USACE People: Building strong through mentoring
August 28, 2012
WIESBADEN, Germany -- Brian Trzaska, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District civil engineer for special projects, is teaching, training, coaching, counseling and transferring knowledge to Marcelo Maier, a fellow district civil engineer and Trzaska's mentee.
A year ago, Maier rotated into the Engineering and Construction Branch as part of the Department of the Army intern program and was assigned his first humanitarian assistance project. Maier's arrival transformed a one-man operation into a two-man team.
"I did the job on my own for 14 months before he was able to come on," Trzaska said. "I was working over 20 projects, trying to cover everything. Marcelo was able to come in and bring balance."
Maier and Trzaska were friends before working together so when Maier moved into the desk next to Trzaska an informal mentorship organically formed.
"I've been in construction management for over 10 years and with the Corps for about three," Trzaska said. "I have spent time with the Air Force, DPW and a private sector company."
Despite his previous experience in construction management, Trzaska found the workload of his position with the district to be especially challenging. The HA program was growing and Trzaska needed assistance managing the high volume of projects.
In September 2011, Maier accompanied Trzaska on his first site visit to a district managed humanitarian assistance project in Singerei, Moldova. When they arrived, uniform-clad children surrounded Maier and Trzaska to thank them for renovating their school.
"The school we went to had kids gather together, they were dressed up for the day; some girls had flowers and there was a big celebration, a big thank you," Maier said. "That really set the tone for what we are doing and why it makes a difference."
This project, like many humanitarian assistance projects was of high impact. Replacing squat toilets with modern toilets in rural Moldovan schools makes a significant difference in the day-to-day lives of students and educators, explained Trzaska.
"The highlight of this job is the work itself," he said. "Construction is construction, but with this work you see the direct benefit to the community."
Humanitarian assistance projects including special needs facilities, hospitals, schools, clinics and roads improve the quality-of-life of residents, Maier said.
"I enjoy helping people out," he added.
Trzaska also finds serving others to be rewarding. While he was not formally tasked with supervising or mentoring Maier, he made himself available as a resource and a sounding board from the start of their working relationship. Trzaska coached Maier and integrated him into the E&C branch.
"He needed access to all the information, resources and tools I needed," Trzaska said. "When he needed something I made sure he had it. My mentality was I want him to learn and grow."
Even on vacation, Trzaska answered his phone to assist with problems or challenges, Maier explained.
"I admire Brian's ability to help, his ability to turn things around and his general interaction with me," Maier said. "The biggest thing is him being here to answer questions because I haven't been doing this all that long."
The time required to mentor a new employee can be difficult to find, Trzaska said.
"It is just something that you have to do, something you have to make time for," he said. "I wanted him to feel good doing the job. The best way to do that was give him the backing he needed."
Managing the construction of HA projects requires frequent interaction with customers and end-users. U.S. ambassadors are directly involved with many district projects. Trzaska and Maier work with U.S. European Command, U.S. Africa Command, U.S. embassies, foreign ministries of health and other high profile agencies to complete work in Eastern Europe and Africa.
This job requires great sensitivity to customer needs, Maier said.
"Personality matters a lot in this type of work," he added.
It takes a certain kind of person to deal with the delicate situations we encounter, said Maier. Our customers and end-users are passionate about the projects we deliver to them.
"I think Brian is very good at explaining, without getting overly anxious, that something is out of the scope of the contract," Maier said. "At the same time, he works as hard as he can to broker agreements and foster the team partnership we have to build in our program."
In construction management, details and organization matter, Trzaska said.
"Between the two of us we have 36 projects," Trzaska said. "We have to change gears a lot. We are working on a project in Liberia in the morning and a contractor submittal in Albania in the afternoon. There are clinics, military projects, schools, roads- we have to be able to look at them all simultaneously."
The HA program is expanding -- in fiscal year 2012 there were 36 projects totaling $11.5 million in construction funds and in 2013 $13 million is projected . This is good news for Maier and the district. In one month, upon his DA internship completion, he will have a permanent position in Engineering and Construction in part due to growth in humanitarian assistance work.
Having the space and ability to work on his own over the past year gave Maier the opportunity to appreciate what he's doing, Trzaska said.
"We don't step on each other's toes," Trzaska explained. "He has his projects and I have mine. I don't worry about him telling the customer or contractor something totally off the charts. I can trust him and I know he will get the job done, no matter what."