Air Force Officer Stresses Importance of Engineering Mentorship in 2021 Federal Engineer of the Year Award Acceptance

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Sean T. Woods
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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

If Major Monica Pickenpaugh, Ph.D., P.E. of the U.S. Air Force is an innovator in the development of drinking water distribution systems, she is equally passionate about making sure her thirst for knowledge reaches the next generations of engineers.

In accepting the prestigious Federal Engineer of the Year Award, Maj. Pickenpaugh thanked everyone from her kindergarten teacher to her Ph.D. advisor, and emphasized the importance of lifelong learning and mentoring.

“I have learned that learning is a lifelong process to be passed on to future generations,” said Pickenpaugh. “I believe it is our duty as engineers to continue to teach and mentor future generations of engineers as my teachers and mentors have done so well.”

If Maj. Pickenpaugh’s educators and mentors deserve credit for her accomplishments, they have plenty to boast about. As U.S. Forces Korea’s (USFK) chief of construction, Maj. Pickenpaugh directed $5.7 billion of funded construction in the Republic of Korea. As part of a sharing agreement with the United States, the construction program supports USFK commanders’ defense efforts through critical projects. Maj. Pickenpaugh synchronized all U.S. Armed Forces’ project requests to validate and fund key construction requirements vital to USFK’s mission. Prior to all planned project scheduling and coordination, she strategically advocated for use of the National Defense Authorization Act to allow construction authorization.

Ordinarily announced during an annual luncheon in Washington. D.C., the Federal Engineer of the Year Award winner was celebrated virtually, due to the pandemic, for the first time in its 42-year history. FEYA is the only award recognizing the exceptional achievements of engineers employed in the federal government, and the nominees for 2021 continued the legacy of representing the best and brightest engineers employed in the public sector.

“Each of those being honored today share these values and are dedicated to making the world a better, healthier, and safer place for all,” said NSPE President Tricia Hatley, P.E., F.NSPE in a recorded video message. “This award represents a great deal of respect and appreciation for their significant accomplishments, and for their adherence to the code by which all engineers should be guided.”

This marks the third consecutive year that the award was presented to a member of the U.S. Department of the Air Force, and the second time in three years that the winner was stationed in the Republic of Korea.

“Major Pickenpaugh’s achievements across engineering design, management, and research are extraordinary,” said Hatley. “Her research garnered praise from water professionals for developing a cost analysis of water markets used to analyze the sale of water in Arizona.  In addition, the analysis of drinking water distribution systems on water quality, fire flow pressure compared to pipe sizing is the first-ever analysis of distribution networks designed for water quality which led to a model for prediction water distribution and use into the future.”

The top ten finalists for the 2021 Federal Engineer of the Year Award represented agencies including the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, Department of the Interior (Bureau of Reclamation), Department of Transportation (Federal Highway Administration), and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

“I am humbled by my selection for the Federal Engineer of the Year Award. It is an honor to be selected among such accomplished individuals,” said Pickenpaugh. “I would like to thank NSPE for the advocacy they bring to professional engineers. I would also like to recognize my family: my husband, Joe, and my children, Paul and Miriam, who motivate me to do my best and support me every day.”

Additional Notes: 

A panel of judges established by NSPE’s Professional Engineers in Government selects the FEYA winner. Hailing from various federal agencies, departments, and military branches, the nominated engineers are evaluated based on factors such as engineering achievements, education, professional and technical society activities, awards and honors, and civic and humanitarian activities.

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The National Society of Professional Engineers is the national society of licensed professional engineers from all disciplines that promotes the ethical and competent practice of engineering, advocates licensure, and enhances the image and well-being of its members. Founded in 1934, NSPE serves more than 23,000 members and the public through 52 state and territorial societies and just over 400 chapters. For more information, please visit