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Making a splash in water professions

The Society of Water and Environmental Leaders provides ASU students with hands-on experience in the water and wastewater industry

by | Mar 21, 2024 | Features, Students

The Society of Water and Environmental Leaders at Arizona State University tour the South Tempe Water Treatment Plant and observe water management in action. Photo courtesy of Vishnu Kotta.

Making meaningful changes to water accessibility and quality is vital to sustaining a healthy society, and sometimes, changemakers need to get their hands dirty in the process.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators is projected to decline in the next 10 years, though not for lack of opportunity. The agency reports that every year, there are about 10,500 openings for these operators, primarily in government roles.

To encourage students to seek employment in the water and wastewater field, the Society of Water and Environmental Leaders, or SWEL, offers professional development, networking and experience to those interested in the industry. SWEL is one of nearly 50 student organizations available to students in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. 

Diving into careers in water

Vishnu Kotta, SWEL president and an environmental engineering undergraduate student in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, part of the Fulton Schools, was eager to get involved with others on campus as a sophomore after spending his first year learning remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“From my first meeting, I could tell it was a fun group who wanted to gain professional experience and grow,” Kotta says. ‘We’re a smaller organization, so everybody knows each other, and that was valuable to me at the time when I was finally here in person. The sense of community is what got me hooked.”

He says the organization welcomes students from any degree program.

“SWEL mostly consists of environmental and civil engineering majors but provides networking opportunities with prestigious local infrastructure firms and opens the door for internships in other disciplines,” Kotta says.

SWEL general body meetings help members and those interested in joining learn more about the water and wastewater treatment industry. A recent meeting began by introducing students to the intricacies of the water, wastewater, hydrology and hydraulic industries with an opportunity to network with industry professionals. 

Kotta says future monthly meetings promise deeper dives into the professional landscape, exposure to environmental nonprofits, insights into engineering in the public sector and more. One of SWEL’s key strengths is its connections with local industry organizations like the AZ Water Association. The collaboration opens doors for students to explore opportunities within the water and environmental sectors. 

“A large number of SWEL members can secure engineering internships with the professional firms whose representatives are guest speakers during meetings,” Kotta says.

The organization hosts industry professionals monthly at its meetings who often accept resumes and are eager to support students searching for internships. 

Demystifying unclear futures

The organization’s leadership believes students need to be exposed to critical conversations about water issues and sustainability to have a well-rounded understanding of the future of the industry. 

SWEL conducts resume reviews, tours of wastewater treatment centers and career workshops to ensure members are equipped to enter the sector. “The number one thing that SWEL tries to do for people is help expand their view of what opportunities are available to them and demystify career hiring,” Kotta says. “By getting professional presenters to talk about their technical projects, what they’ve been doing, what they love about their company and such, we help members see what it’s like out there.”

Kotta’s time in SWEL has given him a view into the industry, but he appreciates the connections he’s gained to the individuals within it. 

“SWEL helps you find a community within a community,” he says. “It has people across all divisions who are passionate about making a positive environmental impact.”

SWEL offers a monthly newsletter with updates and opportunities to keep students informed and engaged. Sign up online.

About The Author

Hannah Weisman

Hannah Weisman produces meaningful and engaging articles to promote the activity and achievements within the Fulton Schools of Engineering.

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