Commander’s Column: Value of engineering

Portland District Commander Col. Jose Aguilar addresses senior leaders and their family members during a New Years reception, Jan. 10. (Corps of Engineers photo)

Portland District Commander Col. Jose Aguilar addresses senior leaders and their family members during a New Years reception, Jan. 10. (Corps of Engineers photo)

Happy New Year! I trust you had a fine holiday season spending much-needed time with family and friends, recharging your batteries. It is nice to see everyone back. Major Shawn Patrick, his wife Michelle, and Suzanne and I had the pleasure of hosting a holiday reception for Portland District senior leaders on Jan. 10; what a tremendous team. The reception was by invitation but we are planning a District birthday event on or about April 17 which will be open to all employees. I hope to see you there.

In this column, I want to highlight the history of the Corps of Engineers’ contributions to our nation and what we, as Portland District, do as a professional engineering organization to continue to support the prosperity of the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

As you likely know, our first missions to the nation began in 1776, two days after the U.S. Army was formed and Col. Richard Gridley was appointed our first Chief of Engineers. He, along with other engineer officers and companies of sappers and miners, formed the first Corps of Engineers organization. In 1802, however, the Corps
was re-established as its own entity with a specific mission – support our military through every conflict by building infrastructure, facilities and other structures that supported our positional advantage against our adversaries. While these projects were designed to protect our troops and country, this early infrastructure also became the foundation for our transportation systems of today. That’s just a snapshot of our history. I encourage you to spend a few minutes on the USACE website to learn more.

The value of engineering cannot be overstated. Portland District was established in 1871 when Maj. Henry Robert, our first district commander, set foot on the banks of the Willamette River. Our first missions focused on navigation to ensure safe passage of people and commerce. Today, however, it has a long history of engineering and construction … which includes our coastal jetties, our dams and navigation locks on the Columbia River and our dams in the Willamette Valley and Rogue River Basin, whose primary purpose is for flood risk mitigation, recreation and irrigation.

Portland District also supports the American people through our engineering efforts abroad. Since 2003 we have deployed more than 300 District personnel in support of our military forces – both in combat zones as well as through multiple visits to other countries to provide technical assistance.

Jon Gornick (2nd from left) cruises the Rio São Francisco with Rafael Siqueira from CODEVASF (left), Calvin Creech, Corps project manager from Mobile District (right) and Waleska Echevarria, a hydraulic engineer from Buffalo District. (Photo courtesy of Calvin Creech, Mobile District)

Jon Gornick (2nd from left) cruises the Rio São Francisco with Rafael Siqueira from CODEVASF (left), Calvin Creech, Corps project manager from Mobile District (right) and Waleska Echevarria, a hydraulic engineer from Buffalo District. (Photo courtesy of Calvin Creech, Mobile District)

Jon Gornick, a civil engineer from the Channel and Harbors Operating Project, is one example of how we share our engineering expertise with other nations. He traveled to Brazil in 2013 as part of a national Corps team with one goal: develop a dredging program for a navigable stretch of the 1,811-mile São Francisco River. What he and the team did is exciting in terms of how we share our knowledge. I encourage you to read about their efforts through the article, ‘Waterways experience advances Corps/Brazil partnership,” on the District’s online Corps’pondent.We’ve also hosted several international delegations here, including a recent delegation from the Korean Water Academy who met with engineers from our Engineering and Construction and Operations divisions to discuss water management issues.

It is awe inspiring to see what we do as an agency and how we’re creating a legacy for future generations. We are benefiting from what they did and will continue the standard of excellence they established.

Much of this is possible, partly, because of our continued investment in STEM programs and in students. STEM is a term that refers to a group of academic disciplines: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And, we have not had to seek schools out to promote our engineering excellence. They come to us, like Vickei Hrdina, a regional science coordinator with Education Service District 112 in Vancouver, Wash., who recently asked us to meet with 24 of their staff to develop a STEM “nPower Girls” curriculum for middle school girls. After that, they sought us out again for our support of a grant that invites us to collaborate with them on more curriculum development, as well as seeks female engineering mentors for their 2016 “nPower Girls” summer camp.

Students get busy learning and building during one of Portland District's Engineering Day interactive workshops Feb. 18. (Photo by Amber Tilton, The Dalles Lock and Dam)

Students get busy learning and building during one of Portland District’s Engineering Day interactive workshops Feb. 18. (Photo by Amber Tilton, The Dalles Lock and Dam)

We’ve grown our STEM partnerships with nearly 20 schools that support our annual Engineering Day event. These include the ACE Academy and the Center for Advanced Learning, both of which have strong math and science programs.The Engineering and Construction Division and Hydroelectric Design Center also work with many college engineering programs to support undergraduate-level students on their capstone projects, as well as participate in their recruiting career fairs so those same students can have a chance to come to work for us – before and after
graduation.

We also use other events to promote a student’s interest in engineering, like Take Your Sons and Daughters to Work Day, because we know studies show that our fifth graders are one of the best audiences to light the spark of passion for STEM academics.

Our STEM program is growing, mostly because local schools recognize our expertise and the value we can add to their students’ education – but also, in large part, because of your willingness to serve others.

We must continue to inform and educate our society about our engineering expertise and our continued value to this region and nation – just as our forefathers did. All of us are ambassadors of our mission so I hope you will share this message with those in your circle of influence.

Again, Happy New Year and thank you for your superb contributions to the American people. We are on glide path for yet another banner year in 2015!

Competence follows Character,

Col . Jose Aguilar
61st Colonel of the District