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Alumna Story: Sally Garson Pfenning, BSEE ’00

Current City: Kaiserslautern Germany

What did you do in the year immediately after graduating?
After working as an intern throughout my time at University of Miami, I moved to Jacksonville, Florida, and began my career working permanently with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the restoration of the Everglades.

What do you do for a living now? What does a typical work week look like for you?
I am the senior civilian engineer for the Army in Europe. I manage and oversee a workforce of about 2,500 people who are a combination of U.S. and multinational residents. Together, we operate as public works officials for more than 90 installations in 90 different cities across Europe. Our work spans from acting as real estate agents for housing, to management of water, wastewater and high voltage electrical systems. We also manage all municipal services, as well as coordinate with multiple host nations on different environmental laws in support of training and construction. We plan, program and execute all maintenance and repair and construction projects in partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers. Our annual operating budget exceeds $300 million, and our current construction is in excess of $2 billion. With that said, days are long and hectic, can involve everything from encouraging a plumber in the field, to briefing three and four-star generals on plans for execution of construction in support of their mission.

In what ways did your College of Engineering (CoE) experience have an impact on your career and who you are today?
I enjoyed the small classroom environment, the ability to really dig deeply into the things that were of personal interest to me, and all the support I received from great educators like Dr. Solo-Gabriel, Dr. Englehardt and Dr. Chin.

Describe your most memorable moment as a student at CoE.
I was given an impromptu thermodynamics exam by the thermodynamics professor to determine whether my transfer education was sufficient to warrant credit. Literally, instead of signing my transfer, he gave me a book, a test and two hours to take an exam for a course that I had taken the previous year.

What motivated you to support CoE?
I gave a large gift because I wanted to pay them back for how compassionate everyone at the school had been to me when my grants expired and I wasn’t yet complete. If not for scholarships and grants, I would not have been able to attend. I was a mom and working my way through school. I was blessed to have been helped along the way.

What advice would you give to younger alumni or current students who aspire to follow a similar career path?
Be yourself. You will always be the best version of you; never try to be what you think someone else wants you to be and always be open to new opportunities. I never thought of myself as an environmentalist, and, even now, never thought I would find a home with the U.S. Army. The more authentic I was, the more successful I became. Work like no one is watching, the more things you try the more experienced you will become. Ultimately, never fear failure because it’s just a learning experience that makes you smarter!

How would you describe CoE in seven words or less?
Committed, caring, relevant, responsive and innovative leaders.

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