Growing up in Mississippi, Laura “Beth” Williams had heard of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and saw their work on the Mississippi River.
“I loved looking at aerial photos and old maps that showed how the massive river had meandered all over the delta, leaving its tracks behind,” said Williams, (BS 1998 and MS 2000 Auburn University).
But it wasn’t until Williams worked as a Cooperative Education student with the Corps’ Engineering Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Mississippi, that she really discovered her true calling and niche as a civil engineer.
“My time there was such a great experience,” said Williams reflectively. “I worked on a lot of the big physical models of civil works projects they were studying at the time, the Los Angeles River, which seemed to go on for miles, and several of the large hydropower dams in the Pacific Northwest," she said. "That's when I really knew that hydraulics and water resources was the part of civil engineering that I enjoyed most.”
Having two supportive parents, including a dad who was a civil engineer, gave her the extra boost she needed to move forward with her new-found passion.
“Engineering and science were always around and sort of in my vocabulary,” said Williams. “I remember telling my dad that I was thinking about majoring in engineering and he just smiled and said ‘Go for it.’ It sure is nice to know that someone believes in you. Sometimes I think that makes all the difference.”
Shortly after that conversation with her Dad, Williams enrolled in Auburn University, eventually graduating with both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering. After college, she worked for a private firm in Atlanta for a few years, but was quickly drawn back to the Corps.
Today, Williams lives her dream working with the Corps’ Savannah District as the Engineering Technical Lead on the massive Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP). The $973 million project will deepen the Savannah Harbor federal shipping channel from a depth of 42 feet to 47 feet, enabling larger more heavily-loaded vessels to call on the harbor.
As the lead engineer for SHEP, Williams provides technical oversight to each of the SHEP engineering components and coordinates engineering team members and project activities in the preparation of investigations, designs, drawings, specifications and quantity estimates.
“It's hard to imagine my life in different field,” said Williams. “I'm sure you'd see a problem solver and an organizer in whatever it is I’m doing. Those things just seem to be part of who I am.”
For the past 17 years, 15 years with the Savannah District and two years in private industry, Williams has gained technical expertise in hydrodynamic modeling, riverine flood studies, environmental restorations, harbor deepening studies, environmental impact analyses, and civil works construction to include dams, levees and rock revetments.
Williams said that her formative years with the Corps coupled with her experiences at Auburn University prepared her to work on such a big project.
“When I was at Auburn I especially enjoyed my classes that had real world examples. I took a geotechnical engineering class and our professor showed us lots of pictures of projects he worked on and issues and problems he had come across in his career. Being able to see something that was once just calculations and drawings on paper come to life was really exciting and I still get excited to see that today.”
Williams is equally as passionate about family as she is about engineering. In her spare time, she enjoys spending quality time with her husband and children.
“I treasure the time I get to spend with my two children and my husband just enjoying the little things in life together,” said Williams. “Just being together is a blessing in itself. I cherish each moment because they will be grown before I know it.”
Who knows? Perhaps Williams’ kids will see the work she does for the Corps of Engineers like she did as a youth and decide to attend Auburn in the future and follow mom’s footsteps.