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Author Highlight

Journal AWWA is proud of the many talented authors whose work appears in the pages of our publication. The Author Highlight is intended to give additional recognition to the people who make the Journal the high-quality publication it is—our authors.

We recently had the opportunity to connect with Brent Alspach, director of applied research, Arcadis, Carlsbad, Calif. He wrote Pathogen Rejection in Potable Reuse: The Role of NF/RO and Importance of Integrity Testing.

Brent AlspachJournal AWWA: What do you like about being an author for Journal AWWA?

Alspach: With everything I write—independent of the length, scope, or target audience—my overarching goal is always to provide content of value that is worth the reader’s time and makes a contribution to the industry, even if sometimes only in small ways. Accordingly, I take great care with both the substance and eloquence of my work, and I know that these values likewise matter to Journal AWWA and its publication staff. 

Moreover, in the digital age, there is a seemingly endless amount of water-related content with highly variable quality at our virtual fingertips, all of which is competing for an increasingly limited window of consumer time. No one can possibly read it all, so it’s important to be selective. Journal AWWA is known to be a reputable source of substantive information with wide exposure among committed water professionals, and that matters to me. Nothing is more gratifying than getting feedback that one of my articles provided some insight, helped solve a problem, or made a difference on a project.

Journal AWWA: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Alspach: Quality is important, so take the time to learn the craft of writing. Whether by necessity or neglect, curricula in the STEM fields are broadly deficient in emphasizing the importance of writing, particularly in the engineering disciplines that struggle to cover the enormous breadth and depth of technical content within the confines of a four-year college degree. Barring courageous and forward-thinking universities finding creative solutions for this problem, it’s incumbent on individuals to take personal responsibility for honing this critical skill. Take pride in not just the quality of your work, but also how it’s presented. Ultimately, you’re not just conveying information, but rather telling a story, albeit often a technical/professional one in the case of Journal AWWA authors. Plus, high-quality writing is clearer and more interesting for the reader.

My wife (Dr. Berniece Alspach) is a professor of literature at California Baptist University (which has a growing engineering program!), and I like to convey the practicality of artful writing to the freshmen in her composition classes. The course is required, and the majority of students tend to appreciate it somewhere between getting a papercut and watching paint dry. But citing an anecdote from my own experience, I demonstrate the very real differentiator that good writing can be. During my own undergraduate days, I applied for a competitive co-op position, with a résumé that was relatively unremarkable amid a large pool of highly qualified candidates, many with better transcripts. Thus, when I won the job, I asked my new supervisor why she’d selected me: I wrote the best cover letter. And if that’s not enough incentive, I remind them that no one ever won over their sweetheart with a love poem composed of bland recitations of Bernoulli’s equation or the performance of their biological reactor!

Journal AWWA: Describe a fun writing experience and what motivates you to keep writing.
Alspach: After finishing my graduate degree and entering the workforce, I soon realized that the compounding problems of less available time at the holidays and a growing recipient list was rendering my habit of writing personalized Christmas cards unsustainable. Thus, I took up the practice of writing a single letter that quickly evolved into a year-in-review update, allowing family and friends to follow our lives via the original social media format. Although ostensibly an annual holiday letter, that description is generous on both counts; the issuance is rarely regular, and these days “holiday” might mean President’s Day or Easter. 

Although I absorb some good-natured and well-deserved jabs from my readers for the four-page length and Lilliputian font, the letter often engenders many gracious compliments, along with more than a few quips about needing a dictionary—which I also take as a compliment! The timing is something of a running joke, and the arrival of my infant daughter has further hindered my productivity, as I have yet to compose the 2016 edition of my recurring epistle. I could skip some years in order to catch up or scale back the letter to accommodate the reality of a busy life, as some have suggested, but my stubborn determination hasn’t yet permitted me to abandon the unbroken chronology of the series just yet. Plus, much like that sense of gratification from a well-received technical article that makes a positive contribution, the knowledge that my letter spreads a little palpable joy is fulfilling.

Journal AWWA: Who was your first writing mentor and how did he or she encourage you to submit your writing for publication?
Alspach: Although I never had a specific technical or professional writing mentor, I do recall that the rigor demanded by my high school AP English teacher was instrumental in my development as a writer. Her grading scheme involved a list of standard point deductions for various grammatical errors, and she was not above giving negative technical scores if your work suffered from such an egregious degree of inattention to detail. This inspired a group of us to form a student QA/QC (and therapy!) group that met the night before each essay was due, providing peer feedback that made our work better—not unlike the peer-review process that Journal AWWA submissions undergo today, albeit without the late-night snacks. (Thanks to Ms. Carol MacIntye of Dunwoody High School in Dunwoody, Ga.!)

I also want to thank AWWA for this opportunity to chat about writing in the context of our industry, and I hope that this may challenge and inspire others to better, more artful, and more prolific technical literary work!