Spotlight on Sarah Xie-DeSoto (June 2012)

Published June 21, 2012

Leaving the fast-paced world of international business behind to start a new life with her groom, Structural Engineer Sarah Xie-DeSoto packed her bags in 1998 and made the 7,000-mile journey from Sichuan, China, to Texas to embark on an adventure that would incorporate structure in her life in a way she hadn’t imagined.

“After I arrived in America I realized I had the opportunity to re-establish myself, so I decided to try something completely different,” said Xie-DeSoto. “That’s when I decided to study engineering.”

Upon completion of nearly five years of intensive course work ranging from structural steel design to fire dynamics, Xie-DeSoto walked across the graduation stage gripping in hand a bachelor’s degree in structural design and analysis and ready to begin building her new career.

Xie-DeSoto was quickly recruited at a U.S.  Army Corps of Engineers job fair in California two weeks after graduating in 2005 and entered the Corps as a Department of the Army intern. Over the past seven years she has sought opportunities for increased responsibility and in the process has built a solid reputation as a trusted engineer in the Construction Division’s Structural and Geotechnical Section.

“My primary job responsibilities include structural analysis and design,” said Xie-DeSoto.  “Structural design analysis uses design codes to analyze how a structure will behave under certain loading conditions including wind load and self-weight dead load. Once the structure's behavior can be determined, then I’m able to complete the building’s design.”

With only a handful of USACE Galveston District’s projects requiring structural work each year, Xie-DeSoto splits her time between geotechnical projects and structural design and analysis work.

“As a geotechnical engineer, I investigate sub-surface soil samples and have them tested for many different properties such as unit weight, liquid limits and shear strength,” said Xie-DeSoto. “After testing the engineering properties of the soil I can analyze the behavior of an earthen structure such as our district’s containment dikes, channel slopes and placement area foundations.”

Xie-DeSoto’s expertise in earthen design is critical in assessing and monitoring the structural integrity of several district flood risk management projects including Addicks and Barker, Clear Creek, Brownsville, Chocolate Bayou and Freeport.

In addition to enjoying the challenges that come with engineering, Xie-DeSoto takes pride knowing that her work with beneficial use sites (sediment from dredging projects that is used to conserve or restore habitat) contributes to the Corps’ mission of being responsible stewards of the environment.

“Some people might think that working on a beneficial use site isn’t an attractive job for an engineer, but it’s attractive to me,” said Xie-DeSoto. “If we simply took dredged material and piled it high then it would just be waste product but by finding ways to reuse the material, we are helping the environment regain some of the habitat that has been lost due to human activity.”

Worlds away from her previous life and profession, Xie-DeSoto says that while she anticipated restructuring her life to integrate smoothly into American culture, she had not imagined pursing a profession that would add structure to her life in a whole different way- and is glad she did.

“I enjoy engineering because I’m a very straight forward person and being an engineer fits my personality,” said Xie-DeSoto. “In engineering, something either works or it doesn’t work and there isn’t any gray area.”

A University of Houston-Downtown graduate, Xie-DeSoto resides in League City, Texas, with her family and dogs.