Life Lessons & Learning: A celebration of women in the Kansas City District, Part 4

Published March 30, 2023
A woman stands in a parking lot in a hardhat and safety vest, and smiles for the camera while holding three hardhats in her left hand.

Rhonda Wilkinson, Fort Riley resident office, resident engineer, is out in the field.

A woman holds a wooden frame and looks at it while a man in a military uniform stands to the left with a young girl in a back dress with a white sweater.

Heather Howse - Program Analyst

A woman with black and grey curly hair with a yellow shirt in a light and dark grey room.

Mary Smith - Contract Specialist

A woman in a park ranger uniform talks to a group of children in blue shirts outside.

Angelia Lentz, Tuttle Creek Lake natural resource specialist, talks to a group of kids at Tuttle Creek Lake.

A woman in a military uniform leans up against a vehicle talking to a man in a red shirt outside.

Diana McCoy -- Public Affairs chief

Over this past month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District has highlighted the unique stories of five women, offering their experience, mentorship and advice to inspire the next generation of USACE employees. The lessons these women have shared bring a spirit of determination, motivation and passion to the district. This final installation of the Women’s History Month series is dedicated to words of advice from these women to current and future USACE employees.

Rhonda Wilkinson, resident engineer

From schools, office buildings, churches and research labs, in the classroom and out of the classroom, Rhonda Wilkinson has left her mark on the world of architectural engineering and construction science. With a career that has taken her to challenging projects across the country, in education, private industry and federal service, Wilkinson can speak from a wealth of experience.

“Be straight forward with people,” she said. “Have integrity and do what you say you’re going to do… [That’s] how I live my life, too.”

Since joining USACE in 2010, Wilkinson has had the chance to work on a variety of military and civil works construction projects. With all her expertise, she’s contributed so much to the mission, and still enjoys her office’s unique environment. When asked what her favorite thing about working for USACE is, Wilkinson has her answer ready.

“[The Fort Riley Resident Office] is kind of unique in a way; we do both military construction and civil works construction,” she said. “So it’s kind of nice to have that variety and … because I am out in the field, I like to get on the construction projects and watch things being built.”

From structures of all kinds to a successful career, Rhonda Wilkinson has spent her life building things. She wants others to know they’re capable of building a strong career and making an impact.

Mary Smith, contract specialist

Growing up overseas, Mary Smith studied a wide range of disciplines and is bilingual. She has brought these diverse skills and a can-do attitude with her to every job she’s worked. Here at USACE, Smith uses her love of meeting new people to help others. Passionate about her own work, Smith is equally excited about teaching others how to grow and succeed in their own careers. She has some advice for the next generation of USACE employees who are starting off in their jobs.

“[Do] your own research first,” Smith said. “Don’t ever go in … expecting someone to do something for you but go in with saying I have researched this, and this is the idea I currently have.”

Smith tries to mentor and guide young professionals in her division to help them grow as both a person and as a professional. She advises her coworkers and mentees not to allow other people’s behavior to change who they are. Her final message is to find a network of mentors, and not to be afraid to reach out to people.

“We work together, and we spend so much time with one another that you should get to know some of the people you work with and have an idea as to who is sitting next to you,” Smith said.  

Heather Howse, program analyst

As a former military spouse and a long-time federal employee, Heather Howse has truly built a lifetime of experience that she brings to work each day with USACE. Adaptive and hard-working, Howse has made the most of the mentorship others gave her when she came to the district in 2018. One thing she enjoys most about working for USACE are the opportunities available to employees.

“It’s really eye opening, in a good way, working for USACE because you see what the possibilities are out there,” Howse said.

Now, passing on her story to others, she puts her own experience to good use just like the people who helped her. Howse’s advice is to not put limits on yourself and what you can accomplish.

“Don’t limit yourself,” Howse said. “Don’t put limits on what you think you can do or what you think you can’t do. I would say just continue to go for it.”

Angelia Lentz, natural resource specialist

Angelia Lentz’s path to working for USACE brought her through different local, state and federal government organizations throughout her career. This variety brings years of knowledge and experience to her current work. From working with soldiers on rehabilitation post-deployment, to working with kids and community groups, Lentz has always combined her passion for nature and recreation with her investment in the people around her.

“I like the opportunity to go out into the community and be that positive face for [USACE],” Lentz said. “Whether it’s with kids or with community groups … I like doing the community outreach.”

Lentz acknowledges that her success is due, in part, to the mentors she has had throughout her career. She knew she wanted to work for USACE, and although it took her a few years to get here, she is grateful for the experiences she’s had with the organization.

“My favorite part about working for [USACE], specifically as a park ranger, is that every day is a little bit different and that there is always something new to do,” Lentz said. “You’re definitely not going to get bored.”

Diana McCoy, public affairs chief

Combining her experience with public affairs, emergency management and military service, Diana McCoy brings expertise and a drive to serve to her role as the public affairs chief. Having built her career with the advice of strong mentors, McCoy is now paying it forward by incorporating the lessons her leaders gave her into her own leadership strategy.

“I think my philosophy right now is to fill [the public affairs] office with people who are self-motivated, reliable, creative [and] love collaborating,” she said.

McCoy’s mentorship in her own office involves giving people room to grow in order to accomplish great things. With her own determination and grit as an example, McCoy encourages others to stay persistent, and know when you have a seat at the table, just like her mentors taught her.

 “Stick it out,” McCoy said. “If you can stick it out, you can have so many opportunities available to you ... opportunities to deploy, opportunities to participate on national teams [that] … affect people at the national level.” 

These five women have lived out their path to success in their own unique ways. Although they have different stories, these women offer their advice from the same spirit of motivation to improve their organization, serve their communities and make a difference in their field. Thank you to all these women for offering their experiences and advice to the next generation of USACE employees.