Georgia Association of Water Professionals Dubs Long-Time Members Gurus

February 27, 2019

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Members of the Georgia Association of Water Professionals Guru committee play a checkers on the Guru porch during an annual conference. Photo courtesy of Donald Douglas Photography.

Members of the Georgia Association of Water Professionals Guru committee play checkers on the Guru porch during an annual conference. Photo courtesy of Donald Douglas Photography.

The Georgia Association of Water Professionals (GAWP) is brimming with members who have a wealth of knowledge about water. Once these individuals have been members of GAWP for 25 years, they automatically become members of a select committee and earn a new title: guru.

The GAWP Guru committee has nearly 600 members. While only 15 members actively plan committee activities, all are invited to help and attend events hosted for members, said Angela Bond, GAWP staff liaison for the committee.

Attendees at During a Guru Gathering, attendees outfitted with extra-large name tags learn about what the association and others in the committee are doing. Photo courtesy of the Georgia Association of Water Professionals.

During a Guru Gathering, attendees outfitted with extra-large name tags learn about what the association and others in the committee are doing. Photo courtesy of the Georgia Association of Water Professionals.

The committee began with the Guru Gathering in late 2014. The association hosted a catered luncheon to show its appreciation for its longest-tenured members. At what has become an annual event, gurus bring their families, share updates on what they have been doing, and network with each other. GAWP also knows the group has a good sense of humor, so attendees are outfitted with extremely large name tags, to make it easier for older professionals to read each other’s names. “They appreciate the joke, so we keep doing it,” Bond said.

The activities, and the humorous twists, just kept growing from there.

Honoring gurus, not just with humor

During the association’s annual conference, the “guru porch” offers a special area for committee members to sit on rocking chairs set on a fake lawn while enjoying conversation with welcome guests. Photo courtesy of the Georgia Association of Water Professionals.

During the association’s annual conference, the “guru porch” offers a special area for committee members to sit on rocking chairs set on a fake lawn while enjoying conversation with welcome guests. Photo courtesy of the Georgia Association of Water Professionals.

“At our conference we have an area that we call the guru porch,” said Pam Burnett, executive director of GAWP. To poke fun at their senior status in the organization, the area comes equipped with rocking chairs, a fake lawn, and white picket fence designated “for gurus.” In the section, members can enjoy a selection of soft foods such as pudding and applesauce, old-fashioned candies, and classic board games such as checkers. Though the area pokes fun at their age, it also provides a special section in a public, high-traffic area for the esteemed members, she said. “They’re very visible and very honored.”

As with its other committees, gurus have access to a database to search for other members. For those who have opted to provide their information, it includes a list of their hobbies and volunteer interests, along with their contact information.

One guru has been working with the association’s young professionals to help match them with older professionals who have backgrounds in topics they are interested in. Young professionals set up events a couple times a year where an individual or a panel of gurus come talk to a room of younger members about their experiences in the water sector and discuss their careers.

Gurus also participate in field trips to water-related sites around the state such as the Bellwood Quarry Tunneling Project in Atlanta. The tunnel will connect the quarry to the river and eventually help supply the city with a water supply in the future. Photo courtesy of the Georgia Association of Water Professionals.

Gurus also participate in field trips to water-related sites around the state such as the Bellwood Quarry Tunneling Project in Atlanta. The tunnel will connect the quarry to the river and eventually help supply the city with a water supply in the future. Photo courtesy of the Georgia Association of Water Professionals.

“The other main thing that we’ve done the past couple years is offer field trips and site visits to places around Georgia that might be of interest to them,” Bond said. “That’s where we’ve seen the most interest.”

Groups of 8 to 25 gurus have traveled to the Emory University (Atlanta) Water Hub, the Bellwood Quarry Tunneling Project in Atlanta, the Johns Creek Environmental Campus in Alpharetta, Ga., the Buford (Ga.) Dam, and Clayton County Water Authority (Morrow, Ga.).

The gurus have enjoyed being involved in a committee that serves more as an honor society, Burnett said. The members contribute in a different way than originally envisioned. While they don’t do typical committee work, they provide expertise and advice as well as volunteer in different roles throughout the association. Some have helped with editing publications, and others have filled in as instructors during GAWP wastewater training classes.

“They really want to share their experience and help the organization and the people in the profession,” Burnett said.

Committee captures institution knowledge of members

During another field trip, gurus visited the WaterHub, an on-site water recycling system, on the Emory University (Atlanta) campus. Photo courtesy of the Georgia Association of Water Professionals.

During another field trip, gurus visited the WaterHub, an on-site water recycling system, on the Emory University (Atlanta) campus. Photo courtesy of the Georgia Association of Water Professionals.

Burnett first suggested the idea for this group when she served as GAWP president in 2008. The idea came to her because the association would make videos for retiring members or collect donated items from retirees’ offices.

Donations collected from these members include everything from manuals and other publications dating back to 1919, to old pictures and videos, to a piece of wood pipe that’s on display in GAWP’s lobby. In the future, GAWP staff hopes the gurus can assist in building the history section of its website and help sort through historical donations from members to create a GAWP history exhibit.

“Our goal was for them to keep engaged,” Burnett said. She wanted not only to capture some historical GAWP and water sector knowledge, but also to make sure members stayed involved after they retired.

In addition to seeing such sites as the Buford (Ga.) Dam, gurus get to network with friends and keep in touch with the association’s activities. Photo courtesy of the Georgia Association of Water Professionals.

In addition to seeing such sites as the Buford (Ga.) Dam, gurus get to network with friends and keep in touch with the association’s activities. Photo courtesy of the Georgia Association of Water Professionals.

In addition to helping this segment of GAWP membership bridge the gap between career and retirement, it also helps them stay connected to friends and colleagues. “It’s so much fun,” Burnett said. “They love it.”

Burnett feels this has provided GAWP with an opportunity to give the gurus “insider information” on the association. This sense of camaraderie and ownership in the organization has resulted in them being more generous with scholarship and association donations, she said.

Burnett recommends that other Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) Member Associations create similar groups.

Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights

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