From USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Florida:
Gainesville, Fla., Nov. 20, 2014 – When Jesse Wilson learned this month he was named Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Engineer of the Year he was very surprised. His staff wasn’t. As any one of his employees will tell you, he is well deserving of the honor.
“You aren’t going to find anyone who works harder. And he enjoys his job. He fully supports his employees personally and professionally; gives us the tools we need to succeed – and he hopes you do,” said Jason Strenth, an agricultural engineer who has known Jesse for 22 years and worked for him most of that time. Jason added that Jesse won’t ever ask his employees to do anything that he isn’t willing to do himself. Tony Harvey has worked for him for six years and appreciates that Jesse stands behind the decisions they make. He is also an agricultural engineer.
His secretary of 21 years, Pat Torres, said everybody in engineering is happy for him. “He makes this a nice place to work,” she said. The staff is close, which Pat attributes to Jesse always keeping them informed. “We look out for each other, and we always find a reason to celebrate. We will definitely throw a party for him,” she said.
NRCS selected Jesse out of 780 engineers nationwide. Nominees were chosen for their engineering achievements, continuing education, professional and technical society activities, awards and honors, and civic and humanitarian activities. Jesse will represent the agency Feb. 26 at the Federal Engineer of the Year Award Luncheon in Washington, DC.
NRCS is an agency of USDA that gives technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers to conserve their natural resources. A fellow engineer who Jesse has known throughout his career nominated him for the award: his boss, Florida State Conservationist Russell Morgan. “I have always respected Jesse’s work ethic and his integrity,” Russell said.
Growing up on a small tobacco farm his family sharecropped outside of Nashville, Tenn., Jesse learned young how to work hard. He decided to pursue agricultural engineering: designing practices that conserve natural resources on farms and ranches, such as more efficient irrigation systems that save water, drainage systems that manage water levels and grade stabilization structures that control erosion.
He was a student trainee when he began his career 45-years ago in Tennessee with NRCS, then called the Soil Conservation Service. A good boss spurred his interest in the agency. “He took me under his wing and encouraged me. He taught me a lot,” Jesse said. He transferred to Florida where he worked as a design engineer and then a project engineer before moving to Gainesville as the state conservation engineer in 1990.
Now he strives to encourage his staff of five engineers and two students. “We help each other and care for one another,” he said, comparing his shop to a little family.
Jesse holds to a set of beliefs when it comes to his department. First, have a plan, business goals, something to shoot for. Then communicate, frequently–visit face-to-face with your employees. Listen to them and encourage them. Then take the roadblocks out of their way.
“Early in my career I liked design work. Now, I want to work with people to solve problems,” he said.
Of all the projects Jesse has managed throughout the years, the most fulfilling was managing the Emergency Watershed Protection program. During 2004-2005 eight hurricanes and various severe storms ripped through the state of Florida. The program provided assistance for 27 disasters affecting 257 sponsors on 599 projects costing approximately $278,000,000. “We helped a lot of people all over Florida, from Pensacola to Miami,” he said.
Jesse said he has had a lot of support from his wife of 42 years and their three kids. Outside of work, he finds time to be president of Christian Family Services, a small nonprofit child adoption agency that also provides counseling to women in crisis situations. He became involved after fostering three children.
Even after a long career, Jesse doesn’t keep track of the days left until he retires like most people do. Instead, he counts the number of students he develops, the successes of his employees and the number of people he helps. “I couldn’t have done anything without the people around me. I am still learning and enjoy what I do more now. NRCS does some great things,” he said.