Face of Defense: Marine Biologist Oversees Civil Works Projects
By Isodro Reyna
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Galveston District
WASHINGTON, March 1, 2013 - Managing federally funded civil works projects through feasibility studies and construction requires leadership -- a skill U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District project manager Sharon Tirpak hones while guiding multidisciplinary teams through complex projects that energize the economy and reduce risks from disasters.
A marine biologist by trade, Tirpak left the world of research to put her people and leaderships skills to use directing Corps projects such as the Freeport Harbor and Texas City Channel deep-draft navigation projects, Sabine Pass to Galveston Bay Storm Damage Reduction Study, and Clear Creek Flood Risk Management Project.
"I lead teams of engineers, biologists, economists and project sponsors through civil works projects that contribute to the economic well-being of the nation," Tirpak said. "It is a leadership role with many responsibilities and challenges and requires knowledge of Corps processes, with the biggest challenge keeping the projects on schedule and within budget."
A 19-year veteran of the Corps, Tirpak has served in a variety of roles within the district including lead planner and regulatory project manager.
"I actually chose marine biology as my field of study while in college and worked as a fishery biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service for 14 years," she said. "However, arriving at the Corps, I realized this was one of the best professional moves I could have made. I am much better at working and interacting with people than I was doing research, and I'm thankful to my fellow co-workers who taught me all about dredging and engineering."
According to Tirpak, being a project manager is never dull because there is always something that has to be taken care of.
"I like 'putting out the fires,' as it makes each day go by fast," Tirpak said. "I also like the interaction with the project delivery teams and sponsors and the learning aspect.
"Working on my projects always affords me the opportunity to learn something new," she added.
One of Tirpak's most fascinating projects to date was the deepening of the Texas City Channel, which included the removal of Civil War-era artifacts from the busy waterway.
"Working with the archeologists that helped bring up the remains of the USS Westfield from the Texas City Ship Channel is probably the most interesting assignment I've worked on," she said. "The Galveston District orchestrated an archaeological recovery of artifacts from the Civil War-era shipwreck, which included the removal of 10,000-pound Dahlgren cannon in 2009."
The recovery was part of a larger $71 million project completed in 2011 to deepen the Texas City Ship Channel from 40 feet to 45 feet to allow larger vessels to navigate the channel to transport commodities to various industries.
"By completing some of the long-term studies and positioning those projects for potential authorization and funding, or by completing a construction project such as the Texas City Channel Project, I believe my work with the Galveston District is leaving a lasting impact on the nation," Tirpak said. "I'm proud to say I helped make that happen."
Tirpak received numerous awards, including the Department of Commerce Bronze Medal Award for Superior Federal Service, the USACE Galveston Regulatory Customer Service Award, Regulator of the Year, several Department of the Army Achievement Medals and Commander's Awards for Civilian Service for her work on various projects.
A 1980 graduate of the University of New England and a 2005 graduate of the Army Management Staff College, Tirpak also is a certified scuba diver who enjoys seeing the Pittsburgh Steelers win. She also helps with her son's scouting and band activities and is involved in her local community.