NEWEA Young Professionals Summit: What I learned about Empathy and Strength
On Sunday January 26, 2020, the New England Water Environment Association (NEWEA), partnered with New England Water Works Association, held a Young Professionals Summit to bring together young professionals (YPs) from the water and wastewater industries to hear from leaders in their profession and network with peers across New England. I was intrigued by this summit as I believe networking is important to furthering one’s professional career, as well as listening to those who are leaders and considering advice that they offer.
The NEWEA Young Professional Summit began with opening remarks and a large speed networking activity. This was a great way to get to know fellow YPs in the New England area. There were YPs from other consulting firms, public works departments, and graduate students. NEWEA provided several guiding questions and from there it was interesting to hear what projects other firms and municipalities were working on. One YP whom I spoke with, who was a graduate student from UNH, talked a bit about her research into removal of pharmaceuticals from water, which she was presenting in a session on Monday.
After four rounds of swapping partners and networking, we returned to our tables and prepared for a speech by Dr. Claire Baldwin, from CDM Smith. She spoke on the importance of empathy as engineers and as future leaders in our profession; it’s important as engineers to consider how our actions and designs will affect everyone, not just people with similar outlooks on life as us.
One example that she mentioned that I felt was especially powerful was an image of an older person with a walker attempting to climb up a steep slope next to stairs – it is clear in the image that those who are unable to use stairs were not considered during the design process. She pushed the importance of putting oneself into the shoes of all people who will be effected by a project.
Water’s Inspirational Future
Part of the day included the documentary Brave Blue World. The Water Environment Federation helped partner to create this film which provided a positive outlook on the future issues with water that the world will be faced with. It covered many different areas globally and presented entrepreneurs and scientists who are all doing their part to help solve their respective water issues. Once we viewed the documentary, we moved into a discussion about the movie and were tasked with creating panel questions for different audiences: high school students, the general public, and public officials in an area where a screening may be held. Overall, I felt this showing left me with an inkling of hope for the future – while there are problems that will become more prevalent, there will always be individuals to step up to the challenge and help the world and its inhabitants.
Strengths in Career Pathways
After this session, another speaker, Hannah Mento of Mento Mindset presented about finding what our strengths are and using these strengths to improve our creativity at work. This presentation was interesting and she helped guide us as we thought to ourselves what our strengths are, even going as far as messaging people we know to tell us what they feel our strengths are; and pushed us to consider these strengths moving forward in our careers to help improve our productivity and happiness with our jobs. It was interesting to hear the variety of strengths people discovered about themselves, whether it be communication, listening, organizational, etc. and to see whether there were strengths that we all had since we are all young engineers.
Hearing From other Young Professionals & Key Takeaways
Finally, two professionals were able to chronicle their first years as engineers and field questions from any of the YPs in the room during a panel discussion. One takeaway from this panel was the importance of remembering that it takes time to come into your own as a professional and not to feel discouraged if it is taking longer than expected.
After closing remarks, I had the opportunity to introduce myself to the president-elect of NEWEA, Jennifer Kelly Lachmayr, as well as talk with a few YPs who were new to the New England area. All in all, this was a good experience to connect with other young professionals throughout New England and to hear from speakers who wanted to help us grow more into our careers. After exploring my strengths and connecting with the professionals at the event, I am excited to participate more as a member of NEWEA and learn more from the professionals associated with the organization.
Photo credit: Charlie Tyler/NEWEA. See the full album.
Written by Monika Ingalls, EIT