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District biologist counts mother among strongest of role models

Public Affairs
Published March 11, 2014
Shanti Santulli, project manager in the Los Angeles District’s Regulatory Division in Carlsbad, Calif., is pictured with her mother, whom she considers among the strongest of her female role models.  Santulli has been working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for four years.  Her story is featured as part of the District's observance of Women's History Month.

Shanti Santulli, project manager in the Los Angeles District’s Regulatory Division in Carlsbad, Calif., is pictured with her mother, whom she considers among the strongest of her female role models. Santulli has been working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for four years. Her story is featured as part of the District's observance of Women's History Month.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager and Biologist Shanti Santulli examines a granary tree for an acorn woodpecker near Los Angeles.  She said a typical granary tree contains hundreds or even thousands of acorns.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager and Biologist Shanti Santulli examines a granary tree for an acorn woodpecker near Los Angeles. She said a typical granary tree contains hundreds or even thousands of acorns.

The President signed a proclamation proclaiming March 2014 as Women’s History Month, and Los Angeles District leadership and employees in the Equal Employment Opportunity office were inspired to gather insights from women working in the District, specifically related to the theme of celebrating women of character, courage and commitment. 

The proclamation has a sentence that reads, “Through the grit and sacrifice of generations, American women and girls have gained greater opportunities and more representation than ever before.”   This sentence resonated with one of the District’s biologists, Shanti Santulli, who is a project manager in the Regulatory Division in Carlsbad, Calif.

Santulli’s parents moved to America after growing up in two different countries; her mother is from the Philippines, and her father is from India.  They both finished medical school in the Philippines, where they met and fell in love. 

As the two young doctors began their careers, they also decided to have children and welcomed two daughters into their lives. 

“Being a new doctor and a new mom can’t be easy,” Santulli said.  “She told me once that she saw my sister and my face in the windows at our preschool as the last kids to be picked up all the time, and it broke her heart.  Then, when I was one or two, I fell at my daycare and badly split my head open. My mom was the only doctor in the outpatient wing of the emergency room at the hospital she worked at and was told she could lose her job or be sued if she left.  My dad, also a doctor, was making a presentation to 300 people, so neither of them could come get me. My mom said the split was so bad, she could see my skull. That, apparently, was the last straw for her, and she quit her job.”

Santulli’s mother continued some part-time work as a doctor and, eventually, became vice president of her father’s medical practice, allowing her to still work and be personally productive. 

“She couldn’t handle not being there for my sister and me and, while, of course, I see what she did as a phenomenal sacrifice for my family, she also managed to make it work for herself and her drive to succeed professionally,” Santulli said.   

“I’ve seen many women, even those I look up to, try to ‘do it all,’ with or without kids, and I sometimes think women expect too much of themselves because they are women, like they have to overcompensate for something,” she said.  “But why should we? Any person should do what he or she can within his or her own limits. What I admire about my mom is that she did it all within reason and chose her priorities, as she thought was right for our family and her life.”

Having a strong, devoted role model like her mother made Santulli want to strive for finding a balance in life, as well as figure out what was important to her and to do that really, really well. 

She said she feels really fortunate to have grown up in a generation that has consistently seen women in leadership roles that she can look up to and admire. 

“Col. Colloton, as the first female commander of the District, is excellent to witness and shows progress and, hopefully, is something that will no longer stand out as an irregular thing within our military and government system,” she said.  “Having women in the highest leadership roles is becoming more frequent, and I don’t see that changing.”

Santulli credits her family’s support for the many successes she has experienced.

“My family tells me how proud they are that I have found a career that is in line with my personal and professional goals,” she said. 

When asked if being a woman has made any difference in her career so far, she said, “I don’t consider myself a ‘female regulator,’ I consider myself a regulator, period.  Not to say there still are not struggles in the workplace for women, but it is the work of the women of generations before me that has let me feel like there is no difference between me and my fellow regulator, who happens to be male.  I do not allow myself to be treated any differently or choose to ignore any biases or discrimination I may experience, or feel, as a woman in my job.”

It was pointed out to Santulli that she may be a role model for other women.

“That would be awesome, if I am,” she said.  “I try to work hard and do a good job, stay as healthy as I can, be thankful and grateful for what I have, put my family and close friends first, and like to think that what I do for my work and on my own time actually contributes beneficially to a ‘greater good’ than for my own benefit.”

On occasion, Santulli has been able to work with high school students who, she said, seem to be interested in the work she does for the Corps. 

“I’d like to think I set a good example for others to follow, and I especially hope to be a good role model to any future rugrats I may have,” she said.

The President’s proclamation states, “We are also encouraging more girls to explore their passions for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and taking action to create economic opportunities for women across the globe.”  Santulli couldn’t agree more.  During the four years she has spent making regulatory decisions, leading meetings, and conducting outreach with the public about the Corps’ commitment to protecting the nation’s aquatic resources, she has drawn upon her education and training. 

Santulli completed a bachelor’s degree in biology at Loyloa University Chicago and a master’s degree in environmental health sciences at UCLA. 

Indeed, the President’s proclamation recommends, “As we honor the many women who have shaped our history, let us also celebrate those who make progress in our time.  Let us remember that when women succeed, America succeeds.”  In the case of Santulli, the regulatory mission of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers succeeds, too.