Soundings News Articles

Marie Strum trailblazing as Detroit District’s first female Chief of Engineering and Technical Services Division

Published March 21, 2017
Chief of Engineering and Technical Services Division, Marie Strum

Chief of Engineering and Technical Services Division, Marie Strum

As the new Chief of Engineering and Technical Services Division, Marie Strum brings an emphasis on safety, quality, and people. Strum envisions that the Detroit District will maintain dedicated, motivated, talented employees that perform the missions at a high quality and in a safe manner.

“I think our organization is very highly functioning already, but some things I am going to focus on include: giving less experienced staff developmental opportunities so that they can develop and demonstrate their full capability and potential; moving people around to experience other jobs and areas – especially from the field to the office; safety – continue to improve the culture so that everyone is always putting safety first – safety comes before productivity, efficiency, and schedule,” said Strum. “While lastly, improving our emphasis on people – making our organization supportive to employees, recognizing jobs well done.”

A native of the Detroit area, Strum graduated from Michigan State University in 1985 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering. She received a Master of Science in Environmental Systems Engineering from Clemson University in 1987. After working in the private sector for 13 years, Strum began her service for the Detroit District in 1999, when she was selected for a position as a Hydraulic Engineer.  Since that time, she has served in a variety of positions including Chief, Watershed Hydrology Branch, Acting Deputy District Engineer, Deputy Chief of Engineering and Technical Services (ETS) and in June 2016 was selected as Chief of ETS.  As Chief of ETS, Strum oversees the execution of the civil works and military missions of the Detroit District in Engineering, Design, and Construction; Operations and Maintenance; Great Lakes Hydraulics & Hydrology; Regulatory; and Emergency Management.  She also leads the Great Lakes Navigation Team (comprised of Buffalo, Chicago, and Detroit District navigation staff) in stakeholder outreach, communication, and budget development.

With almost 18 years of service to the Detroit District, Strum has served in a variety of positions that have aided her understanding of the organization and prioritize her focus for the District. She has also learned a lot along the way to becoming a senior leader. “People look to their senior leaders for our reaction and response to situations – both good and bad,” said Strum.  “It is important to keep things in perspective, pause before reacting to something, and give people the benefit of the doubt.  The vast majority of people are trying their best – even when things go wrong.  Standing behind your employees is important to developing a loyal and dedicated workforce.  Our organization is full of such great people who are very dedicated to the mission and take pride in what they do; it is an honor just to be a part of the organization.”

Not only is Strum a champion for district staff, she also is an advocate for dispelling the perception that engineering and science career fields are just for men. “I see our profession changing dramatically in its diversity; the number of women engineers has increased significantly in the last decade,” Strum said. “The goal is to get to a point where young girls realize that engineering and science are every bit career path options for them as other more traditional careers and to reach a point where we don’t see female engineers or leaders as unusual.  We are all just dedicated employees doing our best to further the mission every day.” 

When asked how she felt about being the district’s first female leader of ETS, Strum explained she wanted to be acknowledged for being selected for the position because she has worked hard, contributed positively to the District and the region, focused on quality and motivated others, not because she is female. Strum views others by their contribution to the team and mission,  not their gender. “Working in a traditionally male-dominated profession, you get used to being ‘different,’ but we are all different in our own ways. True diversity is what makes our organization stronger. I do not think I am treated any differently than previous ETS chiefs – I try not to read too much into other peoples’ behaviors and responses and to assume that most people are well-intentioned,” she said.  We have a tremendously dedicated and talented workforce in our District and it is a pleasure just to be part of our organization. 

Advice Strum gives, “the sky is the limit - find what you love to do, work hard, help others along the way, and never constrain your goals.”