Employee Spotlight: Patricia Fontanet

Published Feb. 21, 2017
Patricia Fontanet stands in front of California State Capitol.

Patricia Fontanet stands in front of California State Capitol.

Please introduce yourself:

My name, Patricia, is actually pronounced in Spanish (pah-tree-see-ah). I was born and raised in Puerto Rico where I developed a fascination for the natural environment. I moved to Boston after high school to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science at Northeastern University. Through Northeastern’s co-op program, I participated in several co-ops with environmental consulting companies and a nonprofit organization. I graduated in 2016 and shortly after, was hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a Community Planner. I moved to California in July 2016 to begin my career as a planner here in Sacramento. Moving to the West Coast has been a crazy, great adventure.


Tell us a little about your day-to-day job functions...

This is a tricky question since every day is so different for me. As a planner, our job is to make sure project needs are being met. We work in dynamic environments to identify problems, opportunities and then develop effective strategies that achieve project goals. For example, sometimes I spend my time researching project information such as flood history or critical facilities and incorporating these findings into our draft plans. But there are other days where I go to meetings all day and barely sit at my desk. Aside from my planning duties, I provide financial management support for Floodplain Management Services and Planning Assistance to States programs by helping project managers keep track of funding.


What do you like most about working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers?

In general, what I like about the public sector is that it doesn’t work for profit. We don’t decide on projects based on how much revenue it will bring us, but rather we work to meet the needs and demands of our Nation. The Army Corps of Engineers ultimately works to make people safer, and that’s very rewarding to me. 


What is one of the most interesting projects you’ve worked on?

My most interesting project is definitely Skull Valley. We are collaborating with several agencies to create a Floodplain Management Plan (FMP) for the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians. It’s interesting because this plan will be one of three tribal FMPs in existence throughout the Corps of Engineers, and Sacramento District has developed all three. In a way, we are creating the tribal FMP guidebook as we go along, which has made it a learning process for everyone. We are working closely with the chairwoman of the tribe, and her goal is to reduce flood damage throughout the Skull Valley Reservation. I will be proud of the plan we craft to meet their needs.  


Skull Valley Reservation in Utah does not have many resources at their disposal. Only a few tribal members live on the reservation, they are two hours away from the nearest hospital and 45 minutes away from the nearest gas station. They have significant flooding issues and very few options. I think Sacramento District has a great opportunity, as well as the necessary resources, to really make a positive impact.   


(An honorable mention for most-interesting project goes to development of the game, Flood Fighter: Nevada. This has been my coolest project so far. It was really great to work with the contractors and develop a game for the State of Nevada. Not only is it a super fun game, but it will also increase flood awareness for students all across Nevada.)       


What do you like most about your job?

I like that it’s my first job! I really appreciate how dynamic my work is. Since every day is different, I rarely feel bored. Even though my academic background is scientific, I have always enjoyed interacting with people in a team-oriented environment. I always wanted a job where I could combine the technical knowledge I possess with my communication skills. As a Community Planner, I get to do that on a daily basis.


I also really value the attention Sacramento District gives to employee wellness. We are encouraged to go outside and take breaks during the day. This approach enhances productivity, and you don’t really see that at many places. I love going outside when it’s sunny and walking through Capitol Park, or going to one of the many surrounding coffee shops in our area.


What advice would you give to a new employee?

I still feel like a new employee, so this is advice that is currently working for me: Firstly, if you feel like a firehose-of-information is being shoved down your throat, do not worry, this is normal. The Army Corps of Engineers has been around since the American Revolutionary War and has so much history it’s impossible to absorb it all. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed, but eventually you’ll start having “a-ha” moments where things start making sense. It helps to ask lots of questions, no one should ever be too busy to assist a new employee. When I first started, everyone was incredibly supportive and understanding. Something I wish I would’ve understood sooner is that your input as a new employee is valuable. I had the tendency to be in listening mode the first few weeks and rarely expressed my thoughts. But don’t be afraid to speak up, your coworkers want to hear what you have to say. There are no silly questions, wrong answers, or bad ideas.     


What three traits define you?

Balance. Optimism. Honesty.


What are three things most people don’t know about you?

  1. I once volunteered to restore a reef that had been impacted by a boat. We spent the entire day diving, collecting pieces of coral, classifying them by species, and using a paste to “glue” coral back to the rock. 

  2. I had an article published in a print newspaper. (The article was about the hardships of commuting via Boston’s busiest bus route – in case anyone was wondering.)

  3. I will eat an entire box of frozen thin mint cookies.


What do you like to do in your spare time? Favorite thing to do in Sacramento?

As an introverted extrovert, I love spending time in the city meeting new people. But before I can do that, I need to have solo-time first. I genuinely enjoy being alone in my apartment watching Netflix, reading articles from The Atlantic, silly dancing in the kitchen, and taking hours to cook a new recipe. That said, one of my favorite activities in Sacramento is to go out and explore. I love trying out new restaurants. I tend to walk most places, and I like to take different routes. If I pass a place that looks interesting, I pin it on my Google Maps so I don’t forget it. Happy hour is illegal in Boston, so when I was living there for college, I never got to experience the brilliance of discounted food and beverages. It really is a great way to wind down after work. I also really love Sacramento’s geographical location. It’s my first time living in the west coast, and it has been so easy to visit other cities. I’ve already been to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Yosemite, and so many other cool places. There’s so much to see!   


Top 3 personal highlights?

  1. Spending a summer sailing across the Pacific Ocean conducting oceanographic research. Our crew sailed from Honolulu to San Francisco, and my research project focused on measuring spatial and temporal patterns in pH. Definitely one of the most memorable and rewarding experiences of my life.

  2. Going on a road trip from Chicago to Miami. We took the long way and drove our family minivan all along the East Coast. We stopped in major cities and historical sites, but most importantly, we ended the trip at Disney World. 

  3. Visiting Budapest in the middle of winter. We were so cold we had to stop every 15 minutes at a café to drink mulled wine. Despite the weather, we visited their famous thermal bathhouse and bathed in the outside pools. When we got in the thermal pool it started snowing. That was pretty amazing.