Susanne Davis has retired after 42 years of federal service, 35 of them with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago District. Coworkers, family, and friends joined in person and online during her retirement ceremony this month to acknowledge her accomplishments and present her with gifts and awards for all her years of service.
Ms. Davis, a Chicago native, started her federal career working as a mail handler for the U.S. Post Office while earning a bachelor’s degree in history at Northwestern. She then worked as an Examiner for the Railroad Retirement Board for five years from 1979-1984. She returned to school, attending the University of Illinois at Chicago, to obtain her second bachelor’s degree this time in Civil Engineering.
In 1987 she started as a Civil Engineering intern with the Chicago District. From there she worked in the Hydraulics and Hydrology Branch. She said she enjoyed her work the most when she was a Technical Engineer. “I learned a lot from my section and branch chiefs. They were great mentors. They gave us opportunities and helped us kick things off (on projects)”, says Davis. From design to modeling to field visits “it was very fulfilling”, Davis says.
Ms. Davis then went from being the H&H Branch Chief to the Planning Branch Chief in 2005 where she has worked to build a close, and capable, team. Her team has led flood risk management, aquatic ecosystem restoration and navigation studies, while ensuring environmental compliance. Since 2010, they have completed seven large studies, including five Chief’s Reports (this report is developed when a water resources project would require Congressional authorization – or a change to existing project authorization), and numerous smaller studies. These have resulted in over $1B worth of federal infrastructure investment.
“Sue is what you would call a compassionate leader”, says Steven Fischer, Chicago District Deputy District Engineer. “She has had an amazing career. In 2020 alone, Sue accomplished three Chiefs Reports and a director’s report. It was pretty amazing”, exclaims Fischer. “More importantly, she has led her team in producing quality products and what she’s been able to deliver for the district and across the enterprise speaks volumes”, Fischer says.
Ms. Davis says her most memorable experience was her work in Puerto Rico for the Rio Guayanilla flood risk management project where she participated in the largest attended public meeting of her career. Davis explains how much the people needed the project to be completed for their livelihood. “We were able to complete a three-year study in just over two years. It was really gratifying”, says Davis. From the level of welcome by the public to the level of willingness by so many different districts and agencies “it was an amazing experience”, Davis says.
As Ms. Davis remembers her early days with the Corps, she encourages interns to take advantage of rotating throughout different sections in the district to meet new people and make connections. “Take time to learn the work. Then go where the work gives you joy or piques your interest. Find what will fulfill you on a personal and professional level”, says Davis.
And her advice for the new Chicago District Planning Branch Chief? “ We have an amazing, hardworking, branch and a good reputation. It’s important to keep the team going. Trust the team, they know what they’re doing”, Davis says.
Ms. Davis will spend her retirement traveling, continuing knitting and quilting, spending time with her family, and finishing her family cookbook. She will be taking her own advice saying, “seize opportunities when you can, there may never be a better time”.