PASADENA, California – Three U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District employees traveled to John Muir High School Feb. 12 to share their career experiences with students during the school’s Engineering Week.
Capt. Gus Madrigal with the Contracting Division; Linh Do of the Engineering Division; and Jenna May, a biologist with the Planning Division, spoke with ninth to 12th grade students during the school’s Engineering and Environmental Science Academy Career Exploration Showcase.
In its seventh year, the career exploration showcase gives students the opportunity to meet with and interview industry professionals from various agencies representing engineering and environmental disciplines.
Throughout the day, students rotated to different tables set up in the school’s library and posed a series of questions to agency representatives, including asking them what their day-to-day responsibilities are; what careers they wanted to pursue when they were in high school; how to get a job with the organization; what kinds of college degrees are needed to work there; and the different technologies used to do their jobs.
Madrigal, who is from Blythe, California, and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, told students it’s not hard to talk about his job because he feels like he makes a positive impact on the public.
“The highlight is that all of our work has a huge impact – a good impact – on the public,” he said. “Every project that we have, we are continuously reaffirming to the public that we’re here to help you. So when people ask me ‘what do you do’ or ‘what is your job,’ it’s really easy to talk about. For me, it’s about having a positive impact on others.”
Madrigal said he was always interested in engineering, but more so in aerospace.
“Even though I started off studying aerospace, I switched to history because I wanted to understand the war and everything that we were involved in, but I still had that background,” he said. “I was able to use that to get a master’s degree in engineering management.”
Do, a civil engineer, grew up in Vietnam. When he came to the U.S., the two biggest challenges he had to overcome were language barriers and cultural differences. He said he doesn’t think he would have had the same opportunities to become an engineer if he had stayed in his home country.
May, a graduate of the University of Florida, said she initially wanted to be a veterinarian. But after starting classes, she realized that wasn’t the route she wanted to go and changed her major to wildlife ecology and conservation. Before coming to the Corps’ LA District, she worked for the Corps’ Jacksonville District as a natural resources specialist for two years. She has been a biologist at the LA District since 2018.
Some of the most important skills to have, she said, are being open minded and having a willingness to work, put forth the effort and absorb information.
“Be excited and enthusiastic about coming to work, and, if there’s a job there, do it,” she added.
Freshman Noah Contreras was one of the students who visited with Madrigal, Do and May. He said he hopes to become a doctor when he gets out of high school. Learning about the different jobs and what skills are required in the different agencies was beneficial to him.
The annual event is sponsored by the school’s Engineering and Environmental Science Advisory Board and coordinated by board members Urte Barker and Judy Turner.
“Engineering is my passion and my joy – passing on the excitement of the profession to another generation,” said Barker, a retired chemical engineer, who worked in the oil and gas industry. “I’ve done it ever since becoming an engineer. I’ve been promoting it as a career for any child who wants to solve problems, but especially for girls.
“You hear many girls say they want to go into professions where they can do something for others, but they forget that engineers are problem solvers, and they can do a lot for others. It’s not just the service professions, like nursing and so forth, but as an engineer, we can solve a lot of problems.”
Initially, the advisory board started the Architecture, Construction and Engineering Mentorship Program in 2002 at John Muir High School. It has since transformed into what is now an entire engineer week, which includes the career day event, Barker said.
The school has been very supportive of career day, Barker said, because they see how beneficial it is for the students.
“I look at these kids sitting here and just hearing something that makes them engaged is just … that encounter is a moment that would otherwise not be there,” Barker said.
In addition to the Corps, numerous other agencies participated in the career exploration showcase, including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, Los Angeles County Public Works, Northrop Grumman, International Brotherhood of Electrical Engineers and many more.
The Corps’ LA District participates in the annual event at John Muir High School as part of National Engineer Week, which is sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers.
The Army observes National Engineer Week Feb 16 to 22, to honor Army engineers and the work they perform, primarily under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Weeklong activities are dedicated to ensuring the Corps has a diverse and well-educated future engineering workforce by increasing understanding of and interest in engineering and technology careers.
For more information about the Corps’ LA District, visit https://www.spl.usace.army.mil/.
The organization offers a variety of jobs, including in engineering, biology, construction management, project management, real estate, geology, emergency management, hydrology and many more. Students and employees can apply for jobs and internships with the Corps at https://usace.usajobs.gov.