By Rob Staton and Bruce Cooley

Employer, position, job duties (area of expertise, field of interest, etc.)

I serve as the Engineering Manager and Technical Lead at Black & Veatch with a focus on drought resiliency, WWTP, and Pump Station projects in the Upper Midwest.

When did you join WEF? Why did you become involved with WEF?

I joined WEF shortly after graduating from University.

I saw WEF as an organization that could help me learn from the experts in the field and provide me an outlet to contribute meaningfully to the local “water environment”.

What is your motivation to belong to other committees within WEF?

I had a professor at University that talked about life being similar to looking down the narrow end of a funnel. When you look through the small end, you can’t see the edges of the large end. My professor said, your professional life is much like that for a season at the start of your career; you just can’t see the ends of the potential and opportunities. He said after a long season of learning as many different things as you can, consider flipping the funnel around and focusing on a narrow set of interests. Interestingly, I see many men and women ahead of me that took a very similar and successful approach, which seems to validate my professor’s thought process.

As this relates to WEF and my motivations: I see working with different committees as a great privilege to put my hands to good use helping those with more experience achieve their goals. This allows exceptional exposure to many facets of the water environment and allows me to learn as much as I can to do as much as I can to give away as much as I can.

If you had to take a class on a field trip to a location that epitomized the water problems we face today, where would you go and what would be your message?

A quarry. Being in the upper Midwest, our water challenges look a little different than the challenges in Florida, Texas, the Southwest, California, and others. Having recently finished a quarry conversion feasibility study, I would take the students to a massive rock quarry that is being converted to a raw water storage reservoir. I would have a series of fun games that drove home the point that water is so vital and so precious in our community that we would spend extensive resources to determine how to convert this quarry to a reservoir for water storage. I would ask the students to think about how many people they think could be supported by the water in this quarry. I think those numbers would be surprising and help localize the water challenges, even in a Great Lakes State.

What is the one misconception you think students today think about the water industry?

A big misconception is that the water challenges we face are just technology issues—if we had better technology, we wouldn’t have water issues. Technology is certainly a large portion of the solution to water challenges; however, the psychological side is perhaps the bigger challenge.

Have you presented any papers at a WEF event? How did you decide to submit a paper on this (i.e. project you worked on, interest, research, etc.)?

Yes, I presented on an entirely non-technical topic. I presented on Work-Life Balance, which seems to be the so-called Achilles heel of our generation. I see many professionals—young and old—leaving our industry feeling overworked, underappreciated, and jaded because of it. A presentation on the topic seemed timely and fitting to the particular WEF audience at the event. Ignore what job you want at the end of your career; what’s the story you want to tell friends and family? Surprisingly, the answer to similar questions can help turn today’s barriers into simple hurdles to be jumped, increasing your resolve, and clarifying what we really want to accomplish in life. Priorities certainly determine capacity, as a good friend says often.

Did you experience any roadblocks or obstacles in trying to serve on other committees?

WEF is a volunteer organization full of many already busy people. I have found a few roadblocks related to responsiveness that were easily relieved with a phone call to the person rather than an email.
How has WEF helped you grow/advance in your career?

WEF has given me perspective and exposure. Regarding perspective, the people in WEF help me see the “big noble purpose”, as one author called it, of the water industry. Regarding exposure, WEF facilitated access to professionals that are like-minded in the sense of wanting to transform the water environment one person at a time. From a recent, practical perspective, I have been afforded the opportunity to have a network of people that I can bounce ideas off when I am determining if something is a hurdle or a barrier. WEF attracts exceptionally talented people, and having the privilege to work alongside those people is a delight.

Is there anything about WEF that you have learned that you wish you would have known when you first joined the organization?

I have yet to meet a professional in WEF that was not willing to provide counsel to a reasonable question. If you are facing a challenge in the water environment, chances are someone within WEF can help you find the resources needed to find the solution.

Bruce Cooley, Engineering Manager at Black & Veatch

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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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