You never know when opportunity will call.
For Civil Engineer Madeleine Dewey, it was a cold call from a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Coastal Engineer that set her career on a path filled with challenges, excitement, growth, and satisfaction.
Madeleine grew up in the small town of Alfred, N.Y. She is a graduate of SUNY University of Buffalo with a B.S. in Environmental Engineering and Notre Dame of Maryland University with a M.S. in Risk Management.
Madeleine is now a Coastal Planner and Project Manager with the USACE Buffalo District.
Recently, she took some time out of her busy schedule to look back on the excitement of the last four years.
Q: How did you end up with USACE?
Madeleine: The Corps of Engineers was not even on my radar when I was looking for the right circumstances to move on from my job with a consulting company. I knew that I wanted something in public service, either the county or city being the most likely, but I received a call from Colleen O’Connell who saw my name on a scholarship recipient list, and the rest was history.
I was direct hired through the Army Fellows Program. It gave me the chance to find the engineering job that best fit my style and passion. Over the course of two years, I moved between engineering and planning disciplines, exposing me to all aspect of USACE. Ultimately, I connected with the planning branch and conceptual design planning.
Q: What connects you to the USACE mission?
Madeleine: In college, I was a leader in many sustainability clubs. We worked on projects like solar charging stations, hydroponics, and composting, and did volunteering with the Tool Library and Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper.
This passion for sustainability directly translates to the work I do here at USACE. It’s all about the people. I love making that connection between the USACE mission and seeing the impact of our engineer solutions. I can contribute to a mission that has purpose and serves the community.
The Corps of Engineers has always incorporated environmental justice principles into solutions and the recent push has emphasized finding the balance between environment, economy, and equity. That resonated with me personally and has allowed me to expand my professional expertise, becoming an advocate and leader in the planning community.
Q: Taking about development and leadership, how has your time with USACE allowed you to grow professionally?
Madeleine: Working with interdisciplinary teams across the nation exposed me to subject matter experts in so many disciplines, giving me the chance to learn from individuals covering all aspects of the civil and environmental fields. It would have been rare to get that level of development and exposure in consulting.
My work on the Great Lakes Sediment Budget gave me the first chance to be heavily involved with technical subject matter experts and learn about coastal processes on the Great Lakes. This helped me to understand the natural environment before making design changes to the built environment. I can now take that knowledge of the coastal system and apply it to all my projects.
For example, I am now one of the leads for the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study where our work supports the eight Great Lakes states, and I can apply risk management techniques to plan for resiliency and understating coastal vulnerabilities.
Probably the best thing that has benefited me was the Corps of Engineers funding most of my master’s degree in risk management. From this rigorous educational program, I developed the skills to write a policy on risk which is now published and being used as a business process locally at the district, with opportunity for wider implementation in the future. As a result of my efforts, I have been recognized as one of the Buffalo District’s subject matter experts on risk.
“Working with USACE is an incredible opportunity to become technically proficient in virtually any category of the civil and environmental fields. As a learning organization, there are always opportunities for personal and professional growth based on individual interests and job requirements.”
Q: What other benefits do you see working for the Corps of Engineers?
Madeleine: When I started with the Corps of Engineers, I took a $10,000 pay cut. But within two years, I surpassed what I would be making if I had stayed in my consulting position. Pay isn’t everything though when you are picking a job. In the federal government, you have to look at the Complete Federal Benefits Package to really understand what you are getting.
My flexible schedule working four 10-hour shifts each week and off every Friday allows me to have a healthy work-life balance. In addition to annual and sick leave, I can contribute to my team while making time for me.
Other benefits I learned about after taking the job, which entice me to stay, are remote work opportunities, student loan forgiveness programs, health, dental, and vision insurance, and a combined retirement plan: pension and 401(k).
Professionally, I have found a job that I love to do and an organization that supports my goal of continuous improvement.
As long as I can add value, improve processes, build trust and rapport within the organization and, externally, with our project partners, sponsors, stakeholders, and the public – all while working toward a common goal – I am happy.
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