As the oldest in a family of four kids, I had to become self-sufficient pretty early. By the time I was in first grade there were babies everywhere, so when I wanted something, the most likely way to get it was on my own. As a result, I was never much of a joiner. In high school I wasn't a member of any clubs or the student council or anything. I wasn't even a Boy Scout.
When I was in grad school, though, I joined the American Society of Civil Engineers student chapter, mostly because I thought it would look good on my resume. Then I became a student member of the National Water Pollution Control Federation (now the Water Environment Federation) and went to the national meeting to present my thesis. I was petrified, but it was also exhilarating. All these people were interested in the same things as me. I was so impressed that I ended up working for associations for 15 years. Even today, I am president of an association related to my daughter's disability (Williams syndrome), chairman of an American Concrete Institute committee, and an active member of several other organizations.
This month is an important one for those in the public works field—the American Public Works Association holds its annual meeting in Minneapolis starting Sept. 11. Assuming you are in the public works profession—and why else would you be reading this magazine—you won't find any place where there are more people interested in the same things as you. To learn more about what's going on at the APWA Congress, check out the Preshow Planner that was in PUBLIC WORKS' June issue, or visit www.apwa.net.
Here's some sage advice on participating in an association from Jim Cagley, ACI's 2005 president: “It's always better to be in the kitchen than outside looking in.” I've always called it being in the center—hovering like a wallflower on the edges of a meeting or organization is simply not as much fun as being involved, and you won't get nearly as much back. The reward is directly proportional to the effort.
I realize that many of you have difficulty getting funded to go to out-of-state meetings. That's a short-sighted policy, because the problems faced in public works today don't stop at the city limits or even the state border. At the APWA Congress you might run into someone from a town 1000 miles away who has already found a solution to the very problem you are wrestling with today.
I hope you can make it to Minneapolis. I will be there, so give me a call at 303-823-8284 and let's have a cup of coffee and talk about what it's like to be a public works professional in today's rapidly changing world.