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O Is for Outreach

Written by Dr. Ken Russell

OutreachStep Away … and Reach Out!

It’s time for the next article in this series of thoughts at the intersection of water and technology. We’re leveraging a fun learning tool, a mnemonic, where each article will focus on one of the letters that make up the word conserve: C-O-N-S-E-R-V-E. Last time we started with “C,” for connections. You may remember that article keyed in on the idea that data has limited value unless it is connected and shared. This time it’s about “O,” for outreach.

Folks often ask me why I step away occasionally from my career to work with universities, faculty and students. I’ve done this twice now over the past few years and I suspect I will do it again. This type of outreach is critical, for all of us. Today’s universities and colleges need more than just volunteers—they need help from those of us working in the field. They are being asked expand their role around innovation, become better at transferring technologies out of the research labs and classrooms and into industry and, most importantly, they are being asked to prepare and train students for careers that simply didn’t exist just a few short years ago. They can’t do this without collaborating with industry and working directly with the decision makers influencing the business world right now! Data Scientist? Community Manager? These are just two positions that have emerged as hot jobs for next generation of talent, yet the the folks in higher-ed often have little or no input from industry…from folks like us.

This is especially critical in the Water Industry where the daily struggle of just keeping up with multi-billion-dollar annual maintenance costs makes it nearly impossible to think ahead, consider new ways of doing things…to find time to think and innovate.

Think about it… today’s average (and overwhelmed) municipal water department is dealing with water main breaks, treatment challenges, conveyance issues and, on top of that, over 20% of that managed water just disappears during distribution…disappears! Today’s colleges and universities are excelling with new ways to leverage technologies, developing new capabilities around sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices that can revolutionize how we measure, monitor and maintain our nation’s water assets.

Reaching out to them just makes sense. They need us and we need them. Consider making a connection with your local college or university…or perhaps reach out to your alma mater. Please reach out with more than a checkbook. More than your treasure, they could use your time and your talent.

Here are three things you can do right now to help your local college or university help you:

  • Help them focus on practical research and applied & experiential learning opportunities for students
  • Be the connection and assist them with building industry partnership opportunities for relevant research projects
  • Consider a sponsored research project with them that would benefit everyone (industry, students, and faculty)

If you can, consider stepping away from your regular work and into a program where your direct involvement would benefit a college or university’s efforts. My experience with this tells me that this really makes a difference. Students are transformed with new confidence and a greater sense of purpose when working alongside industry partners who value their contributions. They learn practical approaches, methods and capabilities that will serve them as lifelong learners in the new knowledge economy. Reach out!

Dr. Ken Russell

Dr. Ken Russell has more than 20 years of experience developing and implementing comprehensive programs and innovation initiatives. A technology pioneer, he developed early Intranet systems for large banks which led to his participation in developing one of the first successful Internet-based training platforms.

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