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Army Corps of Engineers Engages College Students At STEM Conference
by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jay Field
February 6, 2019

With work in 110 countries around the world, there are vast opportunities for employees to go anywhere in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Maj. Gen. Mark Toy, Great Lakes and Ohio River Division commander, to college students and recent graduates attending the Corps seminar at the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corporation conference in October 2018.

Chad Allen, a resident engineer with Los Angeles District, talks to college students and recent graduates attending the USACE seminar at the Hispanic Engineer Achievement Awards Corporation conference Oct. 19 in Pasadena, California. With the theme, "Travel the world ... make an impact ... build big things," panel members presented information on the Corps, its missions and the opportunities a Corps career provides employees. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Richard Rivera)

"We build big things," Toy said. "But what makes the Army Corps of Engineers great is our people."

One of those employees is Edith Martinez, a research environmental engineer at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Martinez gave a presentation at the seminar she called "The Mobilization."

"Because that's what I've done in the last few years," she said. "I've traveled the world, I feel like I've made an impact, and I built big things."

Martinez had the opportunity to work in Puerto Rico last year as part of the Corps' response mission following hurricanes Irma and Maria. When they asked for volunteers, she said she jumped at the chance to help.

"You know, it would not be fair for them (Puerto Ricans) if I don't come," Martinez said. "I'm an engineer, and I speak Spanish. I have to go."

She supported the Operation Blue Roof mission, in which Corps contractors installed temporary roofing on about 60,000 homes islandwide. While there, she also gained an interest in waste management from interacting with the Corps' debris removal mission, which saw the removal of nearly 4 million cubic yards of debris from more than 50 municipalities throughout Puerto Rico.

Martinez was one of three panel members who shared her experiences working for the Corps. Resident Engineer Chad Allen, who works at Edwards Air Force Base, California, for the Corps' Los Angeles District, was another who talked about his responsibilities managing 30-plus projects a year valued in excess of $75 million.

Allen described some of the military construction projects he's working on, including a $70 million renovation project anchored by four hangars, totaling more than 270,000 square feet. The reconstruction of aircraft ramps connecting the hangars with the runway required the removal of 33,000 cubic yards of concrete and digging to a depth of 36 inches, he said, so new concrete ramps could be placed.

"When you get a job of this magnitude, you get to work with national experts across the nation and world, and you really get to up your game," Allen said. "When you get the project you're building with them, you have to raise your game to match theirs."

John Moreno, director of Regional Business for the South Pacific Division, told the students he sat in the same seat some 26 years earlier when he got hired. He described the Corps' mission, how it fulfills its responsibilities and talked about the opportunities he received through the Corps that allowed him to grow as a civil engineer.

"I got to travel the world; I got to see Europe, and I got to see Afghanistan," Moreno said. "The best part of all that is experiencing different people's cultures and learning, aside from the technical things that we do."

Toy touted the Corps' use of the Pathways program that streamlines the hiring process and offers internship and employment opportunities. The internship program provides paid work experience for current students, while the recent graduates program combines career development with training and mentorship.

"You get a taste of it all," Toy said. "You can rotate through different divisions, like construction, engineering, and programs and project management--you can even work in emergency management. You can find out what you're passionate about."

Toy told the students he had not heard of any instance where an intern wasn't offered employment with the Corps following his or her internship.

"We're growing; the program is incredibly huge," Toy said. "We're growing to $48 billion (from $26 billion), and we need people. The only way we're going to deliver the program is to get great people like you."

Great Minds in STEM, established as HENAAC in 1989 to motivate underserved students to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers, hosted the event at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium and Conference Center to celebrate the technical achievements of the nation's top engineering and science talent.

The Corps' participation in the HENAAC conference reinforced the Corps' investment in STEM programs and demonstrated its commitment to building a diverse and competent workforce for the future.

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