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Career opportunities made Corps a compelling place for Nelson

Published March 25, 2020
Dr. Cody Gray congratulates Dr. Linda Nelson as she receives the President’s Award from the Aquatic Plant Management Society in 2015 for her dedication to the organization over the course of her career. Nelson retired from the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Environmental Laboratory, February 28, 2020, wearing three hats: associate technical director for Civil Works, Environmental Engineering and Sciences, and program manager for the Aquatic Nuisance Species Research and the Aquatic Plant Control Research Programs.

Dr. Cody Gray congratulates Dr. Linda Nelson as she receives the President’s Award from the Aquatic Plant Management Society in 2015 for her dedication to the organization over the course of her career. Nelson retired from the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Environmental Laboratory, February 28, 2020, wearing three hats: associate technical director for Civil Works, Environmental Engineering and Sciences, and program manager for the Aquatic Nuisance Species Research and the Aquatic Plant Control Research Programs.

Looking back on her 35-year career, the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Dr. Linda Nelson thinks the opportunities were so plentiful, she couldn’t resist staying with the Corps.

The associate technical director for Civil Works, Environmental Engineering and Sciences, wore three hats until she retired, February 28, 2020, serving also as program manager for the Aquatic Nuisance Species Research and the Aquatic Plant Control Research Programs.

“You know, when I started in the ERDC’s Environmental Laboratory in ’85, I thought, ‘I’ll get some experience, and I’ll be on my way,’ and lo and behold, it turned into a permanent position, and I really enjoyed the work,” she said.

Nelson began her career as a contract employee on an Intergovernmental Personnel Agreement through Iowa State University. After becoming a permanent employee in 1989, she worked as a plant physiologist on the Chemical Control and Physiological Processes Team in EL’s Environmental Processes Branch.

“It was always exciting, there were new projects all the time, and I loved the team I was working on, and what I also enjoyed was working nationally,” she said. “I didn’t just run experiments in the lab, I went out in the field and worked with district partners and other agencies, doing field studies in Washington state, Florida and Puerto Rico.”

Nelson conducted research to identify and evaluate chemical techniques for managing invasive aquatic, wetland and terrestrial vegetation. She documented her research in 20 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals and more than 25 ERDC reports on aquatic and wetland invasive plant management.

“That was so much fun; I worked on military installations and on Corps projects,” she said. “To be able to see and understand the variety of invasive plant problems in the field was key to finding appropriate solutions for management ⸺ it was great.”

In 2009, she had the opportunity to manage the ANSRP, and in 2010 she accepted the ATD position. “I was fortunate that after working for many years as a research scientist, I was able to apply for the ATD position and also continue to do program management. I feel like that was the next step for me in my career,” she said.

In 2010, she also shouldered the program manager responsibilities for the APCRP. Nelson feels that stepping into managing research programs enabled her to interact a lot more with districts and use her skills from both the research and programmatic perspectives to try to solve invasive species problems.

“I was able to use my skills to build partnerships with districts and divisions and ERDC, and I’m very proud of that,” she said.

“I worked with the Chicago District on the Great Lakes Mississippi River Interbasin Study Technology Team; served on the Corps’ Invasive Species Leadership Team and formed a team with the Buffalo District to eradicate invasive hydrilla in the Erie Canal,” she said, citing examples of projects she thought were particularly fulfilling.

ERDC Deputy Director Dr. Beth Fleming said that Nelson’s professional approach to her work has been an example for others and has had widespread and enduring impacts for the Department of the Army. 

“She has an incredible work ethic that makes others’ job easier ⸺ just the leader you want in charge of a team or on your team,” Fleming said. 

Wearing three hats has become a lot more complex in recent years, due to the increase in funding for the two programs Nelson managed and the increased congressional interest in invasive species.

“The ANSRP has been in the President’s budget for these last few years for approximately $675,000, but we had  supplemental funding this year up to $16 million in that program, so that’s a substantial increase,” she said. “And the APCRP also received $5 million in congressional supplemental funding this year. So now, that’s someone who manages $21 million, plus serves as ATD.”

As a result, her single position has split into two separate ones.

Upon her retirement, Nelson reflects fondly on her co-workers in the Corps and at the ERDC. “It was great working with Dr. Al Cofrancesco in so many aspects ⸺ I just got to see another side of the Corps completely,” the South Dakota native said. “Yeah, it was a great career, that’s what kept me here. Vicksburg, Mississippi, wasn’t my home; I was the furthest one from home in my family.”

Nelson has some advice for researchers starting their careers. “Take advantage of everything that is offered to us within the Corps and at ERDC,” she said. “We have so many opportunities: participating in interagency committees, detail assignments, emergency operations, long-term training, leadership programs ⸺ there are so many opportunities. I took advantage of several of them, and I wish I would have done more.”  

Looking back on her 35-year career, the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Dr. Linda Nelson thinks the opportunities were so plentiful, she couldn’t resist staying with the Corps.

The associate technical director for Civil Works, Environmental Engineering and Sciences, wore three hats until she retired, February 28, 2020, serving also as program manager for the Aquatic Nuisance Species Research and the Aquatic Plant Control Research Programs.

“You know, when I started in the ERDC’s Environmental Laboratory in ’85, I thought, ‘I’ll get some experience, and I’ll be on my way,’ and lo and behold, it turned into a permanent position, and I really enjoyed the work,” she said.

Nelson began her career as a contract employee on an Intergovernmental Personnel Agreement through Iowa State University. After becoming a permanent employee in 1989, she worked as a plant physiologist on the Chemical Control and Physiological Processes Team in EL’s Environmental Processes Branch.

“It was always exciting, there were new projects all the time, and I loved the team I was working on, and what I also enjoyed was working nationally,” she said. “I didn’t just run experiments in the lab, I went out in the field and worked with district partners and other agencies, doing field studies in Washington state, Florida and Puerto Rico.”

Nelson conducted research to identify and evaluate chemical techniques for managing invasive aquatic, wetland and terrestrial vegetation. She documented her research in 20 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals and more than 25 ERDC reports on aquatic and wetland invasive plant management.

“That was so much fun; I worked on military installations and on Corps projects,” she said. “To be able to see and understand the variety of invasive plant problems in the field was key to finding appropriate solutions for management ⸺ it was great.”

In 2009, she had the opportunity to manage the ANSRP, and in 2010 she accepted the ATD position. “I was fortunate that after working for many years as a research scientist, I was able to apply for the ATD position and also continue to do program management. I feel like that was the next step for me in my career,” she said.

In 2010, she also shouldered the program manager responsibilities for the APCRP. Nelson feels that stepping into managing research programs enabled her to interact a lot more with districts and use her skills from both the research and programmatic perspectives to try to solve invasive species problems.

“I was able to use my skills to build partnerships with districts and divisions and ERDC, and I’m very proud of that,” she said.

“I worked with the Chicago District on the Great Lakes Mississippi River Interbasin Study Technology Team; served on the Corps’ Invasive Species Leadership Team and formed a team with the Buffalo District to eradicate invasive hydrilla in the Erie Canal,” she said, citing examples of projects she thought were particularly fulfilling.

ERDC Deputy Director Dr. Beth Fleming said that Nelson’s professional approach to her work has been an example for others and has had widespread and enduring impacts for the Department of the Army. 

“She has an incredible work ethic that makes others’ job easier ⸺ just the leader you want in charge of a team or on your team,” Fleming said. 

Wearing three hats has become a lot more complex in recent years, due to the increase in funding for the two programs Nelson managed and the increased congressional interest in invasive species.

“The ANSRP has been in the President’s budget for these last few years for approximately $675,000, but we had  supplemental funding this year up to $16 million in that program, so that’s a substantial increase,” she said. “And the APCRP also received $5 million in congressional supplemental funding this year. So now, that’s someone who manages $21 million, plus serves as ATD.”

As a result, her single position has split into two separate ones.

Upon her retirement, Nelson reflects fondly on her co-workers in the Corps and at the ERDC. “It was great working with Dr. Al Cofrancesco in so many aspects ⸺ I just got to see another side of the Corps completely,” the South Dakota native said. “Yeah, it was a great career, that’s what kept me here. Vicksburg, Mississippi, wasn’t my home; I was the furthest one from home in my family.”

Nelson has some advice for researchers starting their careers. “Take advantage of everything that is offered to us within the Corps and at ERDC,” she said. “We have so many opportunities: participating in interagency committees, detail assignments, emergency operations, long-term training, leadership programs ⸺ there are so many opportunities. I took advantage of several of them, and I wish I would have done more.”  


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