Laurie Perkins’ interest in civil engineering dates back to a junior high science fair project involving wastewater treatment, balsa wood, and Tupperware.
Those last two items were among the materials that Perkins and her father, Charles “Chuck” Terry, had rounded up from around the house to construct a model of a wastewater treatment facility. The detailed model included everything from pump stations and firefighter units, to an aeration system and incinerator.
The idea for the project had been sparked by a tour Terry had given his daughter of his then-workplace, the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District’s North Andover Treatment Facility (Andover, Mass.).
Like father, like daughter
Terry began his career at the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District as an operator in 1977 after serving 4 years in the military and moving to Massachusetts with his wife. “We had a wastewater facility down the street from us, and I was curious how it worked,” he said.“Later, when Laurie was in junior high, she started asking me about what I did [for a living],” Terry said. “That’s how it all started for her.”
“As a kid, I was always interested in seeing what my dad did,” Perkins said.
Later Perkins headed west to Purdue University (West Lafayette, Ind.) She initially considered studying environmental law but could not shake her interest in engineering. Combining the best of both worlds, she found her niche in civil engineering, where she could work with communities to address their environmental needs.
Meanwhile, Terry became active in the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.), as well as area manager for United Water [now Suez Environment North America (Paramus, N.J.)], where he was responsible for as many as 30 wastewater treatment operations in Florida and New England.
Now retired, he prefers discussing his daughter’s accomplishments. “I am really proud of all she has done,” he said.
In the two decades since graduating from Purdue, Perkins has served in a number of professional roles in Indiana before returning to her roots on the East Coast.
As senior project manager for Wright-Pierce, (Topsham, Maine), she focuses on managing wastewater and stormwater collection systems. Addressing aging infrastructure is a top priority.
Another priority throughout her career has been her involvement in WEF.
She started as member of the Indiana Water Environment Association (WEA). After a job relocation, she joined the Chesapeake WEA and helped bring Operations Challenge back to the Member Association after a 10-year hiatus. She also recently helped coordinate an Operations Challenge Collection Systems event at the national level. For more information about Perkins, read the WEF Highlights article “Event Coordinator Believes in the Competition.”
Preparing for the next generation
Education remains important to Perkins. “With the public, there is usually a huge disconnect between what is going on above ground and what’s below,” she said. “Some of the [collection] systems in New England date back to the 1890s, so condition assessments and predictive management help us to understand when these systems are going to fail so we can fix them.”
And Perkins is planting the seeds for a potential third-generation WEF member. “I brought my son to an Ops Challenge once, and he loved it,” she said. Her son’s teacher recently discussed careers and asked students to choose one. “He chose engineer, and I was shocked,” she said. “I now have a picture on my door at work with him holding up a sign that says ‘Engineer.’”
— 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.
Know of a family with multiple generations of WEF members and water sector professionals? Contact Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights editor, at email@example.com.