Finding A Sense of Belonging in the Water Industry

As a young professional engineer in the infancy of my career, I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend WEFTEC 2022 as part of the Water Leadership Institute (WLI) cohort and a WEF InFLOW (Introducing Future Leaders to Opportunities in Water) alumni.

As a young professional engineer in the infancy of my career, I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend WEFTEC 2022 as part of the Water Leadership Institute (WLI) cohort and a WEF InFLOW (Introducing Future Leaders to Opportunities in Water) alumni. I had the chance to attend WEFTEC in 2020, albeit virtually, as a WEF InFLOW: STEMpath scholar. However, getting the chance to attend in person in New Orleans and to feel the energy from across the water industry was a transformative experience.

My experience at WEFTEC 2022 can be described as vibrant, engaging, and educational. My time at WEFTEC began with the final WLI workshop, which included leadership training workshops on how to handle difficult conversations, conflict management and active listening. The workshop culminated with a WLI22 graduation ceremony, where each of us was awarded a five-pound brick to shove into our carry-on bags. All jokes aside, the award was a lovely souvenir to have to look back on the enriching 6-month long program.

The second day and first official day of WEFTEC was a lot to take in. I was overwhelmed by the large stage room, which was full of what felt like a mile stretch of industry equipment. During my first day, I spent most of the time exploring the show room, attending networking round table talks and listening to presenters. While exploring the show room I ran into another WLI alumni who was exploring with her InFLOW mentee. It was lovely to see my two worlds as a WLI  and InFLOW alumni collide. It was also wonderful to hear from the InFLOW scholars as they were equally as curious and excited to witness what the water industry has to offer.

During my second day of WEFTEC, I got to have a few more interactions with the InFLOW scholars. I got to attend two InFLOW panel discussions and was again very inspired by both the CareerTech and STEMpath scholars. They asked engaging questions and had already made amazing accomplishments within their lives. I was especially grateful to witness the WEF InFLOW scholars graduate and was even moved to tears as I watched them accept their certificates. It felt like my InFLOW experience from what it should have been in 2020 was finally being lived out. I finally felt like things had come full circle. There was a sense of completeness in witnessing the scholars graduate and getting to answer some of their questions felt like my opportunity to give back. My second day at WEFTEC was also marked by my attendance to the WEF President’s induction ceremony and reception. Witnessing Ifetayo Venner’s induction ceremony felt like a historic moment in our industry. It was wonderful to see so many people come together to celebrate her great accomplishment in a way that was true and authentic to her.

I was especially encouraged by the representation I saw which can be attributed to Ifetayo’s tireless work, which I have been a beneficiary of in joining the water industry as an InFLOW scholar. A program that was started by Ifetayo in her mission to diversify the water sector by introducing underrepresented young people to the industry. Such initiatives are crucial as we strive towards a more equitable and sustainable future. 

My final day at WEFTEC22 began with my attendance to a Black in Water breakfast that was organized by Ifetayo and her friends. This breakfast was encouraging and uplifting, and it really did fill my heart to be in a room full of black excellence. It was the first time in my career where I felt fully secure and understood in a room full of industry professionals. Everyone that spoke got to express experiences that are true and authentic to them in a way that made me feel like I could fully relax my shoulders and feel at ease. I believe that the one thing that so many DEI incentives seem to consistently miss the mark on is bringing the authenticity that allows people to feel at ease and able to relate and make meaningful connections with one another. This is something I felt was in abundance in this room. There were no feelings of imposter syndrome, of questioning my placement in that room. There was simply a deep sense of belonging. I can say with absolute certainty that the black in water breakfast event was the highlight of my entire WEFTEC22 experience.

All in all, I look forward to my continued growth in the water industry and I hope to be able to give back as much as I have received.   

Thanks for taking the time to read about my experience at WEFTEC22

Victoria Wanjohi

Wanjohi is a highly motivated junior engineer with a passion for sustainable development in water infrastructure. She has a year and a half of industry experience working primarily in lead service line replacement and stormwater management as an Environmental Engineer I for CDM Smith. She has a B.S in Environmental Engineering from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing an M.S. Water Resources and Environmental Engineering (MSWREE) at Villanova University. She is especially passionate about sustainable development in her home country of Kenya and looks forward to her growth and hopes to one day give back to her community. She is inspired by the late Wangari Maathai who was an environmental activist and was the first black African woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize for her contributions to sustainable development, democracy, and peace.

Victoria Wanjohi

January 23, 2023

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