Out West student blog

Fighting For the West's Water Resources, From Home!


Cameron enjoying a sunset in Monterey. (photo credit: Cameron Tenner)

By Cameron Tenner '20
Hometown: Glendale, California
Major: Environmental Systems Engineering

Planning and Policy Intern, US Army Corps of Engineers, South Pacific Division

It’s 5:30 am. The sun hasn’t even come up yet. Begrudgingly, I climb out of bed and look out the window of the extra bedroom of my aunt’s apartment where I’m staying, over the dark, misty Oakland hills. Helping teach a course running on Eastern Time can be exhausting, but as I log on to our Webex meeting and see the energized faces of my coworkers, I can’t help but crack a smile, as the first bit of sunlight gives the horizon a soft, warm glow. 

I’ll admit it. Going into my job with the US Army Corps of Engineers, I was a little bit scared. I had a fair understanding of the work they did and was excited to learn more, but the Army part of their name put me a bit on edge. After a several-week-long onboarding process, I received my common access card (or CAC for short). On it, my picture and the words “ARMY CONTRACTOR.” Whoa, I thought, this is serious. I really wasn’t sure what to expect. 

An hour into my first day, I felt at home. I received a warm greeting over virtual lunch with the folks from the planning office, my new coworkers. Among them were three former biologists and a former archaeologist, something I didn’t expect from the Army Corps of Engineers. They were kind, caring, personable people, the type of people who command respect without having to shout or make a lot of noise. It was encouraging to see federal planners who so clearly cared about their work, with their hearts and souls. 

I have been so blessed to work with these people and learn from their deep knowledge base. I have learned about the process by which cities and states apply for and receive federal support for projects, new paradigms in watershed management, and commitments the Corps is making to more respectful and humble interactions with tribal nations. And I have been so blessed to have had real responsibility placed upon me. I have conducted a survey of past ecosystem restoration studies, created material to facilitate better communication between the Corps and tribal nations, and helped teach courses on integrated watershed management and public outreach. 

Most of all, I have learned that the needs the Corps addresses don’t go away in a pandemic--they become more pressing than ever, at a time when our communities are at their most vulnerable. It is up to agencies like USACE to protect our coasts from sea level rise and restore the quality of our nation’s tarnished waterways and wetlands. Working with the Corps has taught me that just because we are confined to our homes doesn’t mean our impact and reach is too.  

I walk away from USACE inspired, and cautiously optimistic. While the future I envision for the West (water supply/quality security, restored wetlands, etc.), and myself (an engineer working on that stuff), will require countless hours of hard work, sacrifice, and dedication, with the skills and insight I’ve gained at the US Army Corps of Engineers, I’m confident that this future is within reach.

Cameron and his partner, Matthew, enjoy a nice day of walking in San Francisco. (Photo credit: Cameron Tenner)

As I crest the steep hill behind Mountain View Cemetery on my nightly walk, I’m rewarded with a gorgeous view. Below me, the hills give way to flatlands that fall into the bay. Beyond that, the setting sun sets ablaze the misty San Francisco. I’m reminded of the beauty of this land, and my resolve to fight for it grows even stronger.


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