VICKSBURG, Miss. — After learning that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) manages outdoor recreation at more than 400 lake and river projects in 43 states, a career as a USACE outdoor recreation planner appealed to Mississippi native Jason Knight.
Now with the USACE Tulsa District, the natural resource specialist is a participant in the 2020 Engineer Research and Development Center University (ERDC U).
“My main focus in joining the ERDC U program was to explore and experience how you guys think, your processes and capabilities and to really get some hands-on experience,” said Knight, who serves as district coordinator for Recreation and Environmental Programs. “Another small part of my interest was to make contacts and connections to see who I could turn to and possibly partner with after my time at ERDC U is over.”
In his position, Knight assists Tulsa District field offices with programmatic issues as well as reviewing and writing policies to assist with program management, using his experience and Bachelor of Science degree in natural resources management with a concentration in parks and recreation administration from the University of Tennessee at Martin. Knight began his USACE career as a park ranger with the Mobile District, followed by a detail assignment with USACE Portland District. He was instrumental in developing a mobile application for his fellow park rangers.
Now in its fifth year, ERDC U features six-month sessions that are sponsored by the Directorate of Human Capital and the Office of Research and Technology Transfer. Division and district selectees are paired with ERDC subject matter experts to apply and implement technical solutions to make the world safer and better.
“Each participant serves as a member of the interdisciplinary research and development team reporting to lead project managers and/or direct program managers,” said ERDC U Program Manager and ORTT Technology, Knowledge and Outreach Division Chief Tisa Webb. “The program’s missions are to transition technologies between ERDC and USACE, strengthening the technical knowledge base, and to provide developmental opportunities for USACE engineers and scientists while working on real-world solutions.”
A district team member since 2007, Knight learned about applying for the 2020 ERDC U session through the email chain at his Tulsa District, which he joined in 2014. His project will focus on invasive species and forest management efforts to support natural resources missions.
Working with his mentor, Environmental Laboratory Forester Dr. Nathan Beane, he will produce literature reviews, visit sites for data collection, create maps and provide data entry and analysis.
“I always wanted to know the inner workings of both ERDC and the USACE Institute for Water Resources, and where they fit in the big picture,” Knight said. “I applied to get experience with ERDC to see how they operated and also to gain valuable resources and contacts for my growing innovations team back home.”
Innovations’ Team Founder
Recognizing his achievements, Knight was named the 2014 USACE National Innovator of the Year and 2016 National American Recreation Coalition Beacon Award recipient as creator of the Park Ranger Mobile App and for his excellence in innovations and partnerships. Soon after these accomplishments, Knight created his own innovations team for the Tulsa District, focusing on planning and developing technology for park rangers and enhancing the visitors’ recreation experiences.
“I created this multi-district innovations team in 2016 to create a pathway with resources that works from the bottom to the top,” Knight said. “Most programs in USACE work from ideas that come from the top and get pushed down to the bottom field user. With our program, park rangers and field employees who are actually doing the work, or boots on the ground, come up with their own innovative ideas, and the team provides the resources and the help to get the idea into a prototype format to pilot in the summer months. It is a very unique team where field employees learn how to become innovative leaders and presenters and work with partners to make innovation happen. Over just the last two years, this team has expanded to fourteen districts representing all seven USACE divisions, and the program is growing rapidly. These districts pay their own way to be part of my team and create an innovation alliance among districts.”
He added that he just distributed a National Innovations Newsletter that was sent to approximately 700 USACE employees at their personal request. “It's more grassroots and very popular among field employees, lake offices and districts,” Knight said.
Commenting on his first week of March kickoff activities which included tours of the four of seven ERDC laboratories on the 700-acre Vicksburg, Mississippi, campus, Knight said it “was a great way to start the ERDC University experience. The tours were excellent…I thoroughly enjoyed all the lab tours as they all had great history and provided a lot of great solutions to problems that have come up in the past and present.”
Knight says he plans to work with and better understand the type of research and field work that ERDC participates in, the thought processes behind it, and the capabilities of the labs and ERDC as a whole. For more information on the ERDC U program, visit https://wiki.erdc.dren.mil/ERDC_University.