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Latina Letters From the Front!

Research Environmental Engineer at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC).

By Edith Martinez-Guerra.

Dr. Martinez-Guerra briefing the Sargeant Major of the U.S. Army, Daniel Dailey, 2018.

I emigrated from El Salvador to the United States in 2004 when I was a sophomore in high school. My biggest struggle was the language. I am an extrovert, and the inability to communicate in English was very difficult. I knew I wanted to be a civil engineer ever since I was kid (because my 2nd grade teacher told me I would be one), but I did not know how to do it because I did not know all the steps I had to follow to attend college. I heard my classmates talking about the ACT, so I took it. My GPA was great and my ACT was higher than average (not too bad for a non-English speaker!), but I did not really know what to do with that.

I applied to several universities that came to visit our high school, and I was admitted, but when I would check their websites, I thought I would never be able to afford school. I did not know much about all the scholarship programs. I heard of one from a local community college, so I took it and attended there my first year. After that, I took student loans (I will be paying for a while), worked almost full time, and completed my bachelors in Civil Engineering from Arkansas State University. I heard about graduate school, and I promised myself that I would study until I get the highest degree that one can get. Therefore, I completed my Masters and my Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Mississippi State University.

Upon the completion of my Ph.D. in 2016, I joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I work as a Research Environmental Engineer at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC). I have wanted to work there since I first heard of it. I grew up in a small village where drinking water has to be carried for long distances and most of the domestic chores get done with collected rain water. This situation inspired me to pursue a career where I could help to improve water quality for people, which is what I do at ERDC.

While at ERDC I have had many opportunities to learn and grow personally and professionally. I have been given the opportunity to help others in need, such as the case of my deployment to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. I had the pleasure of deploying for two months. During my deployment, I supported the Blue Roof Mission working on the Field Management System (FMS) and updating the Mobile Information Collection Application (MICA) on the devices used in the field. Also at ERDC, I had the opportunity to travel along with the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) to Peru and Trinidad and Tobago to brief on environmental waste management after a disaster.

Dr. Martinez-Guerra briefing at a SOUTHCOM meeting in Lima, Peru, 2018.

Edith (one-year-old) and her mother, Alicia Ortiz in San Miguel, El Salvador, 1990.

I am enjoying my job at ERDC, I have met very intelligent people, and I try to learn as much as I can from them. I have been part of important projects regarding energy, water, and wastewater treatment. I have taken advantage of the leadership programs offered, as well as the mentoring program. Actually, I do not think I would have made it this far if it was not for all the mentors I have had throughout my life.

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