USAA Manager Guides Employees Through Crisis While Defending Dissertation


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USAA employee, Mercedes R., incident manager, successfully defended her dissertation to earn her doctorate in emergency management while helping to guide employees through a historic winter storm.


It takes a special type of person to serve as a USAA incident manager in our Unified Command Center (UCC). The team rotates 12-hour shifts, guiding the organization through a variety of incidents from storms to system outages. It takes an extra measure of resilience to navigate that role while pursuing a doctoral degree. Lucky for us, USAA employee, Mercedes R., personifies that special type of adaptability.


Resilience is what it takes to flex to meet the dynamic needs of our organizations. Such was the case the second week of February when Texas was hit by a winter storm. 


“Pretty much the entire team’s power was out that week,” recalls Mercedes. “I came into the office on Tuesday to help, even though the roads were really bad.” 


Throughout the week, Mercedes and her team worked as they were able – whether from the office or when they had power. That Friday, Mercedes was back in the office.  


“We were trying to coordinate people picking up food and water because there were a lot of employees who needed assistance,” she recalls. “It was a really busy day, but I’m kind of glad because it kept me from being nervous.” 


Those nerves were because Mercedes had to defend her dissertation that afternoon. 


“When it came time for me to go defend, we were very busy,” recalls Mercedes. “But my team told me to go do what I needed to do.” 


Just over an hour later, Mercedes had successfully defended her dissertation and earned her doctorate in emergency management.  


Mercedes’ ability to excel under pressure was perfected during her 23 years as a military medic.  


“It is very intense to have someone’s life in your hands,” she explains. “In those situations, time slows down for me. When other people might panic, I don’t. It allows me to take a step back and gather information to make the best decision.” 


Mercedes says the entire incident management team – many of whom are former military – pulled together to guide the enterprise through that icy week in February.  


“The whole team really came through, and no matter who I had been working with that day, I was going to be able to go defend my dissertation because that’s the kind of team we have,” says Mercedes. “I think that goes across the board with USAA. We live up to the mission.”