Courtney Wilson, Carlyle Lake & Kaskaskia Lake Project Manager

St. Louis District
Published March 30, 2022
Courtney Wilson - Carlyle Lake Project and Kaskaskia River Project Operations Project Manager

Courtney Wilson - Carlyle Lake Project and Kaskaskia River Project Operations Project Manager

Courtney Wilson, Operations Project Manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District, Carlyle Lake Project and Kaskaskia River Project started off as a co-op ranger in college and has turned it into a successful career.

“Adaptability is the key to success,” Wilson advises on how to create a successful career within USACE.

From the beginning, Wilson knew she wanted to be in a position of leadership within the Corps of Engineers. Starting as a baby park ranger, as she fondly refers her to her early years with USACE as a ranger for Lake Barkley, Nashville District, she went on to continue two years at the site after graduation before moving positions and locations to become OPM of Carlyle and Kaskaskia.  

Wilson was offered positions with both the state of Tennessee and USACE while attending the University of Tennessee at Martin to earn her Bachelor of Science in Natural Resource Management. She ultimately chose USACE because of the long-term career potential.

“It was the best decisions I ever made, it’s paid off tenfold,” Wilson said.

Growing up around her green thumb grandmothers, fishing and hunting set Wilson on the path to her career in natural resource management. An athlete throughout her time in school, she attributes her time in school sports to her formative years in leadership development.

“As a kid in sports, I think it gives you a sense of team, and a sense of leadership. You don’t realize that at the time, but it forms those values,” Wilson said.

Those formative years and Wilson’s willingness to adapt and take opportunities to further her career and leadership roles is what allowed her to become successful. She discussed how her career journey has been a strategy and game. She mentioned the sacrifices made to help her continue the path she knew she wanted to follow. She recognized the best decisions to take her down the desired path and adjusted as needed.

Wilson accounts her success to three steps anyone can follow.

“Do the work. Volunteer for the new assignments. Volunteer for the difficult location,” said Wilson.

She infers being adaptable will foster a thick skin and allow one to overcome discouragement.

“In the beginning I was careful of knowing my role… supporting decisions being made and staying prepared for what I may be called upon to do. Now from leadership role my perspective shifts. Yes, I’m leading but it’s also my goal to help the team and those who have the desire to learn,” said Wilson.

As a woman in a leadership role, Wilson says she has experienced a degree of pushback at times. Surrounding herself with a knowledgeable and honest peer group who she can bounce ideas off of is important to her.

“I think sometimes as a woman you are held to a higher standard than others. It just goes with the position. I also think that’s becoming far less common as I go through my career,” Wilson said.

While she is now an OPM, she still values the importance of the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) components making up a USACE project from her experiences as a park ranger. As OPM she prioritizes the project’s outreach to local schools to pique the interest of children. Wilson is an advocate for the agency to provide opportunities to allow STEM to be accessible to all. At Carlyle she helped to host an open house for prospective Pathways students to learn more about the position and the agency to create more interest and applicants.

Encouraging the youth is nothing new to Courtney as she and her wife, Jenn, have twins, Stella and Haden. She wants her daughter and her friends to know it is cool to like math.

Balancing family and work life has not always been easy for Wilson. She says she is lucky to have such a supportive family and wife. While she may be inclined to prioritize work over family, they do not hesitate to remind her of the importance of balance. 

“The best advice I have is to use the leave. Try to disconnect from the office when you can,” Wilson said. She emphasized time management, finishing the work at hand, but it is also important not to miss the ball games or concerts. That time flies by.

Wilson emphasizes the reason she has been able to have a successful career has been aided by her wife and children who sacrificed to allow for Wilson to grow her USACE career. After restarting her own career with USACE once the family was settled, Jenn is now a leader within the district as the Chief of Management and Disposal, Real Estate.

Wilson says the lack of diversity is not something people are always aware of until it is in your face. The St. Louis District has three Operation Managers that are female, and the Mississippi Valley Division has its first female Commander, Maj. Gen. Diana Holland.

In advising women pursuing a career within the Corps, Wilson reiterates the importance of adaptability and resilience.

“Don’t get discouraged. Advocate for yourself. Don’t be hesitant. Get in and establish yourself as an equal, you prove your worth to yourself and others.”