Often people don’t find jobs and careers as much as jobs and careers find them. That is the case for Sam Wu, a project leader for the U.S. Forest Service National Technology and Development Program in San Dimas, California. Sam stumbled onto a job with the agency that proved to be a perfect fit after returning to the U.S. from Guinea, West Africa where he had served for about two years as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching math at a secondary school in a small village.
What led you to the Forest Service and when did you start working here?
When I came back to the U.S. in 2007, my wife already had a job in Los Angeles so I started looking around there for something that would fit my particular skills and interests. The National Technology and Development Program was looking for someone with a mechanical engineering background and some project management skills and experience. I have an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and I had worked in the building systems industry for about three years before joining the Peace Corps as a Project Leader for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing work as well as green building and “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” or LEED buildings. So, the Forest Service worked out perfectly.
What do you do in the Forest Service and what is your favorite part of your job?
My primary responsibility is to manage specifications and standards for water handling fire equipment, such as fire hose. We try to ensure that the U.S. Forest Service and other wildland fire agencies are getting quality fire equipment. We work with manufacturers and the Defense Logistics Agency, which purchases fire equipment for us, to test and evaluate new types of equipment and try to make sure that firefighters have what they need in the field.
I also work on different types of special national projects to benefit wildland firefighters. Right now, I’m working on a project to help improve the likelihood that firefighters who work on fire engines will survive if they become entrapped during a wildfire.
My favorite part of the job is that the projects are really interesting and multi-faceted so I get to work with a lot of people from different functions in the Forest Service as well as firefighters, researchers, academics, and employees of other agencies both in the U.S. and internationally. I really enjoy having a real purpose to our projects, knowing that I can make a real impact through my work for firefighters and for the public good.
Where did you grow up?
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Houston, Texas. I’ve never forgotten the Alamo, and everything was bigger in Texas!
What do you like to do for fun on your free time?
In my free time, I enjoy rock climbing, playing basketball, and reading. I recently started working on my MBA so that is taking up a lot of my spare time. When I’m not doing assigned reading for school, I especially enjoy learning about behavioral economics and reading animal stories with my four-year old daughter.
What is your highest personal and professional achievement?
I’m most proud of working on the vehicle burn over projects, leading teams to accomplish highly complex work. That required organizing and motivating a lot of different people and organizations. I enjoyed the challenge of being on target while learning to be flexible enough to deal with the moving pieces and intricate equipment logistical concerns. When everyone can work together to accomplish a project in a safe and successful manner, that’s something I’ll always remember.
How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?
I would like public to see that there is a deliberate manner in how we conduct evaluations and how we make decisions on equipment that we use in wildland firefighting. I would like them to see that there’s a real focus on quality and commitment to being financially responsible in terms of how we do things. Often, unfortunately, the public doesn’t get to see the many benefits Federal employees deliver to the public.
What are your future career goals?
I really enjoy working on projects but in the future I would like to move into the strategic side. I would like to help direct organizations and units to work better and more efficiently and create better results. I’d also like to help grow the teamwork within organizations.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to serve their country as a Forest Service employee?
Work on being the best version of yourself; we need good people. Be persistent. Make an impact where you are.