| First Transformative Water Leadership Academy cohort diving in
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First Transformative Water Leadership Academy cohort diving in

Great water utility leaders aren’t born -- they’re developed. Right now, an important part of this development is embodied in the inaugural cohort of the Transformative Water Leadership Academy (TWLA).

TWLA is a new educational program to equip emerging water utility leaders with key skills for sustainable community leadership. Offered jointly by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and WaterNow Alliance, TWLA features 10 months of collaborative online learning and two in-person gatherings.

Throughout the course, which began in November, participants are meeting virtually and in-person to discuss the challenges they face within their utilities, career goals and ideas for innovative, locally relevant capstone projects. 

Lily Lopez talks about AWWA's Transformative Water Leadership Academy.The 12 virtual sessions address six different leadership strategies around drinking water, wastewater, stormwater management and water reuse management. In January, virtual classes on the principle “Protect Public Health” explore leadership challenges associated with replacing lead service lines and affordability of water services. Additional virtual gatherings divide participants into smaller groups to network, share resources and exchange ideas, perspectives, and insights. They are led by a volunteer mentor who is a current water sector leader. (Pictured right: Lily Lopez talks about the inaugural Transformative Water Leadership Academy.)

One in-person workshop will focus on “Transforming Water Community Culture: Facilitating DE & I.” A concluding workshop in August offers time to reflect on what it means to be a leader in the water sector, with some fun rivalry around who created the best capstone project. 

“Each small group gathering collaborates closely. They’ll get to know each other very well,” said TWLA co-founder Tim Worley, managing director at Ortega Strategies Group.

Diversity is a key strength of TWLA. Almost half (46%) the current cohort are people of color, and 60% are women. In all, 18 U.S. states are represented within the 10 regions of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and three participants are from Canada. Nearly all participants work for water utilities in a variety of departments.

Unlike most professional development programs for the water sector, TWLA reaches beyond the engineering ranks. Many of this year’s participants are water operators, or work in departments such as accounting, government affairs, communications or conservation. 

“It’s exciting to see how they all work and think,” said TWLA co-founder Alane Boyd, principal of Desert Rose Environmental.

TWLA participants are eager to increase their capacity to positively impact the future of water. 

“I applied to the Transformative Water Leadership Academy because I am looking to serve as a value-based leader, in not only Walnut Valley Water District but the industry as a whole,” said Lily Lopez, director of external affairs and sustainability for the Walnut Valley (California) Water District, in a video highlighting TWLA.

“I think it's important to find what and who you want to be as a leader based on your values and morals and to be authentic to who you are. Through this academy…we're doing transformative work to help leaders all around the country emerge,” she added. “I'm excited that the academy will provide me with the tools and resources to grow as a leader, and then to give that back to my community through our programs and resources, as well as to my colleagues who are young professionals as well.”

Volunteers and sponsors are crucial to TWLA’s success. Among the industry leaders who have volunteered to lead a small group is AWWA Immediate Past President Dr. Chi Ho Sham. Some TWLA sponsors are demonstrating thought leadership via presentations to the cohort.

TWLA is supported through a generous EPA grant for the first year. Program organizers will continuously improve TWLA based on each year’s experience. Stay tuned later this year to learn how to apply for TWLA 2024.

2023 TWLA participants are listed here:
Abbigayle Dyke, City of Denton, Tex.
Adam Steurer, City of Hendersonville, N.C.
Alexandra Sitar, Union County, N.C. Water
Ali Polda, Tacoma, Wash. Water
Bethel Abate, DC Water 
Brittany Schacht, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority
Chelsea Radcliff, City of Charlotte, N.C.
Daniel Klune, Connecticut Water Company
Daniel Koge, Honolulu Board of Water Supply
David Ridgeway, Detroit Water and Sewerage Department 
Diane Moreau, City of Barrie, Ont., Canada
Diego Ulibarri, City of Arvada, Colo.
Dom Bennett, Lee’s Summit, Mo. Water Utilities
Elizabeth Cullen, AQUA, Pa.
Emily Stahl, City of Guelph, Ont., Canada
Eric Best, EMSL Analytical Inc., N.J.
Esther Baptiste, Great Lakes Water Authority
Gabriel Evans, EMA Inc., Ariz.
Gregory Williams, Valley Water, Santa Clara, Calif.
Gwen Henry, Toho, Fla. Water Authority
Jennifer Lee, City of Burlingame, Calif.
Jenyffer Vasquez, West Basin Municipal Water District, Calif.
Jillian Croci, Long Beach, Calif. Water Department
Karyn Rittenhouse, City of West Allis, Wisc.
Kayla Durham, City of Franklin, TN Water Plant
Kelly Bourque, City of Santa Barbara
Kevin Rodier, New Jersey American Water
Kyle Delaney, City of Corona, Calif.
Lily Lopez, Walnut Valley, Calif. Water District 
Lisa Pace, Colorado Springs Utilities
Mark Theiler, Middlesex, N.J. Water Company
Matthew Silverman, Littleton, Mass. Water Department 
Melissa Gray, City of Tulsa, Okla.
Michelle Bouchard, Prince William County, Va. Service Authority 
Nathan Hodges, Northern Kentucky Water District 
NiChelle White, City of El Segundo, Calif. Public Works Department - Water Division
Patricia Dennis, Renewable Water Resources (ReWa), S.C.
Philip Mendoza, Lakewood, Wash. Water District 
Poonam Kalkat, City of Boynton Beach, Fla.
Rainier Garcia, City of Benicia, Calif. Water Treatment Plant
Sandra Stack, City of Cleveland Division of Water
Sarah Trejo, Aquarion, Conn. Water Co
Shukwia Tajik, City of Saskatoon, Sask., Canada
Shunda Boykins, Central Arkansas Water
Skylar Reed, City of Newark, N.J. Department of Water & Sewer
Timothy Johnson, King County, Wash. Water District No. 90
Tony Searls, Greater Cincinnati Water Works
Virginia Montier-Burke, City of College Station, Tex.