Poster Contestants share "Fresh Ideas"
June 21, 2016

Young professionals and students from more than 20 AWWA Sections are competing at the annual conference this week in the “Fresh Ideas” poster contest, where they display their innovative research, meet peers, and hobnob with water sector leaders.

“This is a nice adventure,” said Peng Xie, who is earning his master’s and doctorate at Clemson University and representing the South Carolina Section. “I entered the contest in hopes of sharing my research as well as picking the brains of industrial and academic leaders that I may come across.”

David Yonge, last year’s winner, pictured at right, said the recognition opened career doors for him. This year’s winners will be announced this afternoon during the Water Industry Luncheon.

The contest, located in the exhibit hall, began more than a decade ago as a way to draw younger professionals to an industry faced with massive retirements and resultant labor shortages. It also introduces them to the benefits of AWWA membership.

“They kind of come into the fold,” said Nancy Sullivan, AWWA’s interim section relationship manager. “Once we engage them, they participate more often. They realize the Association can help them find jobs, and they meet their peers and future work cohorts.”

Contestants, who have all won poster contests at the Section level, display their research on water industry-related projects. Posters often relate to engineering and science topics, but can also include maintenance, operations, finance and communications, for example. Three years ago, the winning poster was a customer service project by Kelsey Ewart, who was then an information and public outreach coordinator at Niagara Region’s Water and Wastewater Services in Ontario.

Entries are judged by water sector experts who score on technical content, benefit to the drinking water industry, oral presentation and organization of the poster.

First, second and third place winners are chosen, with the top contestant nabbing a $500 prize and the plum chance to publish an article in a following year’s issue of Journal AWWA, the Association’s flagship publication which includes both professional and scholarly content.

“The Journal article is a real gift to them, even though they might not realize it,” Sullivan said. “It’s such good exposure and they usually get a lot of feedback.”

David Yonge can attest. The University of Center Florida graduate, who recent earned his PhD  in environmental engineering, won last year’s contest with his poster entitled, “Assessing Hollow-Fiber Membrane Performance Using Bench-Scale Laboratory and Pilot-Scale Field Methods.” It took him about five months to collect the research, analyze it, and create the poster presentation.

Yonge said he thinks the win and Journal article helped him land his current job as an engineer intern at Jones Edmunds, a full-service engineering and architectural firm.

“I was completely taken aback by the multipage article published in the Journal,” said Yonge, pictured above. “One of the major goals of PhD candidates is to publish in journals, so it was an honor to be able to write about my experience. I had a number of local people send me congratulations when they read the article and even a few people outside my bubble called me about the research.”

Yonge talks with animation about watching the stunned-yet-overjoyed look on his professor’s face when the names of the winners were announced at the Water Industry Luncheon. He said the thing that stands out most about his ACE15 experience was the sense of purpose, community, and driven minds that filled the conference halls.

After the conference, which was in Anaheim, Yonge and his wife took a side trip to Yosemite National Park and hiked the Panoramic Trail with friends from the conference. Yonge used his poster contest winnings to upgrade to a tent in Curry Village and then took his wife to dinner in San Francisco before flying back to Florida.

And what advice would he give to this year’s contestants?

“Enjoy your time at ACE,” Yonge said. “It isn’t about winning the ribbon, but the journey, experiences, and people you meet along the way that make it a lasting memory.”