“If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Whether it was Marc Anthony or inspired by Confucius, the quote has existed for centuries but is still true today.
This Valentine’s Day, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District highlights some of our employees who do what they love while accomplishing critical roles that deliver the district’s mission to the nation. We asked them about their childhood hobbies and interests and how those passions grew into careers.
Lenna Hawkins | Deputy District Engineer
Hawkins’ parents instilled in their four daughters was they could do almost anything they set their minds to. As children, Hawkins’ father gave her and her sisters tools from his workbench to help around the house and free reign to dream, build and create whatever they could imagine.
“It was everything from birdhouses to three-legged stools to building my mother's stereo,” said Hawkins. “Back in the day when the stereos were huge, building one was a statement piece in the home, so it meant a lot to him and us. It also showed us that as a team, we could build things together, and as a team, you get things done.”
As deputy district engineer, Hawkins oversees almost every aspect of the district's projects. She ensures teams follow the rules and regulations, consistently pushes for improving processes, and ensures the district accomplishes its mission to the nation. Hawkins originally attended the University of Pittsburgh for architecture. Before switching programs and earning her engineering degree, she worked odd jobs on the side, such as a display manager for a craft store. Then, she took a position in project management with the district, and her engineering career took off from there.
She credits her wide-ranging skillset both to completing developmental assignments in different areas of the corps and to her father.
“I think by getting that understanding of tools and equipment, it's helped me when I became a civil engineer,” said Hawkins. “So, I knew what a backhoe did. I knew what a bulldozer did. I knew what cranes did, because my dad educated us that way. He just really exposed us to everything and then literally gave us the tools that we could use to create anything.”
Hawkins has maintained a lifelong love for crafting and hands-on work. In addition to renovating her house, she regularly volunteers with her family for Habitat for Humanity projects.
Steve Fritz | Megaproject Program Manager
Since he was 10 years old, Fritz knew he liked to build things. He and his neighbors spent their weekends fixing six-wheel train engines – such as steam engines and gasoline engines – on two-foot-wide rails in St. Mary’s, Pennsylvania. While Fritz spent his adolescence working with trains, he never expected engineering to turn into his career.
“I didn't look at it as if it was going to be part of a career or anything,” said Fritz. “I looked at it more as, ‘This is fun. We're just enjoying doing this stuff.’ But looking back, I think it planted the seed from the standpoint of having an opportunity to see things developed, to see things get bigger and better, and to build things.”
Fritz serves as the district’s megaproject program manager. He oversees the reporting, scheduling, data review, and budget estimates for megaprojects within the district – some of which cost more than $2 billion.
Fritz attended Edinboro University for his undergraduate degree. He originally intended to study metallurgy to work at his hometown’s powder metal plant; after some encouragement from his father, Fritz decided to expand his horizons and study engineering.
During summers, Fritz interned with PennDOT to do hands-on engineering work on roadways and bridges, which cemented his love for engineering.
“I think working with the state on bridges gave me the passion for building big things and be involved in building big things,” said Fritz. “After the experiences, I had growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania and then moving on to a career in the civil engineering field, I’m well-suited to do what I do. I’m lucky I ended up involved in large-scale construction-type projects that benefit people across the nation.”
Al Coglio | Chief of Emergency Management
Unlike people who found their passion through hobbies and interests, Coglio found his passion at 13-years-old when his family’s house caught on fire early one morning. One thing from that night that stuck with him -- behind the fire crews and emergency responders was a Red Cross vehicle.
“They came up and gave my parents vouchers for a hotel and money to buy food,” said Coglio. “They were helping in the way you don’t normally think about, like, ‘oh, I lost all my stuff,’ but people are helping you. It’s one o'clock in the morning, you’re standing and watching your house burn, now what?”
As a junior in high school, Coglio volunteered with the Red Cross in Pittsburgh and worked on community service projects, such as cleaning parks or painting houses in underprivileged communities.
For Coglio, it was all about paying the kindness first-responders showed his family forward. Coglio manages the Corps of Engineers’ emergency operations when natural or human-made disasters strike. He coordinates temporary power missions to get generators to areas devastated by hurricanes and ensure critical facilities are back up and running.
“That was my way of giving people time and taking care of others,” he said. “I’m doing the same in my job now, just at a different level. I’m lucky I can do this stuff nationally.”
Nakita Smith | Lead Realty Specialist
As a child, Smith loved finding out how things worked. She opened radios to dissect the internal machinations, built projects out of cardboard boxes and popsicle sticks, and once took apart her parents’ television out of curiosity (they were not very happy about that one).
Smith’s true passion was in architecture, even though becoming an engineer may have seemed like the next logical step for her interests.
“I didn’t go into engineering, but I do enjoy problem-solving and figuring out how things work,” said Smith. “I like looking at things from different angles.”
While serving in the military, Smith worked in a geospatial position. She earned her bachelor’s degree and pursued a career in real estate.
“In my role as a realty specialist, I get to help people and figure out what they need,” said Smith. “It’s a lot like what I did as a kid with my radio. I’m lucky it translated into my career and a way I can help others.”
Elizabeth Morsillo | Park Ranger at Berlin Lake
Like many kids, Morsillo grew up loving the outdoors. Between playing in creeks with childhood friends, birding, obsessing over dinosaurs or joining the Girl Scouts, Morsillo has always been passionate about nature and knew nature would play a significant role in her life.
She started college at Kent State studying geology, but according to her, it was not until she moved to Parks and Recreation that she found her place.
As a park ranger, Morsillo manages the natural resources around Berlin Lake including overseeing fish habitats, managing invasive species, covering lake boundaries and providing campground visitor assistance.
“I have always wanted to work outside since I was a little kid,” said Morsillo. “There's just always been something about it I loved and being able to make a career out of it has been awesome.”
Patrick Kopriva | Equal Employment Opportunity Office Chief
While others who love working on trains or spending time outdoors glided naturally from their hobbies to their careers, Kopriva found a different way into his profession: reading Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.
Kopriva grew up an avid reader. He poured through his father’s collection of science fiction books cover-to-cover, later earning himself a degree in English Literature. However, he found his calling not by knowing what he should study but by finding out what he should not.
“I started college majoring in computer science. I enjoyed it, but I couldn't see myself doing it for the rest of my life. I did a year as a computer science major and then I switched to an engineering major, and I could do it, but I didn't enjoy it,” said Kopriva. “I tried engineering, I tried physics, I tried chemistry, and I was able to perform them, but I just wasn't happy doing them. Then I switched to English Literature.”
His decision to study English Literature showed Kopriva that his true talent and interests are in human nature. In EEO, he works to make sure people are treated fairly while advising personnel at every level.
“Look at how Shakespeare captured the human condition versus an author like Harlan Ellison or going back to Cervantes with Don Quixote or James Joyce with Ulysses. Through all the different perspectives you learn when you study English literature, you see different thought processes and human nature on a larger scale,” said Kopriva. “I love what I do in EEO, and I love that I can use this to help people fight through something they're having problems with.”