By Adrian Melendez
NRCS-WA Public Affairs
SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. – Welcome to Engineering Week! This is the week the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) celebrates our conservation engineers and highlights the important work they do as part of the overall conservation mission.
The week, which runs Feb. 19 to 25 this year, was founded by the National Society of Professional Engineers in 1951 in order to raise awareness of the contributions engineers make to positively improve the quality of life to societies, and also serves as a way of to ensuring a diverse and well-educated future engineering workforce by increasing understanding of and interest in engineering and technology careers.
Here in NRCS-Washington, there are approximately 18 people across multiple professions on the NRCS-WA engineering team.
“Engineers are trained to be problem solvers,” said Larry Johnson, NRCS-WA State Conservation Engineer “It doesn’t matter if it’s a technical or non-technical problem, we are ‘fixers’ and like a challenge.”
NRCS-WA West Area Engineer, Erica Fifer, has been working as an engineer for more than 25 years and originally intended to focus on environmental studies in college, but after talking with a family friend who was working for the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), now NRCS, he convinced her that an engineering degree might help her find a job in the conservation field more quickly. She eventually ended up graduating from the University of Washington’s College of Engineering with a degree in civil engineering, with a focus in environmental engineering. She see’s engineering as an integral part of the overall NRCS mission.
“Planners work with producers to identify the resource concerns on their land that they need to address and that will benefit the landowner to address,” said Erica. “Engineers work with planners and producers to sort out how to address those issues and to determine if it’s needed and feasible.”
“Not just feasible from an NRCS perspective, but from an economic and functional perspective for the landowners,” she continued. “I see our job and helping the landowner to determine if this project is something they can take on financially and just maintenance wise, which is critical to having a contract that works for everyone.”
Civil Engineer Technician Wes Durheim said he has always had a desire to work on Farms and Ranches and was looking for a career and not just a job when he first joined the SCS/NRCS team in 1986.
“It’s a very rewarding career as I get to see conservation engineering projects though all phases of implementation,” he said. From surveying, drafting and design, construction layout and construction inspection.”
Not everyone on the team has an engineering background.
Baylee McGinnis, Engineering Team Geologist, was a Pathway’s Program student prior to being hired last year and said she likes being part of the team because she can see the impact the engineers have.
“I like being a part of the Engineering team because I'm able to use my skill set to have a positive impact on the environment and on the people who work with the land,” she said. “Our work is fun and serves a purpose, which makes it a fulfilling effort that I can take pride in.”
Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) Civil Engineer Lynelle Knehans echoed similar sentiment to Baylee, citing the various projects she gets to be involved with and witnessing the positive effects they have on the land and producers alike.
“As the RCPP engineer I have the opportunity to see a plethora of different projects and new ideas coming in on how the NRCS can help the land,” said Lynelle. “It is great to see how small things, like an irrigation project on a producer’s land, can have such a large impact on their lives.”
“Also seeing bridges being constructed and all the little and big pieces going together like a puzzle,” she continued. “I think bridges are beautiful especially when there is a reconstructed stream channel below that matches the natural beauty of the world.”
Currently there are multiple vacant positions on the engineering team that need to be filled state-wide and NRCS-WA is always looking for those individuals who want to use their engineering know how to contribute positively to the conservation mission.
“There is a lot of math and putting puzzles together,” said Lynelle. “If you like puzzles, solving problems and making things work, engineering is for you. There are definitely challenges, but overcoming those challenges is what makes the job worth coming into every day.”
“NRCS provides the ability to work on a huge variety of projects and get out in the field a lot, and it’s a great chance to help out in your community,” added Erica.
“The great thing about being an engineer in the NRCS is working directly with partners and landowners and seeing the projects go in and the impacts it has on the lives of individuals,” Lynelle continued. “It is so rewarding to help people help the land.”
For more information on NRCS engineers and Engineers week you can visit the NRCS Engineers Week page here.