My Water Legacy: Father-Daughter Duo Advances Wastewater Appreciation Through WEF

May 24, 2017

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Thomas Brown exposed his daughter Kelsey Hurst to water issues from a very early age. Photo courtesy of the Brown and Hurst families.

Thomas Brown exposed his daughter Kelsey Hurst, to water issues from a very early age. Photo courtesy of the Brown and Hurst families.

Growing up, the last thing Kelsey Brown (now Hurst) wanted to do was follow in her father’s footsteps.

Her father, Thomas Brown, is a veteran water program specialist at Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PDEP; Harrisburg) and an active member of the Pennsylvania Water Environment Association (PWEA).

While her dad’s career choice didn’t mean much to Kelsey at age 13, it did appeal to her seventh-grade science teacher when they met during the school’s Meet the Teacher Night.

“My science teacher thought he was the most fascinating person and invited him to come speak to the class,” said Kelsey, who admits she was positively mortified by the prospect. “It convinced me that I wanted nothing to do with what he did,” she said.

But as they say, it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.

During WEFTEC® 2014, Hurst receivesd her Water Leadership Institute graduation plaque from Sandra Ralston, 2013–2014 Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) president. Photo courtesy of Oscar & Associates.

During WEFTEC® 2014, Hurst received her Water Leadership Institute graduation plaque from Sandra Ralston, 2013–2014 Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) president. Photo courtesy of Oscar & Associates.

By the time Kelsey was a high-school student, she agreed to join her father at the WEFTEC 2001 conference in Atlanta. During college, she found herself working alongside Thomas at PWEA conferences. There, PWEA’s executive director told her about career opportunities at the national-level Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria) in Virginia. Kelsey now is program manager for Association Engagement and Awards, overseeing WEF’s many awards programs while also serving as liaison to nine state-level Member Associations and WEF’s House of Delegates.

In addition to studying nonprofit management in graduate school, she keeps busy with volunteer efforts like the World Water Monitoring Challenge (Washington, D.C.) and the Stockholm Junior Water Prize (Alexandria, Va.).

After 8 years of working at WEF, Kelsey acknowledges how far she’s come from her seventh-grade self.

“People turn their faucets on and don’t think about where the water comes from. My career has given me an appreciation for our water infrastructure and what we must do to maintain those systems. It also makes me appreciate the people who make all this possible,” she said. An appreciation that extends to her father.

Thomas Brown was inspired to enter the wastewater profession by his great-grandfather, who worked with Imhoff Tank technology when it was a popular form of wastewater treatment. Photo courtesy of the Brown family.

Thomas Brown was inspired to enter the wastewater profession by his great-grandfather, who worked with Imhoff tank technology when it was a popular form of wastewater treatment. Photo courtesy of the Brown family.

Thomas believes that early exposure to WEFTEC and related events helped Kelsey overcome her early reluctance to pursue a career in wastewater. In his case, stories of his great-grandfather’s experiences in the field had inspired his career choice from the get-go, he said.

“I was told my great-grandfather used to work with an old Imhoff tank,” Thomas said. Imhoff tanks were a German technology used for primary sewer treatment in the U.S. in the early 1900s. When Thomas learned of a treatment facility job opportunity in 1977, he jumped on it. “It was the best move I ever made,” he said.

After 11 years working for the Somerset (Pa.) Borough, Thomas transitioned to PDEP, where he has worked ever since, leading wastewater training and technical assistance programs throughout Pennsylvania.

Thomas knows better than almost anyone how far the sector has come since his great-grandfather’s days — and why participation in organizations like WEF is so important to keep it moving forward.

“Membership in a professional association provides access to training, conferences, and peers where information can be shared,” Thomas said. “My favorite part is going to WEFTEC, seeing people I’ve known for 30-plus years, and comparing notes. And perhaps putting down a beer or two.”

— Mary Bufe, 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.

Do you know of 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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