“This year has been overwhelming, in a good way. I never thought I would find myself working for the US Army Corps of Engineers. That being said, I also can’t imagine a better fit for my Knauss Fellowship. I went to Purdue University as a fellow in the Ecological Sciences and Engineering (ESE) interdisciplinary program because, as an ecologist, I thought it would be valuable to gain insight into the way engineers and other scientists think. In addition to the courses and thesis work I completed in the Forestry Department at Purdue, the supplementary education I received through ESE was eye opening and fascinating. I loved the practice of big-picture thinking, and this year with the Corps has solidified that love. It has prompted intellectual growth and self-realization. I’m moving on from studying human-ecological invasive species interaction to thinking about nationwide systems like marine transportation, flood risk management, and how to prepare for an uncertain future.
Living in Washington, D.C. has been an amazing experience in itself. Not only is my job exciting, but I moved out to D.C. with 50 other Knauss fellows—a built-in network of brilliant and ambitious people who have a true passion for the environment and for communicating science to those outside of academia. It has been so exciting and valuable to get to know the other fellows because I know they are people who will stay in my network the rest of my life. When else do you get to move to a new city with 50 new friends to explore it with?
In the past six months, I have spent a total of 11 weeks on the road—touring parts of our nation’s largest engineering projects that the public never sees, working on introducing new technologies to district projects, helping to facilitate workshops and conferences with environmentalists, regulatory personnel, and project directors from around the world, and learning about the staggering amount of resources and manpower involved in managing our waterway systems.
I am currently writing this post in a coffee shop outside of Portland, Oregon (yes, the coffee is great). I spent the past two days touring both the Bonneville Dam and The Dalles on the Columbia River with five engineers from the Engineering Research and Development Center. We worked with the dam operators on addressing some research and development (R&D) solutions to issues they have at their project sites—from fish ladders, to corrosion, to wear and tear from boats and barges coming in and out of the navigation locks. R&D can address all of these problems, and big-picture thinking while planning R&D projects is the key to a sustainable future. The Portland District projects were breathtaking—two of the largest power generating dams in the country.
August and September will bring trips to district projects in California and Hawaii and conferences in the Netherlands and Greece. I’m looking forward to what the next six months will bring. I truly can’t imagine a more exciting year.”
**Photo: Katherine standing near The Dalles navigation lock with Oregon’s Mt. Hood in the background.