Working in support of water and wastewater certification programs was not new terrain for Elizabeth when she joined WPI in 2018. Up until last year, she was the dean of workforce development at the South Carolina Environmental Training Center at Central Carolina Technical College. Elizabeth was originally hired to train water and wastewater operators, which led to her implementing and advancing new programs. Ultimately, it was her role as a chairperson for the South Carolina Environmental Certification Board that intersected her path with the executive director of ABC and now-current WPI President and CEO Paul Bishop. Elizabeth had connected with Paul at many conferences and eventually asked if he would be willing to speak to operators about water certification processes at a state conference in South Carolina. He graciously agreed, and afterward, extended an offer himself: Paul asked Elizabeth if she would consider joining the WPI Board of Directors. “Just think about it,” he had encouraged. And after deliberation about the several other boards and committees she was a part of, she accepted.
Since then, Elizabeth has moved back to her home state of Tennessee and taken a new position as the executive director of university advancement at Tennessee Tech University. Although her current job has less to do with utility operators and training programs, Elizabeth says she often finds herself drawing on her board experiences from multiple water organizations (both past and present), particularly when it comes to boosting scholarship and resource opportunities. Thankfully, her chair position at WPI has allowed her to stay involved with the water industry.
Elizabeth is especially grateful for WPI’s extensive networking opportunities. These connections encourage those from all areas of the industry, whether they be executives, volunteers, academics, or operators, to learn about different training and certification processes. When Elizabeth first became involved with the field over a decade ago, others rarely talked about the workforce issues that had arisen within it. “It’s really a hot topic now,” she asserts, “because finding operators and retaining them and training them has become such a vital part of that [development].”
Even though her time with WPI is coming to an end, Elizabeth plans to stay committed to its mission. She remains passionate about further developing the workforce by promoting scholarships or apprenticeships as a continuing member of the Water Environment Association of South Carolina. She says that “keeping operators on the forefront, understanding and appreciating what they do … and giving them the resources they need to be successful” is essential for keeping the industry at the height of success. Her parting advice to future WPI board members is to come in with an open mind, listen to others’ inputs, and be quick to adapt your understanding while keeping the organization’s mission in mind.