– As a “generalist” working amid a building full of technical specialists, Sara
Schultz has capitalized on her personal perspective to become a highly successful
planner for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District.
Since joining the Corps 18 years ago, Schultz has come to focus
on regional water resource challenges, but says, “I’m a generalist in the
broadest sense of the word, working alongside a lot of technical specialists, helping
translate their findings into a unified solution and convey that to the public
for their input.”
With degrees in art history and landscape architecture, she
worked for a few years in landscape architecture right after college, but found
she wanted something more.
“Even though it’s the Corps of Engineers, I didn’t follow an
engineer’s path to arrive here,” she admits.
Schultz earned her bachelor’s degree at University of California
Berkeley and completed her grad studies at Cal Poly Pomona. The landscape
architecture program at Pomona focused on large-scale watershed planning, which
Schultz says is a bit unusual.
The program, which centered significantly on resource
management, has proven to be extremely valuable for her.
“I think the field of landscape architecture, in its truest
sense, seeks to help improve human interaction with the natural environment,”
she explains. “I tried private industry, but I felt I could make a larger
impact through the public sector -- to help make people’s lives better.”
Her interest in ecosystem restoration led her to take a
position with the Corps in 1998, and ecosystem restoration became a focal point
in the aftermath of severe flooding throughout California. Schultz was assigned
to a massive watershed study of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, referred
to as the Comprehensive Study.
“[The Comp Study] felt like a reassessment of the flood
management system and was the first time a systemwide [computer] model was
established to describe the full California Central Valley watershed,” Schultz says.
By the time the study wrapped up in 2002, Sacramento
District’s engineering division had a number of new models that could be
applied to other projects.
“In the Corps, we work as a team to address very complicated
water resource problems,” says Schultz. “My part is to synthesize all the
information generated by our team and help maximize the benefits from federal
investment in a project.”
Schultz has long had ties to the Corps, dating all the way
back to her childhood.
She grew up in Visalia, a Central California town just downstream
of Lake Kaweah, which is operated and maintained by the Sacramento District. She
fondly remembers houseboating on Kaweah with her grandparents.
Schultz and her husband, Steve, have two children – a 13-year-old
son and 9-year-old daughter. With a new family, Schultz faced a dilemma between
parenting and work. Fortunately, it was a decision that never had to be made as
Schultz was allowed to work part-time, helping her maintain what she calls “a healthy
Flexibility by district leadership allowed them to retain a well-trained
employee, and not force a choice between career and parenting.
“It builds loyalty toward the Corps when folks are able to
hold on to their jobs and still have time for a young family,” Schultz says.
That loyalty paid off as Schultz was part of the team that
helped coordinate a successful briefing of two projects to the Corps’ Civil
Works Review Board in December 2015. The dual briefing resulted in support for
nearly $3 billion of levee improvements in Sacramento and West Sacramento, if authorized
and funded by Congress.
Becoming a successful planner doesn’t happen overnight. But
if there’s one skill that could help the process, Schultz suggests having an open
“The ability to listen to lots of different ideas -- sometimes
competing ideas – and then letting the numbers show you the answer,” Schultz says.
Schultz adds, “We always try to identify alternatives that
are the least environmentally harmful, and if we can identify an alternative
that might also save money because the solution requires less mitigation …
that’s really great for everybody and the environment.”
At the end of the day, can a liberal arts major find success
and happiness with a Corps full of engineers?
“Definitely!” says Schultz. “I love the feeling of being
part of a team. We need each other’s expertise to achieve our goals together.”