2019 WEFTEC: One YP’s Experience

Each year, the Pacific Northwest Clean Water Association (PNCWA) offers scholarships to Student and Young Professional (S&YP) committee members to attend the national Water and Environment Federation Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC). As the lucky recipient of one of this year’s two scholarships, I had the opportunity to join over 20,000 water professionals gathering in Chicago for the 92nd WEFTEC, the largest annual water quality exhibition in the world.

The conference kicked off with an opening session featuring keynote speaker Dr. Lera Boroditsky, an Associate Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of California-San Diego. Dr. Boroditsky spoke about how language plays a critical role in influencing our perception of the world, including the development and reinforcement of personal biases. She connected this power of language to the importance of understanding how to use communication in developing a diverse and inclusive workforce in the water industry. Dr. Boroditsky’s message was echoed in the remarks of (past) WEF president Tom Kunetz who emphasized the power of building an inclusive and diverse workforce in the world of water and wastewater.

I appreciate WEF’s focus on such an important topic. WEF is leading by example with its InFLOW program (Introducing Future Leaders to Opportunities in Water), launched during WEFTEC 2018. The InFLOW program offers WEFTEC scholarships to students from underserved minority groups. Scholarships cover conference registration, travel costs, and networking opportunities for recipients. This year’s INFLOW cohort was introduced during the opening session. Cohort members then attended technical sessions and committee meetings and explored the overwhelming vendor hall. Following in WEF’s footsteps, PNCWA launched a regional InFLOW program during the 2019 conference in Portland.

One of the most rewarding parts of my WEFTEC experience was connecting with people from across the water industry, including academics, consultants, and the public sector. I also enjoyed attending engaging technical presentations. As a member of the WEF S&YP committee and Municipal Resource Recovery Design Committee, I appreciated the opportunity to meet and share ideas with WEF members from around the country during conference committee meetings. Other highlights of the conference included WEF’s screening of the trailer for the new water documentary, Brave Blue World, scheduled for release this fall, and a PNCWA meetup where I found familiar faces.

My experience at WEFTEC was inspiring and left me feeling excited about the incredible opportunities the water industry has to offer. I appreciate that leaders of WEF are calling for the development of a more inclusive and diverse workforce and that the actions of our regional member association, PNCWA, reflect this national dialogue. I feel lucky to be part of an industry that supports the upcoming generation and encourages those new to the field to plug in and engage. Attending WEFTEC was not an end in itself, but a path to more opportunities and more ways to say yes! Thank you, PNCWA and Brown and Caldwell, for supporting my attendance at WEFTEC 2019. 

Looking for ways to get involved? Check out the InFLOW program, PNCWA S&YP committee, and other PNCWA and WEF committees.

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