by Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Kula
Commander, Southwestern Division
DALLAS—Growing up, I didn't really have a family member or role model that influenced me to pursue an engineering degree. I was blessed with wonderful parents that stressed education and I inherited their math genes. I was most inspired by my 8th grade math teacher, Ms. JoAnne Perpich who saw I had a talent and encouraged me to make the most of it. It was the power of the positive feedback I received at a young age that led me to pursue not only solving math problems, but later engineering problems and organization effectiveness challenges. One of the greatest things we can do as parents, teachers, mentors, and adults is, if we see children with a talent for STEM, then praise them and encourage them!
I enjoyed math, loved solving problems and my math teacher encouraged me to take high school math courses in 8th grade and enrolled me in some state math competitions. She told me I was good at math and it influenced me to pursue all the math and science courses I could take in high school. When I took a drafting course in high school, it was the application of math skills to simple designs of structures that sparked me to be an engineer.
My interest in solving math problems was my first step towards being an engineer. Because that's what engineers do: Solve problems. Engineers use their knowledge of mathematics, science, logic, economics, and appropriate experience to find suitable solutions to a problem. They design, build, and maintain structures, machines, systems, and processes.
Early in my career, the problems to solve were less complex and more about simple construction projects. Today, I have the privilege of serving in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as the Southwestern Division Commander, providing engineering support for a seven state region. The challenges and problems are more complex as we are operating in a fiscally constrained environment yet still must provide engineering solutions to our Nation's and region's infrastructure challenges. As the commander, I have a large group of experienced, technically qualified STEM employees to assist in solving the needs of the region. My people do the hard work of solving the majority of our problems and deliver the value our customers need and expect. Yet some problems, most often the toughest, make their way to me for a decision. Whether it's a structural, process, or organizational effectiveness problem, I still have the same passion to dive in that I did as a young math student to solve the problem. Unlike math problems, the problems of today don't have a simple, single correct answer. However, the fundamentals still apply: gather the relevant facts, break it down, and apply a formula or process to get to the suitable solution. The stakes are higher than an 8th grade math competition but the rewards of working with my team in providing solutions to dam, levee, waterway or water supply challenges are huge.
Engineers are "Solutioneers" and the engineers in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers helped build our great Nation. The Corps has been serving, building, and providing solutions to our Nation's challenges for over 238 years. There's still plenty of engineering problems to solve and we will need Solutioneers in the future. Help us find them now, praise them for a special STEM talent, and encourage them. The opportunities are tremendous, our need is critical.