This past March after failing my New York State 4A Wastewater certification exam, I sat on my couch disappointed in myself. Then I got the email that I was accepted to the Water Leadership Institute.

Wait, what!? I had just gotten accepted into a program with a very competitive application process. What a roller coast of emotions. 

As the informational emails and instructions started to come in, I began to realize it is truly a very intense program. I had to complete introduction videos, powerpoint slides, reading assignments… and this was just the first month. I wasn’t sure I could handle it all.  As the program started to progress, I persevered, embraced the challenges, and started to come out of my shell. I began participating more in group chats and then a face -to -face training and workshop in Alexandria, Virginia came along. 

The evening before the workshop kicks off, we had a meet and greet.  I’ve always considered myself an introvert and when the time came to meet over 50 people, I wanted nothing to do with it. This was an optional event anyway, so it wouldn’t have been a big deal if I had skipped it. However, one thing kept running through my mind from an article written by a WLI ‘18 graduate Rahkia Nance: “LEAVE YOUR COMFORT ZONE!”

So, I went, and it was in that moment that I started getting the most out of the program. I met some of the most amazing and inspiring people that I'm lucky to now call my friends. Those few days in Alexandria are something I’ll never forget. The speakers were fantastic, and the workshops were informative.  I truly left Alexandria a changed person. This was all made possible because I stepped out of my comfort zone and I encourage everyone else to do the same. 

One of the topics in our program group chat was creating SMART goals. I thought to myself, “I want to upgrade my wastewater certification and I have to pass the exam in order to do that, so passing that exam should be my goal.”  As the chat starts, Suzanne, a member of the Steering Committee who was guiding the conversation, asked who would like to share their SMART goal. I immediately volunteered (something I would have never dreamed about doing before my experience in Alexandria) and I told everyone my goal was to obtain the New Yok State 4A Wastewater certification. I shared my plan to achieve my goal and then asked for any advice. My entire group couldn’t have been any more supportive, which was tremendous. I’ll never forget one of the things Suzanne said to me: “you’re going to pass, I know it, I can already tell.” For someone to believe in me like that, a person that I hardly even knew, was so inspiring. That’s what the Water Leadership Institute is all about though – a bunch of people who rally around one another to do things that I believe one day will change the world. 

The day before I left for the last WLI workshop and graduation at WEFTEC I sat for and passed my exam certification. I had done it.  This program brought things full circle from sitting on my couch that afternoon in March and almost giving up to passing my exam to becoming a WLI graduate. 

Participating in the Water Leadership Institute was a completely life changing event. The Steering Committee is made up of some of the most amazing people you’ll ever meet. My fellow WLI ‘19 graduates are the most inspiring and determined people. As I looked around the room on graduation day, I got excited not for what the future will bring me, but what it will bring to my fellow alumni.  I’m excited to see where these people will go and what they will accomplish.

To wrap up my experience of the Water Leadership Institute I’d like to quote one of my favorite musicians Gord Downie “This is great, but the best part about this, it makes me think there is more and better to come.”




The Water Leadership Institute program is aimed at educating, training, and providing opportunities that enable developing and emerging leaders to build strong lasting relationships within the water industry.


Daniel O'Sullivan

Daniel O'SullivanDaniel O’Sullivan has been employed as a Water Resource Recovery Operator by the Buffalo Sewer Authority (Buffalo, NY) since 2012.  He recently obtained his New York State 4A Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator Certificate which is the NYS’ highest level of certification. Daniel is also an active member of the New York Water Environment Association.  When Daniel is not advocating for water, he can be found spending time with his family or out on the golf course.

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