Hero of the Week: O&M project manager digs district, puts passion into recruiting

USACE Norfolk District Public Affairs
Published Feb. 6, 2019
man with blue sweater poses in front of water

Chris Tolson, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District operations and maintenance project manager, stands outside the Norfolk District headquarters at Fort Norfolk, Virginia, Feb. 2, 2019. Tolson recently earned the title Norfolk District Hero of the Week for his many contributions to delivering the mission.

FORT NORFOLK, Va. – Chris Tolson checked all the boxes for what he wanted in a career.

“To me, the three things that make up a great job are what I have here,” said the district operations and maintenance project manager. “I like what I do, I like my boss and I like the people I work with -- those are my three checkmarks.”

Although recently being named the Norfolk District Hero of the Week surprised him, he’s chalking up the recognition as another benefit of working here.

He said the district made an impression on him even before becoming a full-time employee.

During his senior year at the University of Florida, a chance internet search led him to usajobs.gov, the federal government’s official employment site, and the federal Pathways Program. In 2016, he arrived at the district through the summer internship program. Three months here, the environmental engineering major found himself in the throes of all things Norfolk District: the mission, the location, the people.

He knew he belonged here.

He returned to Florida to finish school and migrated north after graduation.

“After I finished my degree, I was like, ‘Yea, I’m coming back,’” he said.

Mike Anderson, the operations branch design section chief, was pleased to see him return.

“I have a unique perspective because (Chris) has worked with me since June 2016, as an intern,” Anderson said.  “I’ve had the opportunity to see him really grow both personally and professionally. Chris is an exceptionally bright professional and has a natural and intuitive understanding of civil engineering and civil works overall.”

Tolson said he was attracted to the Corps mission, but admits that when compared to the private sector, the quality of life offered by USACE is beyond reproach.

“I didn’t want to do the private consulting thing, which is where a lot of engineers go,” Tolson said. “I wanted to work for the public and the government. I know people in the private sector who are working without a sense of job satisfaction.”

The flexibility, security and work-life balance of the Corps attracts many college students and recent graduates to the Pathways Program. Although not permanent employment, it may lead to a permanent, competitive service job if program requirements and the hiring agency needs are met.

“The Norfolk District has been very successful over the last several years recruiting top-quality individuals through the federal Pathways Program, and Chris is one of those success stories,” said Keith Lockwood, operations branch chief.

Tolson monitors maintenance cycles of projects, helps coordinate the teams working them and develops plans to accomplish the mission. But in addition to being a project manager, he’s part of the district’s outreach program.

With the outreach team, he clarifies the Corps’ mission to the community, as well as ignites and participates in recruiting initiatives. His efforts are in line with the Army’s aggressive national outreach and recruitment actions, focusing on engineers, diverse candidates and wounded warriors.

Tolson is passionate about helping others obtain the kind of satisfaction he’s found here. And his people-first personality is an attribute that helps the district deliver the mission.

“I believe Chris genuinely cares about his teammates and the Norfolk District,” Anderson said. “You can tell by the personal attention he gives his team members, thoughtful comments and questions, and his lighthearted and fun approach to bring the team together.”