After six weeks at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers South Pacific Division (USACE SPD), I can officially say that I have developed a routine. Every morning, I hop on the Muni and get off at Market Street, walking several blocks to a grey behemoth of a building that is home to many Federal agencies (the passport office, FBI, and IRS, to name a few). I have somehow learned to navigate the maze of cubicles that sprawl across our 6th floor offices. SPD has become comfortable for me.
However, one important aspect of USACE is its national presence. SPD does not exist in a silo in San Francisco; it has district offices in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Albuquerque. During the second half of my internship, I got the chance to break out of the routine I had created for myself and visit some of these district offices.
USACE pritoritizes professional development, calling it “strengthening the foundation” amongst other pillars of the organization such as “delivering the program” and “achieving the vision.” Part of my time here at USACE has been to help with this development, aiding in the preparation and instruction of classes for others in the planning community, such as a class on Integrated Water Resource Management for the Planning Associate Program in Los Angeles.
At the end of July, I found myself sitting in a new Federal office building in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, listening to presentations on water management in the city. I hadn’t taken the Muni to get there nor did I know how many blocks it was to the nearest coffee shop, so was outside my comfort zone; however, as I stepped out of one zone, I stepped into another: the student role. One of the advantages of helping with these course was the opportunity to be both an instructor and a student. While I presented on why USACE should be a leader in managing watersheds, I was also learning about USACE’s budgeting process.
Paul Bailey via Flickr
One of my favorite parts of the course in LA was the opportunity to learn outside the classroom. During the course, we went on a site visit to restoration projects around the city, such as the “Crown Jewel of Los Angeles.” In a city known for Hollywood and good weather, one might imagine the “Crown Jewel” of Los Angeles to be something glittering and glamorous as I did, maybe like a skyscraper. However, this Crown Jewel is actually much the opposite; it is a 42-acre abandoned rail yard filled with concrete, dust, and rusty nails that the city purchased for $60 million in 2007. It is part of a larger effort to revitalize the concrete-lined Los Angeles River. The city’s goal is to provide access to the river by creating a park at the site in the style of parks such as the Besos River Park in Barcelona. Such a project is also important for USACE, as land falls within their ecosystem restoration project for Glendale Narrows.
Seeing this dusty rail yard in person gave me butterflies. It showed me first-hand one example of what I can use my degree in civil engineering and interest in water resource to do, and the potential good it can bring to communities. In this moment, I realized that I did not just help with USACE’s professional development; it had helped me. This internship has exposed me to career paths, opportunities, and projects I didn’t know existed. As this internship comes to a close, and as I look toward graduation, I look forward to continuing to learn about and getting involved with projects such as the G2 parcel, hopefully finding my own crown jewel project to work on.
Read more at the Out West Student Blog »