Young Professional Jumps Into Arkansas WEA and Operations Challenge

November 30, 2016

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Alecia Patton competes in the Laboratory Event on the Arkansas Water Environment Association team, Mixed Liquors, during Operations Challenge 2016. Photo courtesy of Kieffer Photography.

Alecia Patton competes in the Laboratory Event on the Arkansas Water Environment Association team, Mixed Liquors, during Operations Challenge 2016. Photo courtesy of Kieffer Photography.

Alecia Patton’s welcome to the world of wastewater was intense first, she was asked to lead the Arkansas Water Environment Association (WEA) Young Professionals Committee; then, she was told she was the newest member of the association’s Operations Challenge team.

Patton jumped in with both feet when she entered the water sector and the network of Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) volunteers. After graduating from the University of Arkansas at Monticello with a bachelor’s degree in special information systems in 2012, she worked in a few other sectors before applying for an open position at the Jacksonville (Ark.) Wastewater Utility. “I always wanted [to do] something that had a purpose,” she said.

Patton was hired as geographic information system (GIS) coordinator for the utility; unexpectedly, she grew to love the sector. Patton attributes getting hooked on water to “working with people who are really passionate about what they do and getting involved in industry organizations like Arkansas [WEA],” she said.

Soon after starting, Patton’s manager suggested that she become chair of the Arkansas WEA Young Professionals Committee. October marked Patton’s last month of her 2 years of service as chair.

Patton was recruited to join the Mixed Liquors team that competed at WEFTEC 2016. Photo courtesy of Kieffer Photography.

Patton was recruited to join the Mixed Liquors team that competed at WEFTEC 2016. Photo courtesy of Kieffer Photography.

“I learn best by experience,” she said. “Getting thrown in there and having all those opportunities — it was really good for me.”

Last year Patton was recruited to join the Arkansas WEA Operations Challenge team, Mixed Liquors.  “The guys came up to me and said ‘Hey you’re on the team,’” she said. The experience has given her more knowledge about how other parts of the water resource recovery facility work and “how to work best on a team,” she said.

As an Operations Challenge team member, Patton participated in three 2-hour practices each week for months leading up to both the Texas regional competition and the national competition, she said. The time spent was valuable for both knowledge and connections, she said. If the team competes next year, Patton plans on joining them.

“I’ve worked in other fields, but here with wastewater, it’s such a shared knowledge,” Patton said. “Everyone just genuinely wants to help everyone. They love talking about it; they love sharing ideas.” Volunteering was worth the effort, she said. “It’s always going to be a benefit to your career and help you grow as a professional.”

For more information about the spectrum of competitors and winning teams competing in Operations Challenge 2016, read the December issue of WE&T.

— Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights

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