BLM Arizona spotlights State Engineer Carlos Joya during National Engineers Week

Carlos Joya, BLM Arizona's state engineer, takes a selfie. He is wearing a white hardhat, black glasses, and an orange high-visibility vest. The Virgin River Campground area is behind him.
BLM Arizona State Engineer Carlos Joya at the Virgin River Canyon Recreation Area near St. George, Utah.

“I feel like I bleed the BLM colors at this point I'm very passionate about our mission.”

During National Engineers Week, we are shining a light on how engineers are making a difference at the Bureau of Land Management Arizona. Through their work, engineers formulate solutions to complex issues, advance the sustainable development of recreation sites, renewable energy resources, and much more across the state. Engineers like J. Carlos Joya enhance our mission every day, fueled by creativity and inspired by an appreciation for public lands.

Growing up in a rural area near Yuma, Arizona, Joya’s family spent much of their time recreating on public lands throughout the state. Now, Joya is making a difference on public lands as state engineer at BLM Arizona, where he has worked for four years.

“Arizona is my home, so a lot of the BLM sites are where I used to hang out and recreate,” he said. “Being given that opportunity to maintain and improve on some of the areas that I used to visit as a child and spots that I grew up boating with friends in high school is exciting.”

“It's very rewarding to give back and have that knowledge of, ‘Oh, I remember how this used to be’ and how it's improved through the years through BLM management.”

He still enjoys many recreation activities across the state, but now his brain is hard-wired to keep an eye out for new and exciting solutions, even on his weekend trips. “My friends make fun of me sometimes where I'm like, hold on, guys, this is a really cool feature that I'm finding here,” he said. “Sometimes, those ideas get implemented in the projects that I work on.”

In his work at the BLM, Joya formulates different ways to develop and maintain a variety of projects and sites. Before he came to the BLM, he worked as a utilities consultant.

“I went from doing the same utility every day for four years. At the BLM, we work on roads, buildings, boat docks, trails and more. It's such a variety of work that it keeps it interesting and fresh.”

That variety and uniqueness was what he was looking for. It is a different mentality, working in engineering for a utility company versus the BLM, he said. “In particular, engineering for recreation is a little more of an art. You have to think about the social engineering: If we put this here, people will do this, and you have to anticipate needs.”

Keeping this in mind has been an asset on many projects.

When he first started at the BLM, one of his first projects was constructing the Phoenix District’s recreational shooting sports sites. “They handed me the plans, said make sure these get constructed, and I was like, ‘Yes, sir.’”

From solicitation to contracting to construction, Joya oversaw the process of bringing into fruition the first BLM-managed recreational shooting sites in the nation. Today, these four sites are an unprecedented success, with over 47,000 people visiting them in the fiscal year 2023.

Carlos Joya, who is wearing shorts and safety gear, rappels down a cliff face.
Carlos Joya rappels.

“One day, I was taking a look at the Church Camp site, and there was a gentleman who flagged me down. He was calling to me, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is interesting. We'll see how this turns out.’” The man asked Joya if he was involved in the creation of the site, and Joya told him yes.

“The man said to me, ‘Thank you, we love this site. We love the opportunity that the BLM is giving us out here.’ I almost cried,” Joya said. “It is refreshing to hear the positive feedback that our sites receive.”

Without the work of Joya and a team of employees and partners, the BLM wouldn’t be able to bring this project and many others to life.

“I get to work with a variety of people with different backgrounds and disciplines, from realty to recreational planners to archaeologists,” he said. Joya manages a skilled team of engineers and project managers. “Due to the vastness of what we do as an agency, it's really neat to work with such a different but diverse group of people.”

“We also have the opportunity to work with so many other different agencies on various projects – Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Federal Highway Administration are just a couple. All of these groups that help us as they're more specialized with what they do,” he said. “I appreciate working with them, picking their brains, getting to learn from them.”

That variety was something he was looking for in a career. With the COVID-19 pandemic, though, it took on a renewed importance.

“It became very evident, during the pandemic, that's where I really did see how important our recreation sites are for the American public,” he said, referring to the historic visitation that the BLM and many other agencies managing public lands saw from 2020 onward. “It does give me a sense of accomplishment knowing that there is that need there, and I'm able to play a role in helping our public enjoy our public lands.”

Joya hopes others will be inspired to consider non-conventional engineering careers, including working at the BLM to advance its mission.

“My advice would be not to get so concerned on the type of work that you will be doing upon graduation,” he said. “When I went to school, you thought of civil engineering and it was buildings, roads very infrastructure-oriented.”

Joya’s career took him in a different direction than he could have imagined as an engineering student at the Arizona State University, where he graduated during the Great Recession.

“Engineering is a rewarding career. A lot of it's a very challenging, but it is also incredibly fulfilling to see what you put on paper and then see it constructed,” he said.

“You can't really put a price on that feeling.”

Learn more about engineering careers at the Bureau of Land Management.

Michelle Ailport, Public Affairs Specialist

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