San Francisco-- Will we have enough water and natural resources in the future? What will the quality of these resources be? How much will they cost? What will be the future impacts to our environment? These are just a few of the questions water and natural resources planners attempt to answer every day. At the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, some of the most innovative planning professionals go on to become Planning Associates. Each year, the best of the best participate in a 20-week program to earn the coveted "Planning Associate" title. The class of 2012 planning associates trained at the San Francisco District recently. The training was an opportunity to give the new planning associates a strong foundation in planning, so they may move forward through the challenging program successfully.

Corps' projects typically start with staffers adept at answering questions of federal interest, engineering feasibility, economic justification, and environmental acceptability. Residents of virtually any community depend on the labor of planning professionals; so to further their skills, the Corps provides a vehicle by which planning professionals can expand their savvy in solving multifaceted water and natural resources problems.

The curriculum is rich in team building, leadership training, case studies, individual and group projects, mentoring, and networking opportunities with leaders from the public and private sectors, said Water Resources Plan Formulation Specialist Judy Sheen, PhD. A 2009 graduate of the planning associates program, Sheen is now a "course owner," a facilitator of the training. Courses are held throughout the nation, covering such topics as National Environmental Policy Act Updates & Emerging Issues, Dam Safety Program & Planning Considerations, and Case Studies in Collaborative Planning.

Course instructors include leaders among their peers; professionals with specialized education, training and decades of experience and savvy which they impart on students.

2012 has been deemed the "Year of the Professional" informally in Army circles and while it is true planning associates get world-class training that enhances their resumes, a common sentiment shared among them seems to be a yearning to be part of the best-trained workforce for the benefit of communities.

"I believe it is possible to balance our infrastructure, water resources, cultivation, and recreation needs with the environmental needs of our nation and we must do it now-- through collaborations, through sustainable and smart initiatives, the time is now," said Heather Morgan, a planning associate from the New York District.

For Idris Dobbs of the Jacksonville District, the district charged with the largest environmental restoration program in the history of the nation, earning the planning associate title is about gaining uncommon insight into planning for the most complex types of projects, such as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

Each year, the selection committee scours through applications selecting the best candidates possible, with a focus on developing a cadre civil-servant leaders.

2012 Planning Associates include:
Steven Johnson, a study manager/plan formulator from the St. Paul District.
Martin Kuhn, a planner and program manager from the Detroit District.
Fay Lachney, a planner and chief of the Flood Risk Management Studies Section, Plan Formulation Branch, New Orleans District.
Mark Mendenhall, a planner from the Walla Walla District.
Sara O'Connell, a research hydraulic engineer from the Hydrologic Engineering Center/Institute for Water Resources.
Nancy Parrish, a senior archeologist from the Fort Worth District.
Tiffany Vanosdall, a lead plan formulator and project manager from the Omaha District.
Traycee Verdun, a study manager, lead plan formulator and project manager from the St. Paul District.
Heather Morgan, a landscape architect and landscape archeologist from the New York District.
Idris Dobbs, an economist from the Jacksonville District.