Three U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District employees traveled to John Muir High School Feb. 13 to share their career experiences with students during the school’s Engineering Week.
Alfonso Quintero, Raina Fulton and Chadi Wahby spoke with ninth to 12th grade students during the school’s Engineering and Environmental Science Academy Career Exploration Showcase.
Throughout the day, students rotated to different tables set up in the school’s library to interview employees of various agencies representing engineering and environmental disciplines.
The students 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.
Fulton, chief of the Plan Formulation Branch, said she felt a sense of pride when describing what she does at the Corps with the students.
After high school, Fulton started out studying to be an English teacher before changing her career path. She earned a landscape architecture degree from California Polytechnic University, Pomona.
“It’s fun to see their interest and to see them really thinking about what they’re going to do,” she said. “Their interest in a profession is usually sparked by a personal experience or personal interaction, not a list in a book; not an inventory of their skills or aptitudes, but personal connections.”
She reassured students visiting the Corps’ table it’s OK to change their minds about their careers along the way.
“It’s really cool … being able to tell students what I wish people had told me,” she said. “Things they think are scary or impediments, but aren’t, like a commitment to one career, which is no longer the case.”
Wahby started his job with the Corps of Engineers as a Department of the Army intern in 2009. He is now a project manager with the Programs and Project Management Division.
When he was in high school, however, Wahby told students he initially wanted to be a doctor and a pilot. After attending college as a medical student, he changed his mind to pursue civil engineering and earned his civil engineering degree from California Polytechnic University, Pomona.
“This is a great opportunity for the students,” Wahby said about the event. “I recall when I was in high school having career days and having professionals come to our school … I really enjoy providing time to them and seeing the interest in their eyes. Providing them that valuable information and knowing that I gave them some light for their journey ahead is valuable.”
Quintero worked for the Corps for nearly 40 years – 20 years in engineering and 20 years in construction, before retiring. He started at the Corps as a summer hire. After his second summer working for the agency, he decided to pursue a career in civil engineering. He received his civil engineering degree from California State, Los Angeles, and an architecture degree from the University of California, Berkley. He returned to the Corps’ LA District in 2017 as a rehired annuitant working as a civil engineer in the Construction Division.
Quintero said he enjoys helping young people determine their career paths.
“In my case, I have two daughters and did the same thing with them,” he said. “I had to sit down with them and help them because they were trying to figure out what to study. They’re both registered nurses now; it feels good now to know they both have professions, good jobs, and they’re independent.”
Wahby told students there are countless opportunities if they choose to pursue a degree in civil engineering and also highlighted the Corps’ internship program as a valuable asset.
The Corps 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.
Fulton encouraged students to take opportunities to go to their parents’ or friends’ parents’ workplaces to see what they do for a living when looking at different career options.
Junior Karen Mayorga was one of the students who visited with Fulton, Quintero and Wahby. She said she hopes to become an electrical or architectural engineer. Hearing their stories about their careers, she said, helped her realize it’s OK to not always have everything figured out right away.
“At first they weren’t sure what they wanted to do, but figured it out later on,” she said.
In addition to the Corps, numerous other agencies participated in the career exploration showcase, including NASA, Los Angeles County Public Works, Northrop Grumman, TetraTech and many more.