By Joe Nattress, CH2M HILL Senior Environmental Engineer and active member of AWWA, currently serving on AWWA’s Public Affairs Council and the Technical & Educational Council.
As we celebrate Drinking Water Week, I find myself reflecting on my own career in the industry and how I got to where I am today. Interestingly, professional societies have played a major role from the very beginning.
I was completing my research as a master’s student and working on my thesis when my advisor thought it would be a GREAT idea for me to submit an abstract to present a paper at a national conference. Me—well I wasn’t so sure. The idea of getting up in front of 30 or more established professionals with my research was daunting to say the least. My advisor kept at me until I acquiesced. Shortly thereafter I had my abstract accepted for the American Water Works Association (AWWA) Water Quality Technology Conference in Denver, Colorado. Next thing I knew I was on the way to Denver for the great unknown. Little did I know that it was an experience that would change my life’s direction.
During the conference, I not only got a chance to deliver a presentation on my master’s work—on a slide projector no less—but also was introduced to several people at the conference that welcomed me to AWWA and encouraged my involvement. I also tagged along to a meeting that one of my master’s colleagues had with Dr. Bill Bellamy of CH2M HILL (some company I had never heard of at the time!). That meeting led to several connections, including eventually being hired by CH2M HILL in Philadelphia, where I remain 14 years later. Here I found many mentors who have supported my professional involvement and provided guidance on the most effective ways to leverage professional society involvement for my own personal development and for the company’s benefit.
With their guidance, I secured leadership roles both with AWWA and CH2M HILL, providing me with the opportunity to give back by mentoring and coaching new professionals along the way. I learn so much from these new professionals, and have myself grown from each of these relationships.
Our world, technology, and industry are moving at breakneck speed; we need the best and brightest people in our industry. The key to understanding and utilizing professional societies is to realize it is of dual benefit—to you as a person and as a professional. For it to be of maximum value, you need to commit some of your own personal time and effort. It’s like the old adage “you get out what you put in.” For me, the value I have gotten out of it far exceeds the effort I have put in. The relationships I have made will follow me the rest of my career.
For young professionals and those just starting in the industry, I encourage you to find one professional society local or state chapter aligned with your technical and client interests. These organizations are always looking for volunteers. Several key pieces of advice to make your involvement successful include:
1. Talk with senior professionals who can help you identify appropriate associations and where your involvement could be most effective.
2. Attend a meeting either on your own or with someone else who is involved to get a feel for the group.
3. Start small with one committee assignment, to get to know the association and how things work.
4. Start by delivering one small task or action item to build your reputation within the association.
And remember, everyone at one time was new to that organization, so don’t be shy. The skills you will gain in networking, leadership, public speaking, and understanding clients and the industry will be invaluable. You might make a few new mentors and friends along the way. Today’s mentor or friend in the industry could be tomorrow’s client.
For those of you who have been in the industry and involved for a while, I encourage you to reach out to these young professionals and introduce yourself with a smile. When you see a student doing good work or a young operator or engineer with great new ideas, encourage them to submit that conference abstract. You never know—you might find that next leader our industry needs to continue its mission well into the twenty-first century…and learn a few new tricks yourself along the way.
Mr. Nattress has been with CH2M HILL in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania over 14 years. During his career at CH2M HILL he has focused on helping clients solve their complex drinking water challenges throughout North America and served in various regional leadership roles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org