Five U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) employees were recently named 2023 Women of Color STEM award winners for their exceptional accomplishments in science, technology, engineering and mathematics at a national level.
The awardees are Pat Sullivan, the deputy director of ERDC; Elizabeth Gao, a materials engineer at the ERDC’s Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL); Brandy Diggs-McGee, a mechanical engineer from ERDC-CERL; Jessica Frierson, the ERDC training and program manager and Dr. Catherine Thomas, a research biologist from ERDC’s Environmental Laboratory (EL).
“These professionals are a testament to the Power of ERDC,” said ERDC Director Dr. David Pittman. “They represent the organization in such a positive way.”
Sullivan was honored with the Career Achievement in Government Award for her outstanding contributions to an organization. The award acknowledges women who have worked for more than 15 years and displayed exceptional leadership qualities, including sensitivity in managing others and strategic insight. The recipient of this award is recognized as a role model for female leaders in the workforce.
As ERDC deputy director, Sullivan serves as the chief operating officer for one of the most diverse research organizations in the world, overseeing seven laboratories located in four states and more than 2,500 employees, $1.2 billion in facilities and an annual research program exceeding $1.8 billion. Throughout her almost 39-year career with the organization, she has worked as a civil engineer in the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory (GSL) and held roles as an assistant technical director for the ERDC Military Engineer Research and Development Division, a strategic assistant to the ERDC GSL lab director, the ERDC executive staff officer and the ERDC associate director. Sullivan holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Tulane University and a master’s degree in civil engineering from Mississippi State University. She has also completed some postgraduate study in geotechnical engineering at Louisiana State University.
Gao, Diggs-McGee, Frierson and Thomas were all awarded Technology Rising Star Awards. The award is given to women with less than 15 years of experience in the workforce who actively contribute to shaping the future of technology.
A materials engineer at ERDC-CERL, located in Champaign, Illinois, Gao currently serves as acting branch chief for the laboratory’s Warfighter Branch. She is responsible for leading multidisciplinary research teams in support of the full research and development (R&D) lifecycle from basic research through Army implementation and subsequent assistance to ensure effective adoption and utilization of products arising from R&D investments. Gao has authored or co-authored approximately 15 journal articles and ERDC technical reports. She holds a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering and a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cellular biology, both from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Diggs-McGee works as a mechanical engineer in the Warfighter Engineering Branch of ERDC-CERL. Her contributions to the defense department, construction industry and research community have significantly advanced the field of additive construction towards a more efficient process for energy and operations. Diggs-McGee earned her master’s degree in civil engineering and bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Frierson currently serves as the ERDC training & development program manager. She began her federal career with the ERDC in the Information Technology Laboratory, where she held several roles such as branch and division administrative assistant, program specialist, training coordinator and staff management specialist. She received her bachelor’s degree in pre-law with a minor in finance management from Alcorn State University and her master’s degree in human resource management-organizational and leadership development from Louisiana State University. She also holds an organizational behavior certification from Harvard University.
Thomas, a research biologist in the ERDC-EL, is an expert in plant interactions. She is focused on studying the physiological responses of riparian and aquatic plants to environmental changes. Her work includes conducting vegetation surveys, analyzing plant communities and designing natural planting schemes to stabilize contaminants and prevent erosion at Army installations. In addition to her research, Thomas is an adjunct instructor at Lamar University, where she teaches an advanced ecology course in the Civil Engineering Department that integrates her experience with Engineering with Nature projects. She also has expertise in evaluating nutrient uptake pathways and adaptive plasticity of submerged and emergent vegetation.
In October, the Women of Color STEM Digital Conference will welcome the five ERDC honorees, alongside numerous other professionals in their field.
Nothing screams Team of Teams or Innovation louder than earning one of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineering and Construction Community of Practice’s (ECCoP) highest accolades.
The Northwestern Division Columbia River Climate Change Team received the ECCoP Climate Champion (Team) Award for their work on the Columbia River Treaty Vulnerability Assessment and contributions to district, regional, and national climate product development.
Integrating climate change into long-term planning studies has been a Northwestern Division, Seattle, Portland, and Walla Walla Districts, and their partners’ priority for over 15 years.
The team’s awarding-winning work includes supporting the Columbia River Treaty (CRT), currently in active negotiations with Canada on future basin water management.
The team incorporated modeling results, from the latest River Management Joint Operating Committee (RMJOC) planning studies, into their future climate vulnerability assessment of the Columbia River Reservoir System operations. The team also supported adaptive management planning to build resilience against hydroclimatic and future hydrologic Columbia River Basin change.
“The national recognition is an honor,” said Seattle District civil engineer and team lead Jane Harrell. “I hope exposure of this team’s work promotes and fosters innovation in how we plan and prepare for the effects of climate change.”
Harrell specializes in dataset and data analysis tool development to support climate change-impacted hydrology and resource assessments for the Pacific Northwest.
Seattle District’s Meteorologist Michael Warner provides atmospheric science and climate science support to studies involving the Columbia River Basin and the treaty. Warner, who holds a doctorate in Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Washington, Seattle, gives real-time weather forecasting for the district’s water management and emergency management hydrologists.
A sustaining team element is its members’ diverse backgrounds – in engineering, atmospheric sciences, climate science, hydrology, and reservoir operations – that have led to unique opportunities to collaborate with federal agencies and various academic and research institutions to evaluate the effects of climate change in the Columbia River Basin.
“It's a privilege to work with this team and I feel honored to be part of it, said Jeremy Giovando, a research civil engineer with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center-Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (ERDC-CRREL).
Giovando, who has been a CRT/RMJOC climate change team member since 2009, applies his background in environmental and civil engineering into researching various civil works issues including climate change impacts on hydrology, post-wildfire hydrology, snowpack, and river ice mechanics.
“I think the award represents the power of a high-functioning team and has provided a template for how to directly include climate change impacts for USACE project,” said Giovando.
Another instance is collaborating with Bonneville Power Administration and the USBR, leading studies to develop an ensemble of historical and hydrological projections and to examine Columbia River Reservoir System’s climate change resiliency.
Kristian Mickelson, Seattle District’s Columbia River Treaty Hydrology & Hydraulics technical lead, has also been involved since 2009. “I felt really lucky back then being able to use data I helped develop at the University of Washington, and then apply it here at the Corps of Engineers,” said Mickelson.
“Through the years, this team continues to push the science forward to best prepare the region for understanding the impacts that will be caused from climate change.”
Additionally, partnering with the National Center for Atmospheric Research led to the team develop datasets using the latest modeling advancements, and climate knowledge to produce credible meteorological and hydrological conditions and responses of water resource systems.
The datasets enable the team to create a strong uncertainty depiction and risk to managing and planning water PNW region water resources.
“It feels good to be a part of meaningful and interesting work such as this.” said Portland District Water Resources Civil Engineer Keith Duffy, who works on river hydraulic modeling, rainfall runoff computing, reservoir and climate change assessment and data analyses projects. His climate change assessment planning studies date back to 2010.
The combination of diverse expertise, strong connections to the research community and long collaborative effort history makes conditions ideal for essential advancements in how USACE develops datasets and modeling tools toward relevant and reliable applications for decision-making frameworks and uses climate change information to support long-term planning for regional water management.
USACE’s Institute for Water Resources Hydrologic Engineering Center (IWR-HEC) Civil Engineer Evan Heisman, applauded his fellow awardees for continuing to push the boundaries of what can be done with projecting reservoir operations under climate change, and for their proactive approach in understanding how climate change impacts USACE’s mission managing flood risk, hydropower, ecosystems, navigation, and other reservoir system impacts across the Nation.
From developing decision-support tools to anticipate potential hydroclimatic change to planning for increased resilience for water resource infrastructure, the Climate Champion Team's efforts help advance understanding of and preparation for future climate change in the Pacific Northwest.
Every year in June, USACE’s Engineering and Construction Awards Program recognizes employees’ and teams' contributions of excellence in performance, leadership, professional development and community support in its engineering and construction career fields.
The ‘Team of Teams’ mindset is embedded into Seattle District’s strategic vision to deliver strong to the Pacific Northwest. Normalizing what currently seems revolutionary and shaping the USACE future through a culture of continual process improvement, modernization and innovation, are key elements in the district’s operational plan.
Douglas Saxon, deputy chief of Construction Division for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District, received the Society of American Military Engineers’ James Connolly Award during the SAME Annual Program Review at the Savannah Riverfront Marriot, June 27, 2023.
Named in honor of James B. Connolly (1868-1957), Olympic gold medalist, Spanish-American War veteran, distinguished author, and former Corps’ Savannah District employee, the Connolly Award is presented annually to a civilian or military engineer for notable contributions in the field of engineering. The award is presented on behalf of the Savannah Community of Engineer organizations, which includes the SAME Savannah Post, and the American Society of Civil Engineers, Savannah Branch.
Saxon, who has served 33 years with the Corps’ Savannah District, was recognized for his outstanding accomplishments as a key team member in the execution of numerous high-profile projects throughout the years, most notably, the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. Other key projects he has worked on include the Fort Stewart Modularity Complex and the 5th Infantry Brigade Combat Teams Complex at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
“Doug has been a backbone of our construction community within Savannah and across the region for many years,” said Col. Joseph Geary, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District. “So it’s great for him to be recognized by his peers across both the government and civilian sector.”
As the deputy chief of Construction Division, Saxon has been the catalyst in developing processes, tools, and metrics to improve the Division’s performance and skill. He is a subject matter expert on federal construction projects and is often sought out by USACE headquarters and numerous other Corps districts for input and guidance. Saxon has also been an outstanding leader and mentor to young engineers, encouraging them to seek additional training opportunities and obtain their professional credentials.
“I know a lot of people who received this award before me, and what they brought to the organization and the engineering profession, so I’m both humbled and honored to be nominated and selected for this award,” said Saxon “I’m very blessed to have the opportunity to work in this area, with the Corps and the people I work with.”
Saxon holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology and a Master of Science in Civil Engineering from Clemson University.