The ceremony

Mary Foutz, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District Military Design Branch, Mechanical Section chief, received an esteemed national award as an agency winner during the Federal Engineer of the Year Award ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Feb. 17, 2017. As an agency winner, she, alongside 25 other esteemed engineers nationwide, was a finalist for the Federal Engineer of the Year.

"It's a big deal that you're a part of this small group," said Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite, chief of Engineers and commanding general of the Corps, to Foutz prior to the ceremony.

Federal Engineer of the Year Award is sponsored by Professional Engineers in Government, which is affiliated with the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE).

Typically, the honor is reserved for a current employee, either civilian or military, who is either a licensed professional engineer or engineer in training and who works at a federal agency that employs at least 50 engineers worldwide.

"I nominated Mary for her vast professional achievements, organizational engagement, as well as her steadfast desire for continual learning," said Baltimore District Engineering Division Chief Ron Maj.

Maj. Gen. Timothy S. Green, P.E., served as keynote speaker for the ceremony. Green is the U.S. Air Force Director of Civil Engineers, deputy chief of staff for Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection at the USAF Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

"We have a tremendous responsibility to our nation and to grow the next generation," said Green, appealing to the attendees to embrace their likely roles as mentors. "Who is looking at you, and what kind of choices are they making based off of you?"

Col. Ed Chamberlayne, Baltimore District commander, attended the ceremony in support of Foutz.

"It's high time one of own engineers, specifically Mary, is recognized for accomplishments to our nation and overseas to help ensure national security and to deliver effective solutions to our customers," said Chamberlayne. "Engineers often don't receive enough credit."

NSPE President Kodi Verhalen emphasized this notion.

"Engineers provide a direct and vital impact to our nation," she said. "Though these plaques are small in size, they serve a big purpose."

In good company

Maj. Matthew Miller from the New Orleans District, John Kendall from the Jacksonville District, James Croston Jr. from the Tulsa District and Travis Adams from the Portland District were also recognized as agency winners during the ceremony.

Ultimately, Jennifer Bountry, P.E. from the Bureau of Reclamation was selected out of the top ten finalists as the Engineer of the Year and received a gold medallion for overseeing sediment erosion management efforts on the Elwha River Restoration Project near Port Angeles, Washington, along with the concurrent removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams, the largest dams ever removed.

Top ten finalists included lieutenant colonels from the USAF Air Combat Command, a commander with the National Park Service, a captain with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and engineers with the Tennessee Valley Authority, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Bureau of Reclamation.

The top ten finalists and main awardee were selected by a panel of judges established by the Professional Engineers in Government based on a point system using the following criteria: education, registered P.E., continuing education, professional/technical society activities, NSPE involvement, awards or honors, civic and humanitarian activities and engineering achievements.

The making of a Federal Engineer of the Year Award nominee

Foutz's first thought when she found out about her nomination from the Corps Headquarters was, "why me?"

"I'm aware of others I consider more deserving of recognition of their accomplishments," said Foutz. "But, nonetheless, it gave me a very good feeling to know that the hard work I put in is recognized at higher levels."

Foutz began her 25 years of federal service -- all with the Baltimore District -- after earning a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Maryland.

She's gained professional development hours, as well as continuing education units through attendance at American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) conferences over the last several years; completion of a conflict resolution workshop by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service; and completion of Optimization in Water Pumping Systems course and Fundamentals of Building Commissioning course by the Association of Energy Engineers.

"Mary is extremely active in professional organizations as well as within the Department of Defense," said Maj. "She is a recognized subject matter expert and provides thoughtful, well-researched positions on Corps engineering and construction policy."

She holds professional membership in ASHRAE, Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) and is an Association of Energy Engineers Certified Commissioning Professional. She is even credited as a reviewer of several chapters within ASHRAE's "Laboratory Design Guide," second edition.

"To be successful and to have an impact on our mission in what can be a highly-complex engineering field, one needs to be acquainted with diverse organizations and individuals," said Foutz. "It is important to stay abreast of emerging technologies and industry trends; seek different perspectives and new solutions to problems; and interface directly at every opportunity with industry leaders in tangential professions."

Foutz has served on several committees, including acting as the former chair of the SAME Student Mentoring Committee and serving a key role within the Corps working group responsible for updating Engineer Regulation 1110-345-723 Total Building Commissioning. She is also a member of ASHRAE's Technical Committee for Laboratory Systems, and a member of several Tri-Service working groups.

Foutz has been honored with several individual and team awards in recent years, including recognition as an outstanding supervisor by the Federal Executive Board and for her mechanical engineering support to the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa for approximately 13 years. She has received team awards for work on the High Performance Computing Center project and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center Sustainable Infrastructure Assessment II Program.

Foutz leads the Corps North Atlantic Division's Fire Protection Regional Center of Expertise (RCX), in which she supports all NAD districts with fire-protection engineering services.

"I consider the mentoring of the young, inexperienced mechanical and fire protection engineers I have been privileged to supervise in my design section over the years to be my greatest achievement, and greatest service to the Corps and nation," said Foutz. "It has been my most profound pleasure to motivate and assist the professional development of these men and women as they have developed into solidly-grounded, respected and capable engineers."

She is also a leader in the Commissioning RCX, in which she has developed new guidance for performing total building commissioning in accordance with Department of Army's Sustainable Design and Development Policy, and has also developed commissioning requirements for complex facilities.

"Mary has led the Baltimore District over the past several years in designing cost-effective, high-quality facilities," said Maj. "She has made expert technical recommendations on critical and complex mechanical systems and energy-efficient technology applications for various types of projects both here in the U.S. and overseas."

For example, Foutz assisted in contract negotiations and design development to correct exhaust system operational issues for chemical laboratories for U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense. She also provided technical support to the high-profile Missile Defense Agency Aegis Ashore project in Romania in which she proposed a workable, cost-effective solution for critical mechanical engineering systems issues.

Foutz attributes her successes to nurturing parents, dedicated teachers, engineering mentors and a supportive husband.

"I always dreaded letting any of them down; additionally, their support led me to believe that I could accomplish whatever I put my mind to."

What's next for Foutz?

Despite all she's succeeded so far, Foutz has no plan to slow down any time soon.

"My ambition is to continue to develop myself professionally into the most effective, hands-on mechanical engineer, and leader of engineers, that I am capable of becoming and to continue to contribute to the successful execution of the most high-stakes, critically-important DOD facilities, all while navigating in a technologically-challenging engineering field."