mid Atlantic down through Virginia.  I tried to make sure we had connected with as many major stakeholders and leaders as possible.  I reported back to my staff and I charged them to let me know, if I missing anyone we needed to connect with. As a result, we now have a strong network comprised of federal, non-profits and business partners for our region and we are leveraging from this foundation, as well continuing to build on this as we go about with our work.  This strong network produces many referrals for us now.

For some of our early stakeholder building work, I was also fortunate in securing a significant strategic planning grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia program. This grant enabled us to hire some consultants to provide an outside perspective of our work, by looking at our Archives’ service footprint, as well as the program’s impact and relationships in the Greater Philadelphia region.   This outsider view gave us an “honest broker” perspective to consider as we framed our initial strategies and work plans going forward.

I am also fortunate have a great staff and a solid leadership team, comprised of my Assistant Regional Administrator and division managers (David Weber for Records Management and Leslie Simon for Archives.  We currently have a division manager vacancy for Federal Records Center).   This team is our region’s leadership backbone.  We have a shared vision, as well as an understanding of a common mission and purpose.   We look at and make decisions based on the region as a whole and not just any one separate program.  The region begins every year with an integrated work plan that guides our work.  We tie everything into the agency’s strategic plan. The region’s leadership meets regularly with staff and among ourselves to monitor, discuss, and guide our progress.

What are you working on right now?

Personally, I am presently working on a number of initiatives, some local to my region and some with national implications for the National Archives.  I also am juggling initiatives that are only internal to my regional operation with others that impact the various partner institutions and the Greater Philadelphia federal community, as well as the agency.  One of the big projects I worked on today is a final 3-year plan for the Civil War 150th Anniversary.  It is a collaboration of over 20 diverse partners with programming that could likely reach well beyond the Mid Atlantic.   This initiative has potential to engage a large cross-section of communities in civic dialogues and education programs on how the Civil War has shaped America today.  Here in the Mid Atlantic, we will be able to use many of our archival holdings for a variety of projects in this initiative.  We think it is important to enable citizens to think and learn about how our democracy works and how history has informed and shaped the present and can impact our future.  We are working to integrate our Civil War 150th activities with our leadership of the National History Day education program in Philadelphia and our work statewide and nationally in National History Day and other education endeavors.  We always try to get multiplying benefits from everything we do.

Among our most important work now is ensuring that we have the right facilities, systems and staffing to service our many constituents effectively going forward.  Over the past two years and now, we have embarked on major transformations by beta testing and implementing several of the National Archives’ new technology systems.  Last few years we helped develop ARCIS, the new technology platform for the federal records center, and last year we were the first to deploy ARCIS.  This year we are the first regional program to deploy HMS, the new technology platform for managing the National Archives’ archival holdings.  In addition to this, the Mid Atlantic is in the midst of three facilities projects that will result in increased security for both facilities and our records, as well as provide environments that ensure the longevity of the archival records in our custody.

Honoring robotics team from Shaw Middle School on their successful return from competing in an invitational competition in Japan with PA Governor Rendell (red tie) at his office.  The Mid Atlantic partnered with NASA, its Explorer School and Drexel University to help the students explore experimental science through history and robotics.
Honoring robotics team from Shaw Middle School on their successful return from competing in an invitational competition in Japan with PA Governor Rendell (red tie) at his office. The Mid Atlantic partnered with NASA, its Explorer School and Drexel University to help the students explore experimental science through history and robotics.

How long have you been at NARA?

I came to the National Archives at the end of January in 2002 for the current position I hold. In some respects my entry is somewhat unusual.  My only other experience at the National Archives was as a graduate summer intern at the Suitland facility in the late 1970’s. (I did this when I was in the doctoral program at Temple University.)  I come to my current position with nearly 20 years of records, archives and history administrative experience from the private sector and two of our country’s largest governmental records operations at the local and state levels.  In each of these earlier positions, I was hired to be a transformative leader, and my skills and experience from them shape the way I lead the National Archives Mid Atlantic region today.

What has changed since you started at NARA?

There have been many changes at the National Archives, even during my brief tenure here.  Among the most significant from my vantage point have been the agency’s efforts to transform the way it does it work.  The roll out of new technology systems is transformational.  Here in Philadelphia every employee now has access to some form of computer technology.  Another change that I think is significant is the manner and level we are now able to engage and serve the public.  In the regional programs nationwide we are making important contributions to the quality life in communities, particularly in education.  The education efforts in the regional system have grown significantly, since I started, and they are helping communities improve the quality of teaching and learning.  In Philadelphia alone this past school year, we serviced over 1,000 students just through our National History Day collaboration.  Our work has been recognized as a “best practice” by the History Channel and has received support from Gilder Lehrman.  Over the past two years,  our education specialist has not only integrated our education efforts with our other public programs, but she has strengthened our relationships with our 40 NHD partner institutions in ways that enables us to cover nearly every Philadelphia neighborhood. We are now invited to provide briefings and training not only to classroom teachers, but leaders (Regional Superintendents and Social Studies Department Chairs) throughout the Greater Philadelphia school enterprise, as well as advise education initiatives in other parts of the country.  When I came here, we were virtually invisible in this sector.  These education initiatives are building not only a future for our region, but also for the National Archives.  Our big challenges are building future patrons, as well as having a diverse population of people come into our agency as employees.  Our outreach into the education community makes both possible for us.     

Do you have a favorite day at NARA, or a favorite discovery or accomplishment?

It is hard to pick a single favorite day, discovery or accomplishment.  I love working for the National Archives and I also love leading the Mid Atlantic region.  Virtually every day, something takes place that contributes to my job satisfaction.  I look forward every day to coming to work, being of service to the National Archives and our country, and working with an outstanding regional team and community of partners.

I will say, though, that the day our region deployed ARCIS will always remain a memorable one.  Watching our Federal Records Center (FRC) staff, led by David Roland, deal so positively and effectively with the challenges of converting from a manual system to an automated one was both moving and inspiring.  It is hard to be the first, but the staff did not shy away from the challenges and took ownership of the initiative.  They worked through the problems as a team, determined to get the system fully functioning. The group demonstrated exceptional problem solving skills and a commitment to the project. The region successfully completed the deployment. Our efforts also benefited other regional programs.  Several of our staff were sent out later to assist other regional FRC’s with their conversions. The National Federal Records Center program recognized our regional ARCIS work with Distinguished Service Awards in 2008 and 2009. 

What are your passions or interests outside of work?

I really love the creative and performing arts. Growing up in Washington, D.C., I had great exposure to the arts, even when I went to church at St. Luke’s PE Church.  The church had an amazing choir that included such notables as Robert McFerrin, the first African American male to sing with the Metropolitan Opera.  Although I never got to sing in that choir (as much as I wanted to, but sadly no voice!), I have great memories of the extraordinary music and concerts from there and other venues my family took me as a child. In Philadelphia, my oldest child is a professional classical singer (she has the voice I didn’t have!), so my husband and I try to attend as many of her performances as we can.   I also get great pleasure from working on my1894 historic home that is in a National Historic District.  This house has consumed my husband and me for the past 17 years.  It has been a labor of love to restore, because I always wanted a place with a large porch and lovely gardens.  (It also at times seemed like we were living the Tom Hank’s film “The Money Pit”!)  Seeing this project come to fruition has been an amazing journey.  I am hoping my husband and I will now have a few years of just enjoying our house and neighborhood, instead of focusing on the work to bring the house back.

V. Chapman-Smith_3
V. Chapman-Smith with The Roots at the Roots' Family Picnic 2009. The Roots provided music for the two Emmy Award winning CBS PSA’s that promoted the National Archives Mid Atlantic connection to the National Park Services’ Network to Freedom Heritage Trail; the Mid Atlantic regional archives is is a certified research facility on the Network to Freedom Heritage Trail. (Picture with The Roots - Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation)

What is the last book you read, or the last book you loved?

I usually have several books going at one time.  Some are readings to help me with my work, while others are more leisure reading.  The last book I loved was a surprise to me, because I am not a big fan of fiction, although I did grow up on a lot of Nancy Drew!  I now tend to read scholarly and popular history, public policy and leadership development books.   The book that I loved was James McBride’s Song Yet Sung.  I began reading the book because our region was given the opportunity to host a book event for Pennsylvania’s Underground Railroad Heritage Trail.  The Pennsylvania Humanities Council had selected McBride’s book for the statewide read.  We selected this book program, because the story mapped well to our holdings of federal court slave petitions.  McBride’s book was moving, beautifully written and paced.  It was awesome!  (Our public program was also a success and resulted in the Humanities Council offering our Archives program the opportunity to host one of its PBS Humanities television events this coming year.)

The last book I read to completion is Ted Kennedy’s True Compass.  This book was important for me to read, because much of his life’s journey was crystallized in my childhood memories, growing up in Washington. I wanted to reexamine these memories through his lens. It was personally worthwhile to read.   I had a similar experience with Richard Kluger’s Simple Justice, which I consider to be the most thought-provoking work on the struggle for black equality in America. Kluger’s book also touched deep into my early childhood in a very personal way.  It can be very useful to look back on one’s life through another person’s lens. From books like these, I am learning that you can gain deeper understanding of the memories that have shaped you.

Meet more NARA employees: http://www.archives.gov/careers/employees/

2 thoughts on “"What Are You Working On, V. Chapman-Smith?"

  1. What a nice way to get to know NARA. V, Philadelphia and the Mid-Atlantic Region is lucky to have you.

  2. V., as long as I’ve known you I never had a real understanding of your JOB, but this really does it for me. Thanks, it is very informative. Down here in VA I have some of my “Breakfast Partners” who are Civil War Re-enactors. I’m forwarding this info to them for their enlightenment and info.

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