My Water Legacy: Like Mother, Like Daughter

July 20, 2017

Featured

From left, June Nakamura passed along an appreciation for the water sector on to her daughter Bri. Photo courtesy of Bri Nakamura.

June Nakamura (left) passed along an appreciation for the water sector on to her daughter Bri (right). Photo courtesy of Bri Nakamura.

Fresh from the University of Hawaii (Honolulu) with a degree in civil engineering, June Nakamura remembers the reception she received in 1973 when joining a male-dominated environmental engineering consulting firm in Honolulu.

“There were not many female engineers,” June said. “They were learning to tolerate us.”

She received little encouragement from family or colleagues and was not urged to join the Hawaii Water Environment Association (HWEA). But none of that mattered to June once she was assigned a junior engineer position to work on the expansion of a private, on-site wastewater treatment system at what is today the Turtle Bay Resort on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

June (second from left) started her own consulting firm, Engineering Solutions Inc. (Honolulu) that employed, from left, Richard Frey, Audrey Yokota, Kyle Okino, and Janice Marsters. Photo courtesy of Bri Nakamura.

June (second from left) started her own consulting firm, Engineering Solutions Inc. (Honolulu) that employed, from left, Richard Frey, Audrey Yokota, Kyle Okino, and Janice Marsters. Photo courtesy of Bri Nakamura.

That project inspired June to chart a more than 40-year career that included launching her own consulting firm and working on water and wastewater projects throughout Hawaii and the Pacific, as well as across the U.S. mainland. She rose to leadership roles in the water sector as well, joining HWEA and eventually serving as HWEA president in 2006.

Back at home, June’s three children — including her younger daughter, Bri Nakamura — were watching.

“I would always say that it was the one thing I didn’t want to do,” said Bri, who today manages collection systems and sustainability for the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Water Sciences and Engineering Center.

Bri insists she never felt pushed to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Still, the many hours she spent as a child watching sewer inspection tapes with her mother left an impression. Her schooling, together with internship experiences where she conducted soil sampling, sewer inspections, and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting and inspections, gave her a new appreciation for the water sector. “I thought it was so interesting how underappreciated the sector is, when it’s such a necessity,” she said.

Bri (third from left) was joined by, from left, Frey, June, and Iris Shiroma, during her graduation from Syracuse University in civil engineering in 2011. Photo courtesy of Bri Nakamura.

Bri (third from left) was joined by, from left, Frey, June, and Iris Shiroma, during her graduation from Syracuse University in civil engineering in 2011. Photo courtesy of Bri Nakamura.

Both mother and daughter are doing their parts to advance the water and wastewater sector and the role women play in it. Working with the Rotary Club of Honolulu Sunrise, the Young Women’s Christian Association of Oahu (Honolulu), and a long list of educational, professional, and civic groups, June led programs aimed at empowering and supporting young women as they forge careers in engineering.

Of all these programs, HWEA remains high on her list. “It provides the best technical programs,” June said. “The conferences provide a great place to develop and expand my technical knowledge.”

Bri remains inspired by her mother’s legacy. “I really appreciate the example she set for me,” she said. “All of her volunteer efforts, in what already seemed like a crazy busy schedule, inspired me to make sure that I find time for volunteer efforts in both my career and personal life.”

Bri said her mother’s example also helps her to “better understand the drive that WEF volunteers have,” which helps her to better connect with and motivate them.

“My mom downplays her accomplishments,” Bri said. “But she has left an indelible mark on the wastewater industry and paved a path that many women today are following.”

— 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. WEF Legacy Families 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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