| Path from Hong Kong to Massachusetts leads Chi Ho Sham to AWWA presidency
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Path from Hong Kong to Massachusetts leads Chi Ho Sham to AWWA presidency

Chi Ho ShamAs a scientist and educator, Dr. Chi Ho Sham plans to focus his upcoming term as president of the American Water Works Association (AWWA) on bolstering public confidence in the water sector using the tools of his trade: sound science, technology, communication and education. 

“We have huge, complex challenges due to a lack of infrastructure investment and the many contaminants of concern created by others, and I believe we need to be proactive and comprehensive in our approach,” said Sham (pictured right). “AWWA must help the water sector to be heard by the public and decision-makers through providing proper information to consumers and bringing the many stakeholders together to solve problems.”

Chi Ho with ERGSham is vice president and chief scientist with Eastern Research Group (ERG) in Lexington, Mass., and an adjunct professor at nearby Clark University. He’ll begin his term as AWWA president at the conclusion of ACE21 All Virtual (ACE21) June 14-17.

“Most of my background is in water science and working with colleagues in various disciplines, so I plan to draw on this experience to help AWWA collaborate with other water organizations and related sectors to solve challenging water issues,” he said. “We can’t do it alone – we need to work with experts in land management, stormwater, finance, biology, agriculture, lake management, and other areas.”

Sham receives Volunteer of the Year awardSource water protection is one such issue, and it’s through source water protection that Sham became involved with AWWA more than 20 years ago. “Long-term AWWA members Pam Kenel and Rich Gullick recruited me in 2000 to help with the Source Water Protection Committee, and that was the start of my volunteering with AWWA,” he said. In 2016, Sham received AWWA’s Volunteer of the Year Award (pictured left).

“Now I’m part of a national Source Water Collaborative that already has 30 organizations involved,” Sham said. “They want to understand what role they can play in helping AWWA to protect drinking water.”

Early appreciation for water

Sham’s passion for safeguarding water quality and the environment began in Hong Kong, where he and his brother grew up as the sons of factory workers who migrated from China to escape Communism. 

“My parents were very generous and impressed on us the importance of paying it forward and helping others,” he said.

Living in Hong Kong during the 1960s, Sham experienced first-hand the city’s drought-induced potable water shortages.

Chi Ho in high school“During droughts we rationed water, and when it was most severe, we only got water at our tap every fourth day,” he said. “My mom boiled our water every morning; we didn’t drink from the tap. That’s why water has always been so important to me.”

Sham attended Diocesan Boys’ School, an Anglican high school where he was the chair of the Geography Club that organized an exhibition on the geography of the conterminous United States (pictured right)

He traveled to North America to earn a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada, and master’s and doctorate degrees from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He continued his interest in water by focusing on fluvial geomorphology and hydrology.

“I thought of water as a whole, important element,” he said. “While doing doctorate work at the University at Buffalo, I worked on the topic of modeling rainfall and runoff relationship for the drinking water supply in Hong Kong.”

Part of the broader water community

Sham served on the faculty at Boston University from 1982 to 1992 before going into consulting, first at The Cadmus Group and then ERG. His work has spanned watershed management, water resource planning, drinking water protection, underground injection control, and water quality assessment. 

Chi Ho at Young Professionals eventAlong with his volunteer work with AWWA (pictured left at a Young Professionals event), he has contributed to the Pinchot Institute, The Water Research Foundation, the Ground Water Protection Council, The Source Water Collaborative, American Planning Association, North East Water Innovation Network, Conservation Law Foundation, the Urban Watershed Research Institute and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

“Working with all of these organizations, I’ve learned to value healthy and constructive conversation among all members who care about public health,” he said. “When you include everyone’s input, you get better and more innovative solutions.”

“There’s a quote from Maya Angelou that I like to keep in mind,” he added. “It says, ‘Do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better, do better.’ ”

Valuing diversity

As AWWA’s next president, Sham said he plans to continue initiatives supported by current AWWA President Melissa Elliott and Past President Jim Williams, including workforce development and diversity and inclusion.

Chi Ho with wife and children“I am an immigrant, born in Hong Kong and ethnically Chinese,” he said. “In addition, I’m a scientist, not an engineer or a utility manager. We all grow up differently and have different points of view, which I think is helpful and useful for an organization to deal with complex issues.”

It’s fitting that Sham met his wife of 36 years, Joan, at a St. Patrick’s Day party in Boston hosted by an Irish colleague, which he attended with friends from India. Their son, Alex, is a product manager for engineering technical references and textbooks. Their daughter, Cassie, recently completed medical school and started a residency at Mount Sinai in New York. (Pictured right, Chi Ho, Joan, Cassie and Alex)

Chi Ho and wife hikingOnce it’s safe to travel again, Sham and his wife plan to pursue their love of hiking in national parks (pictured left) and enjoying dinner and lively conversations with friends and family.

(Photos courtesy of Dr. Chi Ho Sham)