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 email@example.com.
Previously, we featured June and Bri Nakamura. Here is our next installment which we hope to follow with more legacy stories. Sheryl Nojima (right) inspired her daughter Alison (left) to work hard, stay determined, and follow her own path.
Sheryl has been working for 37 years and is glad to admit “I’m still at it.” She has worked for several consulting firms, the City and County of Honolulu, and the University of Hawaii College of Engineering. She says “I am blessed to have been surrounded by exceptional folks who taught me so much along the way – I would not be where I am today if not for the patience and confidence they had in me.” She says that during the past 17 years working with Gray Hong Nojima & Associates, “my mind is constantly challenged and renewed taking on project after project, year after year.”
Sheryl joined WEF right out of school in 1981. After graduation from Berkley with an MSCE, her first job was at M&E Pacific (now AECOM), and her bosses were Vic Moreland, Ken Ishizaki, and Jimmy Kumagai. She says: “It was a no brainer – everyone in our group including Roy Abe and Tina Ono, joined HWPCA (Hawaii Water Pollution Control Association) as it was known back in the day.” Sheryl can remember when HWPCA held the quarterly meetings at the old Flamingo Chuckwagon on Kapiolani Boulevard, and the annual conference was held at the Hilton Hawaiian Village which included a seven-course Chinese dinner at the banquet. Sheryl says that HWEA gave her excellent opportunities for networking and meeting great people throughout the industry and to maintain contacts with friends and colleagues. She also credits HWEA conferences and workshops with keeping her abreast of the latest technology and providing timely updates on government regulations.
Alison more recently joined HWEA because she says “it’s a great organization to meet likeminded people in the industry and learn about the best technologies and innovations”.
Sheryl comes from a civil engineering family (father and brother and sister) and also married a civil engineer (Mike), so she says she was kind of hoping that Alison might take a different path which she initially did. Alison started college as a Biology major, then switched to Civil Engineering in her sophomore year. Sheryl says “I guess she couldn’t fight the genetics.” Alison says that her parents “always pushed me to advance in my career – take initiative, find innovative solutions, be creative, take leadership, and to network,” but not necessarily to be a CE. It was during her senior capstone design project at Santa Clara University when she worked with Greg Chung (formerly HWEA, now a California WEA member) where she started her passion for biosolids and cogeneration which eventually propelled her into the energy sector.
After Alison got her MS in environmental engineering at Stanford, she went to work for Brown and Caldwell. Alison is involved in the planning and design of renewable energy systems for municipal wastewater treatment facilities in the Bay Area. Most of this work focuses on the anaerobic digestion of wastewater sludge and high strength waste, including source separated organics and FOG, which results in the beneficial reuse of byproducts including biogas and biosolids. She performs business case evaluations to help municipalities determine potential biogas utilization projects to increase their renewable energy portfolio to meet state and federal regulations and goals. Alison says: “I think it’s really cool to be able to tell people I turn poop into energy for a living.”
When asked how her mother influenced her, Alison said “My mom has created some very huge shoes to fill for such a tiny lady! She’s inspired me to stay determined, be a leader in the industry, and that hard work will pay off.” She related about how she felt while making a presentation at the 2018 PWC with her mom in the audience: “It was my first professional conference presentation on my favorite topics – renewable vehicle fuel, codigestion, and cogeneration – and I couldn’t have been more grateful to have been able to present in front of my mom, my biggest role model. I’ve always looked up to her for being a great engineer and doing so much for the engineering community that it was such a proud moment to look up to me while presenting on my work.” Alison also shared that “My mom never pushed, but has always been supportive of my career”. For her part, Sheryl is very proud of Alison; she said: “The proudest moment for a parent is to watch your child succeed beyond your wildest dreams and accomplish the things you never did. She’s a professional engineer in California and is very passionate about the work she’s doing turning biosolids into energy and vehicle fuel. And she’s been blessed to have the opportunity to learn from experts throughout Brown and Caldwell on projects across the country.” Sheryl has attended two conference presentations by Alison and will attend another at WEFTEC in New Orleans in September.