Stephanie Gates thrives on problem solving. Her work at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Middle East Division (TAM) gives her a lot of opportunity to do that. Stephanie relates, “Each project has its own unique problems and figuring out the best solution to deliver the best product to our mission partners is what I love doing. Every project challenges me to learn and apply skills in different ways so it’s never boring.”
Stephanie Gates grew up in Los Alamos, N.Mex. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degree in civil engineering with a focus on structures from New Mexico State University. Prior to her position at TAM, she worked for the private sector in Colorado. The firm’s portfolio included custom houses, small commercial properties, schools, and apartment complexes. Those projects allowed her to work with wood, steel, concrete, and masonry construction. In time she felt there was no more room for professional growth with that company. As she pondered career next steps, she was intrigued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) mission. With initial research she realized that “USACE does cool stuff, and I want to do cool stuff too.”
At the time she was determining her next steps, she visited her brother who was stationed in Washington, D.C. During that visit, she realized that the D.C. metro area might be the change she was looking for. In 2019, she applied for and accepted a structural engineering position at TAM. At first, she was a bit hesitant about working for the Middle East District, but in time realized she found an ideal niche for her abilities and interests. She really likes living in Winchester, Va., preferring a smaller town over a big city.
Her first major project came in helping rebuild the entire base of Camp Santiago in Puerto Rico. According to National Guard.mil, “In 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated islands in the northeast Caribbean — especially Puerto Rico. The hurricane made landfall on the island Sept. 20, taking more than 3,000 lives and leaving almost $90 billion in damage in its wake. Camp Santiago, the Puerto Rico Guard’s primary training center near the island’s southern coast, bore irreparable damage to 60% of its facilities.”
Stephanie was part of a team that designed buildings at the base to withstand future weather-related calamities. Colleagues from the USACE Jacksonville and Philadelphia Districts also brought their expertise and manpower to the project. Experiences like this has enabled her to build her professional network throughout USACE. She is grateful to have colleagues with different expertise across the organization to tap into when the need arises.
In time, she became also became the subject matter expert on antiterrorism force protection (ATFP). TAM’s area of responsibility (AOR) has unique requirements for antiterrorism design. Depending on the building type requires different design factors. Stephanie said, “Ensuring that infrastructure like barracks and air traffic control towers are designed to resist terrorist attacks are critical to providing a safe and quality product for our customers.”
TAM has provided Stephanie with many leadership developing experiences, which she felt was lacking during her time in the private sector. She recently completed TAM’s Leadership Development 1 Program. Their final project was a staff ride at the Third Battle of Winchester. The team had to research and develop a program about how a commander’s leadership effected the course of the battle. Being from the southwest, she did not have a great interest in the American Civil War. The research gave her a better understanding of that period of history, and she finds that era interesting. That exercise taught her how leadership is an integral part of the battle experience and was able to carry those lessons into her professional life. She looks forward to future leadership development opportunities.
Another thing that Stephanie enjoys about working for USACE is that it is a predominately civilian organization in the military. Both her father and brother served in the military, and she feels this is her chance to also be of service. Her brother is a helicopter pilot, and she has used his real-world experience to find out what pilots really need in the design of a hangar. His insights have provided her to create superior design products for TAM’s customers.
In early 2023, Stephanie applied for and accepted TAM’s structural engineer supervisor position. Looking towards the future, Stephanie sees continual opportunities for leadership and her professional growth. “I look forward to continuing to lead our structural team and helping them learn and grow so that we can deliver even better products for our soldiers and host nation partners. I’m also excited for our future projects because I know they will challenge me as a structural engineer.”