Back in 1980, Michael Cornish decided to follow in his father Milton’s footsteps and started working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District.
Now 34 years later Cornish once again plans to follow in his dad’s footsteps and retire from the district, where he spent his entire career.
Cornish entered federal service as a GS-5 structural engineer in the Junior Engineer in Training Program, better known as JET.
“The JET program allowed me to work in all of the divisions at the district,” Cornish said. “At the end of the program I thought I would be a better structural engineer. Instead, I fell in love with project engineering and management.”
Cornish now serves as the chief of the Engineering and Project Management Branch at the Real Property Services Field Office (RSFO). Before settling down in RSFO 25 years ago, Cornish worked in several places, including the Capital Area Office and Operations Division. While in Operations, Cornish worked on projects in the Baltimore Harbor and Hart Miller Island.
During his tenure, Cornish witnessed significant progression at the Corps of Engineers.
“There used to be a glass ceiling at the Corps,” he said. “I have seen a lot of African Americans move up into leadership roles. I also have three section chiefs who are women. I am proud of them and have confidence in their abilities.”
Reflecting on his career, Cornish said he is most proud of his work on the first ever High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse Shielded (HEMP) facility.
“The work at the Fort Belvoir HEMP facility was cutting edge, and I got to be part of that from beginning to end,” he said. “The facility is still being used today.”
Cornish also participated in an evolution at RSFO. When he joined RSFO in 1989, Cornish said fellow Corps of Engineers employees and intelligence agency customers were unsure of their mission and capabilities. However, that dynamic changed.
“Over time we grew from a small to a large office, and we became partners with NSA,” he said. “It changed because of leadership. Randy Winemiller integrated RSFO into the district. He showed the value that RSFO brought to the entire district.”
In addition to his respect for Winemiller’s leadership, Cornish also attributes a lot of his management techniques to one of his previous supervisors, Jeff McKee.
“Jeff taught me to trust your people,” he said. “Everyone wants to do a good job. Let them do it. Be fair with your people. Genuinely care for them.”
To this day, Cornish said his dad influenced him the most. When it comes time to celebrate Cornish’s retirement, his dad will once again be there, just as he was there 34 years ago when Cornish entered the district’s building.
“My dad worked as a draftsman for the city of Baltimore before he came to work with the district,” he said. “He started at the district in the Planning Division. While with Planning Division, his colleagues and he developed the early civil works project planning processes that turned into policy for later generations. When he retired, he was the chief of Emergency Management. He also is in the district’s Gallery of Distinguished Civilian Employees.”
Christmas Eve marks Cornish’s last day in the office, but he said reality probably won’t sink in until January.
“My wife and I have been together for 37 years and married for 32 years. We are like peas in a pod,” he said. “The holidays will be a stepping stone for my retirement, and we will continue the celebration for the rest of the new year and beyond.”
Even though Cornish will soon leave his 9 to 5 job, he still plans to keep busy. Cornish, who is an avid golfer and car/motorcycle enthusiast, said he plans to spend a lot of time with his two children and granddaughter. He also said he wants to work on hobbies he never had time for, such as poetry, painting and reading.
"It has been a pleasure working with Mike for the past 5 years," said Jared Olsen, deputy chief of RSFO. "He made meaningful contributions to RSFO and the Baltimore District. He will be missed but his legacy will continue through the many people he influenced through his steadfast service to the Corps of Engineers."
RSFO plans to hold a retirement luncheon for Cornish Jan. 16 at the Blue Dolphin in Gambrills, Maryland.