Christen Wood started a new trend in her family: an intense love of everything water. And she has been shouting from the proverbial mountain tops — also known as social media — about the importance of wastewater treatment, value of clean water, and significance of working in the water sector.
Wood, unit process manager at the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD; Cleveland), has been working in wastewater for the past 8 years. She started as a laboratory analyst for City of Ashtabula (Ohio) Water Pollution Control before getting hired as an operator at NEORSD, where she recently received a promotion to management.
“I am one of those few lucky people that genuinely has a passion for the thing that they get paid for,” Wood said.
Getting recruited and falling for wastewater
Wood’s mother is a teacher and her father sold office supplies, so she had not envisioned working in wastewater. She earned degrees in biology and chemistry with aspirations to enter the field of veterinary medicine.
However, after graduating, Wood only could find a job working for her father, selling office supplies. She read a local newspaper article describing the problem of college grads unable to get work in their fields while many sectors were unable to find enough educated and trained new employees. So she sent a letter to the editor. Wood’s story fit into the article series, and her photo was published. “The next day the wastewater treatment plant called and said ‘We need somebody in our lab, you need to apply today,’” she said.
“I like to say that I fell into wastewater,” Wood said. “It was one of those moments; you just take an opportunity when you get it.” The new job doubled her salary and applied her science background. “I haven’t looked back since,” she said.
Taking charge of an Operations Challenge team
Wood joined the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) and the Ohio Water Environment Association (OWEA) in 2014. In one of the association’s publications, she saw coverage of Operations Challenge, and again, an article inspired her to get involved.
Wood decided to form and become captain of the OWEA Operations Challenge team, Minimal Headloss, with her NEORSD coworkers. The team competed in Division 2 at the national Operations Challenge event at WEFTEC 2016.
Since she first learned about the competition, Wood wanted to participate in Operations Challenge. “This has always been a dream to be here,” Wood said. Read more about Wood and her team in the December WE&T Operations Challenge 2016 article, “Diverse Ohio Team Makes Dream of Competing a Reality.”
Sharing love of wastewater with a growing family
Wood did not compete at Operations Challenge alone. Some could say the team had an extra member, since she was 7 months pregnant with a baby girl at the time. Cleared by her doctor to compete at WEFTEC, Wood worked with her team to redistribute tasks. That way, she did not have to complete the most physically strenuous parts of the competition, such as going down the manhole during the Safety Event, she said.
Wood also has a 6-year-old son with whom she shares her love of wastewater treatment by occasionally bringing him to work. “He is already definitely going down the science track,” she said. He loves building things out of Legos and paper, and he has developed a love for the NEORSD educational mascot, Wally Waterdrop. Wood’s sister, Kelsey Amidon, said on Twitter, “My nephew just told me he wants to work for @WallyWaterdrop when he grows up. Keeping it in the family.”
Amidon also works for NEORSD. She started as an intern almost 3 years ago and now works as a water quality and industrial surveillance investigator. She monitors fish and macroinvertebrates in the waterways around the facility to verify that water has been adequately treated and that the health of the ecosystem is improving, Wood said.
Wood, who goes by the Twitter handle @Sewer_chic, and Amidon share their experiences working together and their love for the sector through #SewerSisters. Both can be found on YouTube, educating the community about wastewater treatment and the importance of clean water. Wood also gives tours to the public, spreading information about how wastewater is treated and how treating wastewater can be a profitable — and fun — career, she said.
Read more about Wood’s achievements as an operator in the WEF Highlights article, “Operations Takes Center Stage at WEFTEC 2016.”
— Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights
WEF Highlights Presents My Water Legacy Families
The Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) is bringing attention to the value of membership and tradition of working in the water sector.
The #MyWaterLegacy social media campaign and WEF Highlights articles feature the accomplishments and contributions of members who have passed down the tradition of actively participating in WEF and working in the water sector. The WEF Legacy Family will appear in an ongoing WEF Highlights series. Read the series by searching for the keyword MyWaterLegacy.
Know of a family with multiple generations of WEF members and water sector professionals? Contact Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.