A Family That Builds Together

January 27, 2015

Featured

Members of the Menniti family bond (and argue) over their love of engineering and wastewater treatment
 
Engineering, wastewater treatment, and the Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) membership are things several members of the Mennitis family share. Family members include, back row from left, Jeff Stallard, Sherry Menniti, Adrienne Menniti, and Greg Menniti, and front row from left, Tony Menniti, Collin Stallard, and Scott Menniti. Photo courtesy of Adrienne.

Engineering, wastewater treatment, and the Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) membership are things several members of the Mennitis family share. Family members include, back row from left, Jeff Stallard, Sherry Menniti, Adrienne Menniti, and Greg Menniti, and front row from left, Tony Menniti, Collin Stallard, and Scott Menniti. Photo courtesy of Adrienne.

Most families argue around the dinner table about football games and politics. But, the Mennitis — a multi-generational family of engineers and Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) members — are just as likely to spar about all things related to water, stormwater, and wastewater treatment.

There are “endless arguments on what materials are better for each application and how each of us would do something different if it was our project,” said Scott Menniti, an engineer at the Huntington, W.Va., office of Geosyntec Consultants (Boca Raton, Fla.). But Scott said that patriarch J. Gregory Menniti “usually trumps any of our ideas.”

Scott added that “it is good to have a father I can fall back on if I have questions or need help with something.” He also can turn to his sister Adrienne Menniti, senior process technologist at Clean Water Services (Tigard, Ore.), and his brother-in-law, Jeff Stallard, a civil engineer at CH2M Hill (Englewood, Colo.) for constructive criticism, he said.

According to Scott, having such a smart and competitive engineering family can be a great motivator.

“I’m competing with three [professional engineers], over 30 years of experience, and a Ph.D.,” Scott explained. “Let’s just say it’s hard to win an argument at the dinner table when we’re all together, but I do from time to time,” he said.

Though all being in the same field can lead to arguments, it also has brought the family closer together.

“Having a family full of engineers makes it easy for us to support each other when it comes to work,” said J. Gregory Menniti (Greg), principal at Geosyntec Consultants. “We look to family for advice on how to deal with work situations and for quick technical questions all the time.”

And when the dinner table conversations get too technical, they have the non-engineering family members there to break things up.

“Sometimes we talk about work a little too much,” Adrienne said. “Luckily, my mom and my brother Tony are very patient.”

Joining the family business with some vigor and some reluctance

Greg Menniti said he knew at an early age that he probably would become an engineer.

“All through high school, I enjoyed the math and science subjects and knew that I wanted to major in a math and science field,” Greg said. “Although he wasn’t a practicing engineer, my father majored in electrical engineering in college and based on my interests in construction, math, and science, civil engineering was a natural field to go into,” he said.

Greg entered college in the early 1970s when “the new Clean Water Act would increase the need for water and wastewater engineers,” he said. Subsequently, that expanded his interest in studying environmental engineering specifically.

Adrienne said by her senior year of high school, she didn’t have any doubt that she would be a civil/environmental engineer thanks to a series of wastewater treatment school projects.

“I did science projects all 4 years of high school — with my dad’s help and encouragement, of course,” Adrienne said. “For 3 years, my projects were on bioremediation of contaminated soil. I was fascinated by the idea that we could engineer systems that use microorganisms to clean up our wastes.”

Adrienne also credits her father’s passion for getting her into the field. “He never overtly pushed me toward engineering, though my parents definitely encouraged me to work hard at math and science — and everything else, of course,” she said. “That passion makes an impression and it’s something I hope I can translate to my children as well.”

So far, Adrienne’s children include 2-year-old son Collin and a baby girl on the way, she said. “It’s too early to tell if we will have a third generation of engineers but there is no doubt that [they] will be surrounded by math and science growing up,” she said.

Scott’s journey to become an engineer was a lot more winding than the straight path his father and sister followed, he said. He entered the field as a certified wastewater treatment operator, not an engineer.

“I did question whether or not this was what I wanted to do,” Scott said. “Your first thought is that you want to do something different than the rest of the family. You don’t want to follow in the footsteps of your father and sister. It took several years of being an operator and a few interesting projects to start getting me heading in the right direction to finalize my career decision. It started as a job to pay the bills until I found what I wanted to do.”

Scott began working in startup and operation of industrial systems for the company that formerly was USFilter. He provided startup services and training to wastewater treatment operators for the reverse osmosis, ultrafiltration, and ion exchange systems that the company installed, Scott explained.

“I continued to progress in my career as a wastewater treatment operator but still wanted information on how the systems worked and functioned,” Scott said. “With the experiences I obtained in real-world applications and persuasion from my family, I decided to go back to school to obtain my engineering degree,” he said.

Scott first considered structural engineering but his family talked him into the wastewater treatment field and “you can say the rest is history,” he said.

The Next Step: Joining WEF

Soon after settling into the wastewater treatment profession, all the Mennitis engineers quickly became WEF members, though for a myriad of reasons.

“I joined WEF in 1983 to keep up with the quickly changing developments in the wastewater field,” Greg said.

“I joined WEF as a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign because I was presenting my research at WEFTEC,” Adrienne said. “The connections I made by attending WEFTEC and presenting my papers on my research were instrumental during my job search after my PhD,” she said.

Meanwhile, Scott joined WEF because Geosyntec Consultants permitted him to join two organizations at the company’s expense. “I had some previous experience in the wastewater community and it seemed like the obvious choice to join as I began my engineering career,” Scott said. “WEF and WEFTEC provide a lot of information and connections to the industry so it was the logical choice. Not to mention always hearing about all the cool stuff to look at while at WEFTEC.”

— LaShell Stratton-Childers, WEF Highlights

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