Hemphill has very busy life at work and in community

Published 6:50 pm Monday, June 25, 2018

Pat Hemphill leads a busy life.

As deputy commander for programs, planning and project management, she holds the Vicksburg District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s highest civilian position, one that has kept her busy since her appointment in 2013.

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“The short and simple of it is I’m serving as the deputy district engineer for programs and project management,” she said.

“That means I serve day-to-day with the commander, and we work with the public. We make sure and oversee the execution of our mission — navigation, flood control and recreation — and make sure all the projects are running smoothly; that everybody has what they need to get the job done. I also work with congressmen, and with federal, local and state officials. I’m just here to serve.”

A Vicksburg native, Hemphill attended Warren Central High School, Jackson State University and graduated from Mississippi State with a degree in civil engineering.

“I’ve been with the Corps for 40 years,” she said. “I started in high school through a student (job) program. I also attended Harvard and the Army Management Staff College.”

And she tries to use her experience to help engineering students.

Active in community

Before her appointment as the District’s top civilian, Hemphill served on a number boards of local community organizations, like the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, United Way of West Central Mississippi, Red Cross, Haven House, the Crisis Pregnancy Center and the Vicksburg-Warren Chamber of Commerce.

Presently, her activity in the community is limited to one board, the Vicksburg Main Street Board of Directors.

“I’m so new, I haven’t been to a meeting yet,” she said, adding South Ward Alderman Alex Monsour asked her to serve.

One of the reasons her activities have been reduced, she said, is “there’s quite a bit of travel with this position; I’m with the boss sometimes.”

But three organizations still get her attention; her church, Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, where she is minister of music and works with the church’s youth ministry, her position on the advisory board for the engineering program at Jackson State University, and the college of diversity with the engineering school at Mississippi State University.

She also does outreach with the Society of Military Engineers to help expose students to science, technology, engineering and math programs, and helps at the District’s junior high career fairs.

As minister of music, Hemphill is in charge of all music, the choir, and song selection for Sunday services, adding she tries to align the music for the service with the pastor’s message. She said the youth program involves mentoring not only the children in the church, but also in the community, by just getting together with them and talking with them.

The program at Mississippi State, she said, is an outreach program to help engineering students stay in school and keep them involved, making sure they attend class.

That, she said, involves mentoring the students, coaching them, “And giving them my perspective that I understand the challenges that may want to discourage them or make them want to stop, but they can’t, and they have to keep going.”

Hemphill finds there are more students who need guidance and encouragement.

“I guess it’s the generation of kids; they want it and they want it now. They don’t want to work for it. I think that’s why a lot of kids don’t want to go into STEM, because it’s a lot of studying. You’ve got to be disciplined; you’ve got to do your work.

“It’s not going to be quick and easy. I had the same problem when I was in school. I wanted go to parties and hang out, too, but I had to go to the lab or go study,” she said.

“I had to adopt a mindset that I’ll play and have fun when I get out of school and have money and can enjoy it. Right now I’ll focus on this.”

Occasionally, she said, students will call her or go to her if she’s at the school.

“If I’m there on business, I’ll tell them I’m available and reach out and do one-on-ones.”

She said one student from Vicksburg always called her when she came home “and we’d have lunch and I’d reach out.”

Being an advisor

The challenge of working with students, Hemphill said, is keeping them in school, “Because sometimes they get involved in the school life, and grades will suffer and you get kicked out, or money becomes a challenge, especially if they don’t have support back home.”

The advisory position at Jackson State involves working with the senior engineering class, which has to do a capstone, or significant project. Advisory board members meet the students in the fall and mentor and help them with the project, which is presented in the spring.

“It’s a real life design project, usually something that has already been done, like a building or a bridge. The students get an idea and then go through the steps of what it would have taken to build it using the tools and what they’ve learned.”

Whenever she works with students at the District, Hemphill tells them, “I started here just like you, and this is what can happen if you’re not careful.

“I have been with the Corps a long time, and I’m very content to be here.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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