Gopi and Jonathan Sandhu: Clean Water Is “All in the Family”

February 26, 2018

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Balbir Sandhu (third from right) was the first in his family to study engineering. He stands with family members, from left, Micah Sandhu, Dillon Sandhu, Mercedes Cardenas, Jonathan Sandhu, Kulwant Sandhu, Gopi Sandhu, and Ethan Sandhu. Balbir’s son Gopi and grandson Jonathan are engineers as well. Photo courtesy of Mary Kay Sandhu.

Balbir Sandhu (third from right) was the first in his family to study engineering. He stands with family members, from left, Micah Sandhu, Dillon Sandhu, Mercedes Cardenas, Jonathan Sandhu, Kulwant Sandhu, Gopi Sandhu, and Ethan Sandhu. Balbir’s son Gopi and grandson Jonathan are engineers as well. Photo courtesy of Mary Kay Sandhu.

Balbir Sandhu and his two brothers became the first members of the Sandhu family to leave their family farm in India to study engineering in the U.S. That, however, was not enough to convince Balbir’s son, Gopi Sandhu, to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“Honestly, with my dad, uncles, and their friends as engineers, it seemed like a boring profession to me when I was growing up,” Gopi said. When he began taking classes at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1986, he was considering a career in law.

At age 20, however, Gopi found himself in an engineering class. Call it destiny or the persistence of biology; either way, he was hooked. “I realized that a career in environmental engineering would allow me to use my skills in math, science, critical thinking, and communication to help make the world a better place,” he said.

Gopi graduated in 1990 with a degree in civil engineering and joined the firm Burns & McDonnell (Kansas City, Mo.), where he spent the early years of his career as a consultant on environmental projects. He joined the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) and Missouri Water Environment Association in 1999.

From left, Jonathan and his uncle Gopi attended WEFTEC 2016 in New Orleans together. Photo courtesy of Gopi Sandhu.

From left, Jonathan and his uncle Gopi attended WEFTEC 2016 in New Orleans together. Photo courtesy of Gopi Sandhu.

By that time, he had moved on to Ralston Purina Co., now known as Nestlé Purina, a pet food company based in St. Louis. Today, he serves as director of environmental engineering, where he leads a team of environmental professionals charged with, among other things, promoting responsible water stewardship throughout the company’s North American operations. He remains an active WEF member.

“I still enjoy the technical sessions, workshops, and the many hands-on displays at WEFTEC,” Gopi said.

That’s not all Gopi enjoys at WEFTEC. In 2016, he had the pleasure of attending the conference in New Orleans with his nephew and fellow WEF-member Jonathan Sandhu, a Houston-based principal engineer for Brown & Caldwell (Walnut Creek, Calif.).

An easier sell

Jonathan was more amenable to a water-sector career than his uncle had been. With Gopi as his mentor, Jonathan entered the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2005 with a plan to earn a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.

A few years later, Jonathan’s graduate school advisor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City turned out to be the professor that inspired Gopi’s environmental career. Jonathan’s first job out of college was at Black & Veatch (Overland Park, Kan.), the same engineering firm that hired his grandfather after he emigrated from India.

In addition to both being civil engineers working in the water sector, Jonathan and his uncle Gopi are both members of the Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.). Photo courtesy of Gopi Sandhu.

In addition to both being civil engineers working in the water sector, Jonathan and his uncle Gopi are both members of the Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.). Photo courtesy of Gopi Sandhu.

“Working in the water industry has helped me achieve two life goals,” Jonathan said. “I am able to make a difference, and I am able to work in something I find interesting and challenging.”

The career also gives Jonathan and his uncle Gopi the opportunity to “talk shop” at family functions and perhaps recruit the next generation of Sandhu engineers.

It’s too early to predict their success. One of Gopi’s four children has expressed an interest, but Gopi insists his children’s happiness is more important than continuing the legacy. Jonathan, meanwhile, has other ideas.

“Any future posterity can expect bedtime stories to be filled with pumps, blowers, and belt-filter presses,” Jonathan said.

                                                — Mary Bufe, WEF Highlights

My Water Legacy Showcases Passing Along Tradition of Working for Water

The Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) shares stories about working in the water sector through the #MyWaterLegacy campaign. Launched at WEFTEC 2016, this effort brings attention to the value of membership, water sector leadership and innovation, and workforce development.

My Water Legacy articles in WEF Highlights feature the members who have passed down the tradition of actively participating in WEF and working in the water sector.

Do you know a WEF member who has mentored others in the water sector or a family with multiple generations of WEF members and water sector professionals? Contact Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights editor, at jfulcher@wef.org.

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