News Story Manager

Program Aims to Train Future Planning Leaders

IWR Strategic Communications Office
Published Jan. 26, 2024
A man stands in front of a conference room where tables are arranged in a square. Six individuals are seated at the tables and are intently listening to the man speak.

Dr. Joe Manous, IWR director, provides a capabilities brief about the Institute for Water Resources to students enrolled in the Planning Associates Program. IWR assists the Planning Community of Practice by administering the Program to help develop future leaders in the career field.

(ALEXANDRIA, Va.) -- For over half a century the Institute for Water Resources has been training future U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil works leaders through an intensive Planning Associates Program.  The vision of the program is, to “develop and sustain a national network of agile and informed planning leaders who can solve the nation’s most complex water resource issues.”

The program began in 1962 with one graduate. Since then, it has evolved. What started as a one-year residency program has transitioned over the decades to a two-year temporary duty program, which currently graduates around six to 10 participants per class.  There are eight courses taught across the nation to include business line courses such as Navigation, Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration, Coastal Storm Damage Reduction, Flood Risk Management, and Integrated Water Resources Management.  There are also courses designed to expose students to senior level leaders and expand their leadership and team building skills. 

In addition to learning about each business line, students spend time at USACE HQ to get perspective on what the national impacts of these missions are.

“Spending time at HQ and experiencing DC is a wonderful opportunity for planners to network with senior leadership as well as better understand some of the governmental processes that affect the Civil Works mission areas,” said Anastasiya Kononova, DC 1 Course owner.  “In their first year, students meet with Office of Management and Budget, go to Capitol Hill and the Pentagon, as well as get to hear more about the inner workings that affect our programs and projects on the ground,” she continued.

Second year students revisit DC and take a deeper dive into various business lines, Plan Formulation, Planning Policy, Legislative Draft Services, and other Corps programs.

Another component of the Program is broadening the planners critical thinking.  In their first year, each student completes a Capstone project by providing recommended solutions to Civil Works enterprise level problems targeted at assisting the planning community.

Recent Capstone projects have looked at everything ranging from addressing climate change in studies to environmental justice, beneficial use of dredge material, and community resilience. 

In year two, students give back to the community by applying what they have learned in a tangible way by either teaching or developing tools for the field, such as handbooks, marketing brochures, or websites.

Learning and teaching doesn’t stop when participants are back at their normal duty stations. Participants conduct home office back briefs (HOBBS) with coworkers to share lessons learned from the courses.

The program is rigorous and requires students to dedicate time outside normal business hours to complete readings and work on team or individual products.  The Capstone project is one such product.

“The Capstone project challenges the students’ critical thinking about agency-wide issues and is an opportunity to deploy all the knowledge and skills they develop throughout the program.” said Judy McCrea, Capstone course owner. “While it may be daunting for a student to step out of comfort zones and tackle problems at that level, the payoff for the student can be rewarding both in terms of what they personally learn and in the relationships they build when trying to solve complex problems,” she continued.  

“The Program takes commitment, dedication, some personal sacrifice, and a lot of flexibility.  That being said, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your career,” Lisa Rabbe, Planning Associates program manager. “As a graduate of the 2009 class, I can attest the Program afforded me opportunities to meet people and challenge myself in ways I had not been exposed to elsewhere in USACE.  The most rewarding aspect for me was the relationships forged then became the treasured friends I have today.  I will always be grateful that I was selected to be a part of it,” she continued.

The Program is targeted primarily for GS-9 through GS-13 planners but is also open for Civil Works project managers or personnel who work closely with water resource projects or issues. Individuals who are interested in applying for the Program should work with their supervisor to ensure pre-requisites have been met and to see if they would be a good candidate for their Major Subordinate Command to nominate.