Out West student blog

Holding the Pen

I have found ways to brighten up my room, like adding fun plants to my window ledge, which makes my workspace more calming and brings me joy. (Photo credit: Julia Leal)

By Julia Leal '22
Hometown: Morgan Hill, California
Major: Earth Systems
Program Analyst Intern, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), South Pacific Division

“Holding the pen” has been a fitting expression to describe my time with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) South Pacific Division this quarter. The flexibility afforded through a remote work setting has been something I really enjoy because it empowers me to take the initiative on tasks that interest me and allows me to discover greater balance throughout my day. I have been practicing ways to adapt to new situations and learning to value my unique insights and ideas with confidence. These lessons have occurred while developing valuable skills while “on the job” that I plan to carry forward into my professional and personal life, especially during the transition back to in-person activities.

I was first introduced to the expression “holding the pen” during a check-in with my supervisor. The person "holding the pen" is tasked with sharing their screen, taking meeting notes, and actively facilitating discussion. Getting to "hold the pen" in project planning meetings has built my confidence and made me feel like a valued part of the USACE. This responsibility has allowed me to recognize that my perspective can spark conversation which pushes the organization to think more critically about its actions.

Image: For a change of scenery when getting work done, I enjoy biking on campus from my dorm to Green Library, and on an especially sunny day, will spend time working outside to take in the beautiful environment. (Photo Credit: A friendly tourist)

For example, recently I have been connecting with Hawaii-based colleagues who have experience working on beach restoration projects in Maui and are applying for federal assistance in order to initiate these projects. Because the work of the South Pacific Division spans multiple states across the American West, remote work lends itself to being able to connect with other people across state lines, which may have been more difficult otherwise. This has been valuable for the “how-to” guide I am working on in support of coral reef restoration and risk reduction (CR4). A critical part of putting this guide together for local jurisdictions is walking through the process of applying for federal hazard mitigation assistance and providing examples of success stories on which these jurisdictions can model their project planning. In email exchanges and interviews with these agency contacts, I have gained greater knowledge about the effort of writing a grant application on a local level. Knowing about these case studies for initiating green infrastructure* projects helps me grasp how the work I am doing makes an impact, even though my position is remote. I believe that individuals can have an impact on their organizations regardless of location, and I am happy I got to make a difference in this capacity amidst these challenging times.

*Green infrastructure refers to the utilization of the natural environment in assisting with challenges like excess water during flooding. Utilizing coral reefs as green infrastructure can help protect beaches/coastlines, for example.


Read more at the Out West Student Blog »

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Julia Simon (left) and Janet Wilson, 2022-2023 Western Media Fellows

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