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Posted 2/23/2018

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By Dena O'Dell
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District

PASADENA, California – Some people spread their love on Valentine’s Day with cards, flowers and candy. Three representatives with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District spread a different kind of love Feb. 14 – a love of engineering.

Capt. David Watts, 1st Lt. Kerry Horan and recent retiree Jody Fischer traveled to John Muir High School to share their experiences of working for the Corps with high school students during the school’s Engineering and Environmental Science Academy Career Exploration Showcase. The event was part of the school’s Engineering Week.

Throughout the day, students in ninth to 12th grades rotated to different tables set up in the school’s library to speak with various agencies representing engineering and environmental science disciplines.

Students posed a series of questions to the representatives about their careers, including what their day-to-day responsibilities are; why they chose to work for that particular agency; what their career dreams were in high school; what the most challenging and exciting aspects of their jobs are; and the characteristics of successful employees, among others.

Watts, an engineer working in the Emergency Management Office with the Corps, told some of the students about his passion for working on cars growing up and how it guided him in his decision to become a mechanical engineer.

“When I was in high school, I realized one of my passions was cars – working on cars, making them go faster and making them perform better,” he said. “So when I got to college and went to pick my major, I tried to line it up with something interesting to me, so I could continue to pursue my passions. Based upon that, I ended up choosing mechanical engineering.”

Fischer, a 1978 alumni of the school who retired as the Levee Safety Program manager with the Corps in December after 35 years, said she enjoys sharing her work experience and opportunities with the younger generation.

“I’m proud to have worked for the Corps of Engineers for 35 years because I had an enjoyable career, I had great leaders to work for, and I felt accomplished in my job,” she said. “I always enjoy talking to younger people about their career choices and sharing with them what’s available.”

Two of the questions that students asked were what kind of credentials the Corps looks for when hiring potential employees and the characteristics of a successful employee.

Watts said in terms of credentials, it depends on the career field.

“If you are an entry-level engineer, it would be an undergraduate degree in whichever engineering discipline you are looking for,” he said. “If you’re looking for senior engineering jobs, it’s a professional license. For project management, it’s a project management license.”

The Corps offers a variety of jobs, including in engineering, biology, construction management, project management, real estate, ecology, geology, emergency management, hydrology and many more. Students and employees can apply for internships and jobs with the Corps through https://usajobs.gov.

Horan, who is with the Hydrology & GIS section of the Corps, said it’s important to show students what’s out there in terms of engineering careers, as well as the impact the Corps has on their communities.

“I think it’s important to show students the opportunities that are out there,” Horan said. “The Corps of Engineers is in every major city … we do projects in their communities, we have an impact in their communities. It’s important to show them what those contributions are, so when they see certain things they can say, ‘Oh, that’s the Corps of Engineers.’ I think it’s important to have that situational awareness of what’s going on.”

As far as characteristics of successful employees, Watts said they should be effective communicators, good leaders, and people of high ethics and integrity.

During his conversation with the students, Watts shared some of the most challenging and exciting aspects of his job.

One of the challenges, he said, is bringing all of the different entities together to make a project successful.

“As a federal organization, we not only work with the U.S. government, we’re also working with state, county and city governments, and different organizations and groups to make a project successful,” he said. “It’s bringing everyone together on the team and making that team successful by uniting them around a common goal.”

An exciting aspect of the job, he said, is seeing the completion of a project.

“Seeing something you’ve worked and put all of your effort and energy into come to fruition,” he said, “whether that’s something tangible that you can actually touch or something you’ve been working on for a long period of time, is exciting.”

One example, he said, is seeing the completion of a dam.

“You can spend years doing math and calculations and science, making sure it’s safe for everyone and it’s got all of the right factors, but at the end, you can always drive by something like that and say, “Hey, I built that.”

“If you become an engineer, you will really be excited when you see things that you are working on in math,” Fischer added. “And, when you see them in real life, it’s exciting. That’s when you know you’ve made a difference in your career.”

In addition to the Corps, other organizations participating in the career showcase, included NASA, U.S. Forest Service, Los Angeles Public Works, Los Angeles World Airport, Architecture for Education and many other engineering agencies.

california Engineering and Environmental Science Academy Career Exploration Showcase John Muir High School National Engineer Week Pasadena STEM U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District