• STEM Hero Awards •

Wilmel Varela-
Ortiz, P.E.

Resident Engineer, North Puerto Rico Resident Office, Construction Division, Jacksonville District
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Army

Wilmel Varela-Ortizis the Resident Engineer for North Puerto Rico and serves as the Administrative Contracting Officer for several major flood risk reduction construction contracts across the Island. In the last year he’s also assumed responsibility for the Support for Others Resident Office which manages Military Construction and International/Interagency Support construction projects in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

In addition, Mr. Varela-Ortiz was the leader for the local USACE team of responders immediately following Hurricane Maria landfall, and continues supporting Emergency Operations in Puerto Rico, overseeing emergency repairs of dams and levees. 

Besides his technical skills, Mr. Varela-Ortiz is also known for his leadership and core values. Last year he was awarded the Commander’s Award for Civilian Service for exceptional performance during preparation, response, and recovery for Hurricane Maria. In 2018 he was voted the Jacksonville District “Engineer of the Year” by his peers, and he’s received many other honors from the USACE and its Engineer Research and Development Center.

Mr. Varela-Ortiz frequently serves as a mentor to young engineers, scientists, and elementary, high school and university students alike, and he’s led them on visits to construction sites to show them how engineering concepts are turned into actual projects. He believes strongly that, as a Hispanic professional, he needs to show younger generations that a STEM education is a pathway to a career dedicated to protecting and improving peoples’ lives. 

Mr. Varela-Ortiz came from a family of builders in Puerto Rico, so it was only natural that he took up Civil Engineering as his major at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez where he received a B.S. degree and earned the Etienne Totti Award for Best Student in his department. He continued his graduate studies at the school and completed his M.S. degree in the same discipline. 

While earning his Master’s degree he was selected to attend a summer program at the Army Engineer Research and Development Center.  He excelled at the ERDC and was offered a permanent position as a Research Civil Engineer in the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory, where he’s continually risen ever since.