By Steve Drangsholt, PE, WEF Delegate, Brown and Caldwell

In February 2018, I had the opportunity to attend the WEF/AWWA Young Professionals (YP) Summit in San Antonio, TX with a group of water professionals from around the country. The YP Summit was two days of intensive leadership training, networking with water industry professionals and career collaboration.  Here are some of the key takeaways I gathered from the YP Summit.

Resiliency is the New Black – Multiple speakers at the Summit spoke on the topic of making our communities more resilient. My favorite definition offered for resiliency was the ability for our communities, organizations and institutions to “bounce forward” after an acute or chronic shock. The idea behind bouncing forward means that when we re-build, we don’t just replace in kind, rather, we improve the situation to reduce the future risk of greater shocks. Yvonne Forest, Deputy Director of the Department of Houston Public Works, shared about how the City of Houston is doing just that after the devastating impact of Hurricane Harvey. Yvonne mentioned that people who came to help after the floods had nowhere to stay because hotels were full or flooded, city facilities were inaccessible, and city departments were focused on helping their own citizens. Therefore, these volunteers, while well intentioned, were not able to support the recovery as effectively. Part of being resilient is being able to identify and plan for those types of challenges – not just the technical aspects of our water work.  An additional aspect of being resilient also means developing a sustainable workforce.  Each of the speakers mentioned this item as a critical priority our industry needs to take more seriously and start addressing now.

Water is Politics – Robert Puente, CEO for the San Antonio Water System (SAWS), gave the quote of the event, in my opinion.  Robert said, “There is no such thing as water shortages, there is just a lack of political will to do what it takes to access that water.” A powerful statement from someone living in a state with only one natural lake.  Robert’s point is insightful because we use a lot of water everyday that could be moved into more of a closed system of One Water if only the politics favored it happening.

Know Your Hope, Know Your Alternatives, Know Your Limit -  A new session to the YP Summit this year was to invite a speaker to discuss the topic of negotiation, giving attendees tools to be more effective. Dr. Gaylen Paulson, faculty member in the Department of Management at the University of Texas Austin’s McCombs School of Business, gave the group some practical and implementable advice on negotiation. The key takeaway for me was to follow the 80/20 rule times three. Spend 80% of the negotiation on the preparation and 20% on the actual negotiation: Don’t wing it. Spend 80% of your time prepping your negotiation by thinking about their desires and 20% about your own: Understanding the other party makes a better deal. And spend 80% of the time in negotiation talking about the other party and only 20% talking about you: Information is the key to improving your alternatives. Dr. Paulson was very engaging and entertaining to learn from.

I was asked to speak on a YP panel discussing the topics of mentorship, strategies to stand out, and common mistakes. It was an honor to be on the panel with such impressive colleagues as Mel Butcher (Arcadis), Teresa Pedrazas (Tetra Tech) and Pete Samson (Eramosa Engineering). As an industry, we are truly in good hands with the caliber of these leaders. Some key takeaways from our panel discussion were:

  • Say yes, then deliver;
  • Find multiple mentors in your life that can meet various areas;
  • Don’t be sloppy in your delivery of work;
  • Be humble and compassionate when working together on teams.

A provocative discussion occurred on the topic of feedback and how best to provide feedback to your supervisor. This area seemed to be truly challenging for the YPs and was a minefield for huge career mistakes if not performed delicately and at the right time.

Lastly, and on a personal note, I am nearing the end of my YP career and have been experiencing some melancholy feelings about that. Being a YP in WEF has been a life changing experience that I don’t want to end. I have met some of my best friends going to YP functions and learned so much because my mentors have generously offered their time and wisdom. It is a special experience to be a YP and I’m grateful to WEF for supporting the activities and energy of the YPs. Personally, I especially want to thank Haley Falconer (City of Boise) for encouraging me to be a member association YP Chair many years ago, to get involved with WEF’s Students and Young Professionals Committee (SYPC), and for providing an inspirational example for me in life and career. Haley’s impact on my career, as well as many others, cannot be understated and I’m so glad I said “Yes!” when asked to serve. The transition from YP to just Professional will be a difficult one, but I’m grateful to know many others have been there before and that I have friends to continue growing with. 

Now it’s your turn. I encourage you to have a discussion with the YP’s in your organization on three topics:

  • How has mentorship impacted your career?
  • What strategies can you employ to be a better teammate and inclusive of more perspectives?
  • What are some early mistakes you see frequently and how can they be avoided?

I look forward to hearing all about your discussions!

Steve Drangsholt, Kristi Steiner and Andrew Matsumoto remember 'The Alamo'

Megan Livak, WEF Manager, Association Engagement for Students and Young Professionals; Steve Drangsholt; and Scott Wilson, WEF Senior Director of Association Engagement

Jenny Hartfelder, WEF President and Steve Drangsholt at the WEF Emerging Leaders Discussion


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YP Connections offers information on career development; provides tools, tips, and resources; and includes news from WEF and MA young professionals committees.

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