| AWWA Member Spotlight – Racquel Vaske, Saint Paul, Minnesota
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AWWA Member Spotlight – Racquel Vaske, Saint Paul, Minnesota

Racquel Vaske has been the assistant general manager of Saint Paul Regional Water Services (SPRWS) since July 2021. Prior to that, she was the utility’s human resources manager for eight years.

Member Spotlight Racquel Vaske, Saint Paul, MinnesotaEducation: B.A., Public Non-Profit Management, B.A., Human Resources, University of Minnesota; M.S., Human Resources, University of Minnesota; MN Water Operator Class D License

How did you get involved with the water sector? Very early in my human resources (HR) career, I was working with the City of Saint Paul’s central HR team and provided training for a group of leaders including the SPRWS general manager at the time, Steve Schneider. He approached me after the session to inquire if I was interested in joining SPRWS as its HR manager. I had limited knowledge about the water industry at the time, but I was intrigued and took advantage of the opportunity. (Pictured above: Vaske; leadership team at a Lead Free SPRWS press event; Vaske family at UMN for Goldy’s Race Day.) 

How did you transition from human resources to assistant general manager at SPRWS? In my HR role I had the opportunity to get to know all 250+ SPRWS employees and acquire knowledge about the variety of work completed by each. This really helped me gain an appreciation of how it takes a dedicated staff working together on a wide variety of tasks to meet our mission. 

I’ve been very fortunate to have a strong system of supportive supervisors at SPRWS, first with Steve Schneider and now with Patrick Shea. I have always been eager to learn, try new things, and get more involved. They have continuously supported me in these endeavors, including allowing me the opportunity to lead our organization through strategic planning initiatives the last few cycles. It was a bit of an unconventional path to water leadership, but I strive to use my skill sets and perspectives to complement the other leaders on our team to ensure we have a well-rounded group who can work collaboratively to best lead our employees and serve our customers. 

Please describe a SPRWS project that has benefited from AWWA resources? SPRWS is one of the largest represented groups at the annual Minnesota AWWA conference with nearly 30 employees attending each year. This event provides our staff with a great opportunity to learn about emerging technology, research, and the approaches other utilities are using for projects. It also provides the opportunity to network and build relationships with other water professionals throughout the state. 

Working in a public utility provides the unique privilege of working without real competition. AWWA events like the Minnesota Section’s annual conference keep SPRWS informed of trends, best practices, and opportunities for innovation. This challenges and motivates us to constantly improve to ensure we are meeting the many changing needs of SPRWS, our customers, and the industry.  We have a wide variety of projects that have benefited from our attendance at local and national AWWA conferences, and the relationships built at these events are invaluable.

Please describe your experience at Duke University’s Water Innovation Leadership Development (WILD) program. I have quickly found that the water industry loves LinkedIn! I have seen so many great ideas and opportunities shared there from other utilities that we have then run with internally. The Duke WILD program was one of the opportunities I stumbled on and am thankful that I decided to apply.

It is important to me to continue to learn and grow each day, especially with my lack of a water specific technical background. Duke WILD assisted with this through a fellowship in which I was able to connect and learn from water leaders from across the country. The Duke WILD program was an exceptional balance of leadership theory education and growth through networking. The time to focus on personal development further solidified my passion for this work and has me looking very forward to all that is yet to come in my career in the water industry. The relationships I’ve built with my fellow cohort members leave me confident that we will continue to lean on and push one another forward as we approach similar challenges and opportunities across the country.

Tell us about your family. I grew up in Chicago where my stepdad served a long career with the City as a pipefitter and really sparked my interest in public service. I moved to Minnesota for college, where I met my husband, Kyle. We have two energetic children, Jaylen, 5, and Kasey, 3, who keep us very busy! We love to travel and are a big sports family. Kyle and I have been working to make it to every Major League Baseball stadium and the kids have now joined in on the fun. Jaylen has his first year of T-ball and golf this summer so we will spend much of our time on a baseball field or golf course.