Education Division – Consumer Outreach Committee Blog
All Things H2O February 2017 Issue
Water: A catalyst for IMPACT
A recent blog by bestselling author Seth Godin was titled “Hoarding doesn’t work.” It stated, “An idea shared is worth more than one kept hidden. Opportunities passed from one to another create connections which lead to more opportunities. Opened doors lead to forward motion.” In the fall of 2016, Arianne Shipley and I were asked to come to SAWS to meet with the Education team, Greg Wukasch and Lynne Christopher, to roundtable some ideas on one of their upcoming events.
We made the trek from Mansfield to the SAWS offices. When we arrived, Greg explained that we would be round tabling ideas for their event called Confluence, but first we needed to get some background. Lynne broke into a presentation about their high school program called IMPACT. Within the first few slides, Arianne and I were frantically scribbling notes.
“Excuse me, did you just say you had a “creative-entrepreneurship” learning strand?”
“Did you just say Open Source Technology? This is a city sponsored education program, correct?”
SAWS is in the sixth year of an educational experiment called IMPACT H2O that Greg and Lynne dreamt up and then turned into reality. All hands, brains, ideas and creativity are on deck in IMPACT. It is a student driven initiative that “uses water as a catalyst to promote science and civic responsibility.”
The process begins when Lynne meets with prospective teachers to garner interest in the program, although at this point, the program sells itself. At this meeting, she explains the process and expectations. Once the teachers are on board, they invite their students to the kick off session called the FLOW IMPACT Summit. This event has a “TED Talk” vibe. You walk into the room and you feel like you’re walking into a professional industry event, which must be empowering to a high school aged student. An inspirational speaker begins the program and sets the tone, which is that everyone is capable of creating positive change in their community, city, country, world. Following the speaker, a youth entrepreneurial learning company called Venture Lab, takes the reins. Venture Lab facilitators split the students up into groups and go to break out rooms. Each group goes through an ideation exercise tackling a current water issue facing the industry. This process gets the creative juices flowing and helps students narrow down a project idea.
Each IMPACT team will work on this project for the next four months. Each team will fall within one of the four IMPACT learning strands: Community (Service Learning), Creative (Entrepreneurship), Career (Problem Based), or Collaborative (Open Source Technology). The program culminates with Confluence. Confluence is essentially a trade show of ideas, where vendors are replaced with IMPACT teams showcasing their projects. It is open to the entire school district and somewhere around 800 students attend this event. In addition to interacting with the IMPACT teams, students are also exposed to hands on educational activities that convey the specific message or theme for the year; which in the past have included water quality, water conservation, grease abatement, affordability, and supply resources.
Each IMPACT team has a mentor whose purpose is to merely guide the student teams. Nick Honegger is the mentor for the creative learning strand and he is the Director of Entrepreneurship Education at Venture Lab. Ryan Beltran is the mentor for the collaborative strand. He is the Cofounder of Elequa, a water cleansing technology company written up in Forbes magazine and described by drinktap.org and AWWA as a company that “might hold the key to developing a solution to end the global water crisis.” Currently, the career strand mentor is Howard Marquise, a professor at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio. Lynne Christopher serves as the community strand mentor.
But what do programs like this mean to the students? Greg has taught us about the power of anecdotal evidence, yes, stories. Jeremy Rice is a Hydrologist at Freese and Nichols Inc and he recently told us his water story. He began his relationship with SAWS in 9th grade in San Antonio. This relationship evolved from your standard water education program to an internship at SAWS to a master’s in water management and hydrological science. A high school IMPACT program culminated in a thesis evaluating the effectiveness of the SAWS conservation program at the time. Jeremy had already known that he wanted to work in the water industry, but his relationship with the SAWS education team brought his passion and talent to the utility side.
As Lynne reached the final slide of her presentation, Arianne and I pulled our jaws off the table. Suddenly the sky I had seen as my limit faded away and we had somehow ended up in the cosmos. I pride myself in being outside of the box, but even that idea can become just another box. Our dreams for our water education program now felt limitless. We plan on implementing a program similar to IMPACT that fits the needs of our community in Mansfield. This is only possible through the unwavering and humble transfer of knowledge that Greg and Lynne continue to offer. They, themselves, are both their own kind of open source technology.
SAWS believes “the key to resolving important water issues in the future starts with a knowledgeable, skilled and active youth citizenry today”. IMPACT goes above and beyond achieving that already lofty goal. Greg has moved on within SAWS, but still remains involved in education, but from a new angle. He and Lynne share decades of experience. As I hit my first decade in the industry this fall and as more giants in our industry, like Greg and Lynne, retire or move on, I have become increasingly more aware of the giant shoes we all have to fill. It’s only with this kind of transfer of knowledge, experience and ideas that we will continue to grow and evolve our industry into something that no longer operates behind the curtain. The leaders of today and tomorrow have a responsibility to showcase to the public the incredible passion, tireless work, and dedicated people that make our industry what it is. We owe it to ourselves to not only show our work, but to share it.
About the Author:
Stephanie Zavala is an Education Specialist in the Water Utilities Division of the City of Mansfield and the Keep Mansfield Beautiful Coordinator. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Business as a Master’s in Environmental Science from Texas Christian University. In 2015 she became a Certified Public Communicator through TCU’s School of Strategic Communication. She has been in the environmental outreach and education field for nine years. Her programs and outreach efforts won several awards from the Texas section of the American Water Works Association in 2015, and she also won the 2015 Public Educator of the Year award for the region from the Texas Water Utilities Association.