CAFNR Celebrates Women’s History Month: Q&A with Laura Furgione

Furgione is an Executive-in-Residence and CAFNR alumna

Portrait of Laura Furgione
Photo courtesy Laura Furgione

Laura K. Furgione, B.S. Atmospheric Science ’93, is the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. Census Bureau. She previously served as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) deputy assistant administrator for weather services and deputy director of the National Weather Service.

She has used her extensive data, field operation, and organizational transformation experience to help the Census Bureau translate its vision into action.

In March 2024, she returns to campus, serving as an Executive-in-Residence and meeting with CAFNR students to share her experiences and advice.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we asked Furgione a few questions about her distinguished career, women who have inspired her along the way, and how she is supporting the next generation of women in her field.

Tell us about your current or most recent role and what you enjoy about it.

I have been with the U.S. Census Bureau since December 2016. Before that I held numerous positions in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with my last as the deputy director of the National Weather Service. My current role is the Census Chief Administrative Officer where I provide human resources, administrative, health and safety, and investigative services to all employees from their hiring and onboarding through their retirement. What I like most about my job is helping our demographic and economic programs integrate their data with environmental data. It makes for a much more powerful and impactful story when you can understand the communities for which you are disseminating life-saving forecasts and warnings.

Share with us a woman who has inspired you in your life/career.

My paternal grandmother lived down the road from us growing up. I was worried about one of my first interviews and in particular what to wear. Once I had chosen my new interview suit, she reminded me to focus on what was between my shoulders (i.e., my head, educational expertise, and strengths) rather than the quality or negative attributes of my attire. If you focus on the mission or objective of the task at hand, you often forget about the potential inequities or immediate distractions. Of course, you still need to be situationally aware of your surroundings but don’t let indirect challenges detract from accomplishing your goals.

How do you strive to set an example for the next generation of women leaders?

I try to lead by example and focus on the customer we are serving. Basically, if you keep a pulse on the customer and your external landscape, you should be able to continually maintain your relevancy. I was so excited when I graduated from college with the assumption, I would never need to take another class. But that myth is far from the truth. You should always be in continual learning mode and ask yourself how you can improve yourself or the processes and procedures you are operating under. Too often we do something in a particular way because that is the way it has always been done. Change is inevitable so appreciate today but always be prepared and thinking ahead to tomorrow.

What advice do you have for women entering your industry?

Network as much as possible and maintain your network but continually diversify your network as well. This will allow you to increase your visibility, stay informed on industry trends, and maintain your competitive edge. Do the best you can be in your current position but always be thinking about your next step and how you can better prepare yourself if an opportunity presents itself.

Another motivator for me is to always try to be the most prepared for any meeting or event. Even if you are unfamiliar with the topic, at least know who will be leading the meeting, become familiar with their background, and try to find common ground. One of my favorite books in support of this is Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends & Influence People”. While it has gone through several editions, the sentiment is still valid.