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Engineering for America
Woman engineers in government and military reach from purple mountain majesties to outer space.
Being a woman engineer in the government or military might have you working in America’s forests, beneath cathedral redwoods, building a tourist center at Mount Rainier National Park, or building infrastructure for the Army, or maintaining, modernizing, and retiring America’s naval fleet, or even reaching to the moon.
Wherever you choose to work, Uncle Sam needs you! Learn from the engineers featured here how you can join their ranks, and why the government and military both need all types of engineers.
Kortes Leads NASA’s Solar-Electric Propulsion Projects
After 30 years at NASA, in roles ranging from systems engineering to program and project management to organizational leadership, Trudy Kortes is now chief of the human exploration and space operations division at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, OH.
It has her managing hundreds of colleagues and hundreds of millions of dollars, and collaborating with private-sector entities as they develop advanced space-flight projects. Kortes loves the change of pace and the quality of her colleagues.
“I’ve been given so many opportunities here, I’m advanced on a pretty regular clip and I get to collaborate with so many smart engineers. They’re humble and honest and smart, and I love that,” shares Kortes, who also loves what she and her humble, smart colleagues achieve. “I love the sense of accomplishment when we complete a milestone.”
Kortes also takes pride in getting the most from taxpayer dollars. “People think we’re massively funded, and we’re not. We do a lot with a relatively small amount of money.”
The return for taxpayers is envelope-pushing technology, according to Kortes. “The tech that we advance is incredible. We’re working on solar-electric propulsion. It uses a small amount of Zenon and interfaces with solar rays.”
The technology doesn’t just benefit space exploration either, she says. “The U.S. Department of Defense wants to convert to solar-electric propulsion and get away from huge chemical propellants.”
NASA is up to its elbows in other world-changing tech, too. “We do advanced, smart communications that practically think for themselves,” she points out.
Kortes takes all due pride in NASA’s efficiency and range. “We do all of this fascinating technology for relatively little. NASA is a bargain for taxpayers.”
And NASA turbocharges the private sector. “If NASA didn’t develop what we do, then many other American companies couldn’t do what they do. Industry contributes 25% to what we do, and we contribute to them in return, as they get to add our tech to their product line, which is great for the American economy.”
Kortes has risen high in her career, and has contributed greatly to NASA, science, and America, but big careers come with big decisions.
“Last year, I lost both parents, prepared my oldest to go to college, and sold my childhood home. Dealing with all of that change was hard. I felt unable to make yet another decision around my career,” she recalls.
So Kortes tapped the network she’d built over decades. “You might think asking for help is a sign of weakness, but it’s not. Plus, careers are a marathon. You might need to take a water break here and there.”
She also trusted her gut. “I needed to be most comfortable with my decision, whatever it was. Know yourself and what works for you.”
And Kortes tapped her emotional intelligence. “Engineering is not an easy field. You succeed with emotional intelligence, which is beyond book-learning. For all of the advanced work we do, sometimes the fundamental things are the most challenging, like effective communication and managing people.”
This leader knows that NASA is looking to hire more woman engineers.
“Our job outlook is quite good. We just announced we’re going to the lunar South Pole by 2024, to put the first woman and the next man on the moon in four short years. We’re going to need of influx of people to achieve this,” Kortes details.
NASA is headquartered in Washington, DC. Explore jobs at nasa.gov/careers. Follow on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn, Flickr, Giphy, SoundCloud, Periscope, IBM Cloud Video (formerly Ustream) and Twitch.
USACE Commanding General Holland Champions Teamwork
Major General Diana M. Holland, commanding general, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), South Atlantic division, is spring-water clear about serving in the Army.
“Serving in the Army is truly my calling, and has been my calling most of my life. As far back as I can remember I’ve always loved the idea of serving my country,” she shares.
However, she once tilted toward a different branch. “My dad told me early on, ‘You live in the greatest country in the world, and you can do anything you want to do as long as you work hard and you’re good to people.’ It was a very simple message. So, at six years old, I told him I wanted to be a Marine.”
Holland’s declaration to her dad was followed by an awkward silence, even though he had been a U.S. Marine, and Holland’s grandfather on her mother’s side had been a Marine in World War II in the Pacific.
“There was a lot of family lore about the U.S. Marine Corps. My grandfather and my dad still had their uniforms, and as much as they used to complain about the Marine Corps, it was obviously something that had changed their lives, and I thought, “That’s what I want to do, I want to be a Marine.”
So her father installed a pull-up bar in Holland’s bedroom doorway. “He never said, ‘You know, that’s really not for you,’ or ‘you know, you’re going to be the only woman there.’ He never tried to dissuade me from my dreams. Instead he gave me the tools to be successful,” she remembers.
She took that to heart, and rose through the ranks. And now in her current USACE role Holland’s far from the only woman. “The U.S. Army doesn’t have many women, so it’s been great to be in the Army Corps of Engineers because it’s more balanced in that regard.”
USACE also tackles the biggest problems. “The Corps takes the toughest challenges, and delivers solutions that bring major benefits to our states, the Armed Forces, and other federal agencies such as U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). One of the reasons it’s so good at what it does is because it brings together the strengths of uniformed military leaders and technically competent professional civilians.”
It’s like alloying two metals to make a third, stronger metal. “You put those two cultures together, and it makes for an organization different than any other federal agency. The extensive history of the Corps’ success also makes it a broadly trusted organization, and it’s an honor to be a member of such a team.”
If there are young engineers seeking to join this team, then Holland has some advice: “If they want to be a soldier, then they can visit a local Army recruiter. If they want to be an Army civilian in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, then they can either contact their local USACE office or go to USAJobs online and apply.”
And if you seek rise to the top like Major General Holland, then she has this advice: “I don’t care for the phrase, ‘It’s lonely at the top.’ In my opinion, it’s only lonely if you make it that way. In the Army there are always people around you that want to help and want to be part of the solution.”
USACE is headquartered in Washington, DC. Explore jobs at usajobs.gov, goarmy.com/careers-and-jobs.html and https://www.usace.army.mil/Careers/How-to-Apply. Learn more on Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, LinkedIn and Facebook.
Peabody Applies Her Military Experience at National Park Service
Imagine this is your job: you travel from national park to national park. Not only do you get to see America the Beautiful, from sea to shining sea, but you’re also tasked with protecting it, preserving it, and improving it.
Well that’s Amy Peabody’s job. She’s a project manager for the National Park Service (NPS) where she manages design and construction projects in national parks across the nation.
“I love the NPS mission of preserving our natural and cultural resources for this and future generations. Some of my most memorable personal experiences have been in our national parks, and I love that this job allows me to use my skills and expertise to support the mission while contributing to others having similar inspiring experiences,” she remarks.
Peabody has to do a little of this and a little of that in her NPS engineering role, and she urges women engineering students to prepare accordingly.
“Take advantage of opportunities to learn the basics of disciplines other than your own. More often than not, design and construction projects include multiple disciplines of work. You don’t have to be an expert in everything, but being familiar certainly helps,” she recommends.
Peabody started her career in the U.S. Air Force (USAF), and leaving it was a tough call. “The decision was difficult and the uncertainty associated with the change was scary. Is it the right decision? Is it the right time? Am I ready for this change?” she recalls.
“I’ve found that discussing it with friends, family, and mentors whom I trust has helped me clearly think it through and to be confident with the decision.”
Acquiring a solid background in the USAF enabled Peabody’s growth, so she encourages other woman engineers to begin their careers in the military.
“Consider joining Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) if you’re still early in college or Officer Training School (OTS) if you’ve recently graduated. I participated in Air Force ROTC while attending Purdue University, and became a civil engineering officer upon graduating so I didn’t have to go through the job-search process,” she details.
Peabody honed her leadership skills in the Air Force, too. “My experiences in the Air Force gave me a great foundation for my career, and provided valuable leadership and management opportunities early on that put me a step ahead of many of my peers.”
Does an NPS career sound like a dream? Then Peabody encourages young engineers to join her.
“NPS needs good engineers! Most people don’t realize the opportunities that exist, but many of the parks have positions for engineers, and there are even more opportunities in regional offices and the Denver (CO) Service Center. It’s a great way to work for the National Park Service while using your engineering degree,” she points out.
This NPS career is a dream come true for Peabody. “I love that I get to do all kinds of projects in parks all across the nation, which means I get paid to travel to and learn about each of the parks!” she enthuses.
NPS is headquartered in Washington, DC. Learn more via Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr and iTunes.
Barkawi Enjoys Tangible Achievement at the Forest Service
Rosana Barkawi, PE, assistant director of engineering, technology and geospatial services at the USDA Forest Service, was drawn to her profession because of the tangible results, which can be literally concrete.
“There are so many choices within engineering that it took me a semester to narrow it down to civil engineering. One of the aspects I liked about civil work is the fact that you can see your designs come to life once they’re built, and they last a long time. For me structural engineering was very appealing. The ability to draw on paper what would become a building or a structure for all to use and to see amazes me.”
In her position Barkawi helps build just about everything. “I oversee the management, policy development, and budget formulation for the USDA Forest Service infrastructure programs, including dams, buildings, water, and wastewater systems, roads, bridges, and other facilities.”
This engineering leader was oriented toward engineering since she was a child. “I’ve always enjoyed math and exact science since I was in primary school. So when it was time to decide on a degree to pursue, I was pretty sure that it would be engineering or architecture,” she recalls.
Picking the Forest Service lets Barkawi keep America green and pristine. “I enjoy working for the Forest Service because of its mission to maintain and sustain the health of our national forests,” she shares.
Working for the Forest Service also lets Barkawi balance the needs of America’s wild places and the wants of the public. “I get great satisfaction knowing that through my work I contribute to providing the American public safe access to recreation opportunities through a network of roads and bridges with minimum impact to the environment.”
Like many engineers, Barkawi has to keep an eye on the budget, too. “I also oversee the budget and policies that influence the maintenance of buildings that are critical to other activities, such as fire training centers, as the agency is responsible for fighting fires, or visitor centers, which allow visitors to learn and enjoy all that forests have to offer.”
One of the perks of Barkawi’s work is her colleagues, she indicates. “I enjoy the people who work for the Forest Service. They’re passionate about their jobs, especially resource management staff.”
She and her resource management staff are passionate about protecting all critters, great and small. “Engineering has great impact on the restoration of aquatic organism species. We support the watershed staff by providing advice about the removal of culverts that impede or block the passage of fish.”
Barkawi also had to figure a way to continue her career through familial challenges.
“When my two kids were toddlers, I quit my job as structural engineer working for a consultant engineering firm so that I could stay with them at home. At the time I was very scared that my career as an engineer was over. I even contemplated changing careers completely.”
However, putting her profession on pause didn’t end it. “It took a few months of reflection and the support of my husband to realize that I enjoy the career I’ve chosen,” she remembers.
“I decided to take my time and find the right job. I continued to take classes and keep myself relevant during this time. My family and I got through it, and I was offered a better job at a higher pay and responsibility.”
The USDA Forest Service is headquartered in Washington, DC. Explore jobs at www.fs.fed.us/working-with-us/jobs. Connect on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Instagram.
Wolfson Leverages Discomfort to Lead in the U.S. Navy
Today Captain Dianna Wolfson is commander, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility, but on her first tour there, she was assigned as the project superintendent.
“It was a big job with even bigger responsibility,” recalls Wolfson, who was leaving a familiar role at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
“I knew everyone there. It was like my family - I knew who to call when I was in trouble or when I needed support.”
The move from familiar to strange, from family to strangers, was discomforting, but Wolfson believes discomfort breeds leadership.
“I think we’re all faced with hard or scary times in our careers. To be a successful leader, if you aren’t feeling uncomfortable, then you probably aren’t doing something right! Our resilience shows us how we can bounce back,” she maintains.
She took her own advice and took the leap to this new role. “I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t have any connections, and I had to start all over, but if you take care of your people, then they will take care of you. Responsibility, discipline, integrity, and patience help us navigate through hard times, and it’s during these hard times our character shines through.”
And it gets easier as you build relationships, she says. “You just have a new family like I do here at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard now!”
Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility is a U.S. Navy depot maintenance organization charged with maintaining, modernizing, and retiring the naval vessels that protect the nation and its interests at sea. Employees include 14,302 civilians and 750 sailors. All work with an esprit de corps.
“Our jobs provide us with a unique sense of pride, knowing the importance of our part in defending the U.S., its people and its interests,” she points out.
Wolfson also loves the nitty-gritty of ship maintenance. “I love maintenance. It’s been my passion and my focus since early in my career, when I was offered the chance to become an engineering duty officer. I’ve always felt a close rapport with our nation’s shipyards, and I’m very proud to be part of our high-performing teams.”
Wolfson also loves the nuclear power plants in many of the ships, especially since she has a background as a nuclear engineering duty officer within the Navy.
“I had done an internship with Florida Power and Light while attending the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and I found that most of the people running the company at the time had a Navy nuclear background. So I decided to join the Navy, and now, 23 years later, I’m still enjoying nuclear power as we maintain, modernize, and retire our Navy’s fleet.”
If a Navy career appeals to you, then Wolfson has some great news.
“Obviously, the Navy is always hiring, but specifically, in our shipyard team and across our command, there’s always a need for qualified engineers, and skilled tradesmen and -women.”
The Navy is also perpetually upgrading its employees, she notes. “We’ve developed a comprehensive and wide-ranging internal program of training and skills development intended to help those new employees attain valuable experience much more quickly than they might have otherwise.”
Attitude also upgrades performance, according to Wolfson. “We don’t give up the ship, or the shipyard in our case, we don’t give up on each other, and we don’t give up on ourselves.”
In you’re interested, then follow Wolfson’s advice: “See your Navy recruiter. Of course, if a career in uniform isn’t what you’re looking for, then keep watch on USAJobs, the federal government’s recruiting website. On any given day, dozens of jobs at our shipyard might be advertised there, and we also conduct mass-hiring events there annually.”
The U.S. Navy is headquartered in Washington, DC. Explore careers at usajobs.gov, navy.com/careers and secnav.navy.mil/donhr/Pages/Default.aspx. Learn more via YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.
Pay Day for Federal Government Engineers
The typical federal government engineer salary is $113,726. Engineer salaries with the federal government can range from $50,327 to $169,992. This estimate is based upon eight federal government engineer salary reports provided by employees or estimated based upon statistical methods.
When factoring in bonuses and additional compensation, an engineer at the federal government can expect to make an average total pay of $114,000.
Top 10 Engineering Disciplines for Government Work
5. Electronics & Communications
9. Dairy Technology
10. Food Processing
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