WEF InFLOW Program Introduces
Minority Students to Working in Water
By Morgan Brown and Bri Nakamura, P.E., ENVSP
WEF InFLOW participants with WEF President Tom Kunetz and panelists from a networking event scheduled just for them. Photo: Oscar & Associates
36 | ROCKY MOUNTAIN WATER MAY 2019
OF SPECIAL NOTE
AS THE SILVER TSUNAMI OF RETIREMENTS THAT
will result in a mass exodus of U.S. workers approaches,
the water sector is taking steps to prepare as well as
encourage greater diversity in its workforce. At WEFTEC®
2018, WEF piloted a new program to help address this need
for a younger and more diverse workforce.
WEF InFLOW (Introducing Future Leaders to Opportunities
in Water) brought underrepresented minority students to
WEFTEC and introduced them to working in the water
sector. The program also sought to help these students
foster a network within WEF’s membership to increase
opportunities for mentorship and employment.
New research last summer helped prompt action on the coming
wave of retirements. In June 2018, the Brookings Institution
published the report Renewing the Water Workforce: Improving
Water Infrastructure and Creating a Pipeline to Opportunity. The
report found that the silver tsunami will drastically cut into the
pool of skilled, qualified water sector workers. For some utilities,
this could result in staffing vacancies of up to 50 percent.
The report also points out a lack of diversity in the water
workforce. The percentage of black and Asian water workers
lags behind the national average for all occupations combined.
Additionally, for higher paying water occupations, such as
engineering and management, black and Hispanic workers are
This pilot year of the WEF InFLOW primarily focused on
African American students. African Americans are one of the
most underrepresented groups with respect to the percentage
of the population versus percentage engaged in STEM.
InFLOW brought a total of 16 undergraduate and graduate
students to WEFTEC from Howard University (Washington,
D.C.), Tuskegee University (Tuskegee, Alabama), and the
University of South Florida (USF; Tampa, Florida). The group
of eight men and eight women had a range of technical
backgrounds and awareness of water sector opportunities.
One student is pursuing a doctorate in the water sector. The
students from Tuskegee University had summer internships
related to water. Many other students, however, had no
background knowledge of water sector possibilities.
The 2018 InFLOW program relied on generous support
from program sponsors Arcadis, GlobalWET, Centrysis/CNP,
Environmental Technical Sales Inc. (ETEC), and the Milwaukee
Water Council. Because of these sponsors, the students
received travel assistance, hotel accommodations, registration,
and special networking opportunities at WEFTEC.
Water sector introductions
The students’ schedules included technical and networking
opportunities. They participated in many events coordinated
by the WEF Students and Young Professionals Committee.
These included Water Palooza—where the USF students are
now famous for introducing us to the “Water Cycle Dance”—
the Community Service Project, committee meetings, the WEF
Career Fair, and Student Design Competition. The students
attended the Opening General Session and were encouraged
to explore the exhibition hall and attend technical sessions.
In addition to these traditional WEFTEC activities, the
students attended two special events. The first was a