2022 Young Pros

Sept. 19, 2022
WQP introduces its 2022 class of Young Professionals

Name: Tom Wilson 

Official Title: Manager/Operator  

Company Name: Franklin County RWD #1 

 Age: 38 

What are your professional certifications and education? I have the Small Systems certification and Wastewater Level 4 certification for the state of Kansas. 

What are your professional accomplishments? Revitalization of my current Rural Water District with much improved customer relations; operations supervisor throughout the construction of the city of Lawrence's new Wakarusa Wastewater Plant. 

How did you come to be in the water industry? I came to the water and wastewater Industry eight years ago after several years as an electrician and car wash technician.  

What are your goals? I have a future view of several Rural Water Districts working as a sort of a COOP in Franklin County; not necessarily merging as a single district but working in unison utilizing shared resources and manpower as much as possible. 

Who is your greatest influence? My parents, Larry and LaDonna Wilson, and my wife, Carrie Wilson, have all shared in influencing and shaping both my professional and personal life. All three have helped me become the guy that can strive in a self-reliant and self-motivated work environment and also love coming home to my family farm and traveling when time allows.  

What are your hobbies outside of work? I have recently gotten into small-sized, reuse-welded art projects and enjoy homebrewing beer. I also love traveling and enjoying family time on our small farm. 

What is a fun/surprising fact about you? Ha! I'm actually pretty boring. Maybe, once upon a time I was decent at video games, and I actually met my wife at a video game tournament. 

Are you involved in the community outside of work? If so, how? I help coach recreation league sports that my two kids, Maggie and Levi, are in. 

What is your biggest lesson learned so far? To never assume the map is correct. Time and time again through good relations with our customers, I'm able to make sense of what was put in the ground years ago before decent digital mapping technology was a reality in my district. The old farmers remember those times of long past! 

Where do you see the industry going in the future? Before too long, I see a future of much more water reuse; direct or near direct wastewater discharge directly into a water plant for treatment leading to public consumption. 

Advice for other young professionals? Keep at it. The industry is going to continue to evolve but safe and clean drinking water will always be a necessity, not a luxury, in our country. Operators that know the science and tasks required to provide that necessity will always be needed in some capacity. 

Name: Matt Peiris

Official Title: Chief Executive Officer

Company Name: WECO Filters

Age: 34

What are your professional certifications and education? Certified Water Specialist (WQA)

What are your professional accomplishments? I founded the company at age 29 and developed water conditioning units that serve the local community as well as nationwide consumers.

How did you come to be in the water industry? I was always intrigued by why clean water is considered such a scarce resource and what we can do to help produce more clean water.

What are your goals? Developing water treatment products that address various water contamination issues. Increasing awareness about water ailments and remedies. Helping the underprivileged have access to clean safe water.

Who is your greatest influence? My late father who was a chemical engineer who helped run a water treatment plant in the middle east.

What are your hobbies outside of work? Playing cricket and swimming.

What is a fun/surprising fact about you? I can play the guitar.

Are you involved in the community outside of work? If so, how? I try to stay active in forums that are related to water filtration and help the community through awareness.

What is your biggest lesson learned so far? Taking care of your health early is the biggest lesson learnt so far. I was late to be active in sports, which could have helped me stay fit early in my life.

Where do you see the industry going in the future? As consumer awareness increases, the need for point-of-use and point-of-entry water filtration units may become a boom.

Advice for other Young Pros? Good things don’t come easy.

Name: Rich Simons

Official Title: Head of Application Science

Company Name: AquiSense Technologies

Age: 33

What are your professional certifications and education? Ph.D. from Imperial College, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, MEng from Imperial College, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Member of the Institute of Engineering Technology, Member of the Illumination Engineering Society (Photobiology Committee Member), Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

What are your professional accomplishments? Key role in design and development of innovative UV-C LED products; contributor to industry-led task forces and committees; lead- and co-authorship of several articles in industry magazines and industry group white papers; management and delivery of the BIOWYSE program, a 3-year pan-European project to deliver a ground demonstrator unit for UV-C LED water quality control in crewed space habitats; continued engagement with space exploration sector; development of and contribution to figures of merit and quality management processes used in the manufacture of more than 250,000 mass-production devices and several “special project” builds; continued development of physics-based simulation method.

How did you come to be in the water industry? Via a master’s degree project evaluating the viability of UV-C LEDs as a future water treatment technology (2011 to 2012). This project evolved to a full PhD thesis (2013 to 2017), which in turn led to my present role at AquiSense Technologies (2016 to present). My motivation was always to see this technology applied in low-resource, rural community settings; though it has taken several years, we are finally starting to see that become a reality.

What are your goals? To enable and enhance the development and deployment of UV-C LED water treatment technologies; to accelerate acceptance of the technology through good product design, focusing on technology benefits in new and unexplored applications; to reinforce and develop understanding of UV water treatment systems, their performance, and the methods by which they are evaluated; to leave a lasting positive impression on the UV water treatment industry.

Who is your greatest influence? I draw inspiration mainly from those I work with and know personally. My parents have differing approaches to work, giving me experience of tenacity and commitment; my PhD supervisor (Shelly Moram) provided me with ample opportunity to consider different approaches and ways of solving a problem; Jennifer Pagan and Oliver Lawal at AquiSense have given me a great insight into building a business and how to balance deep industry experience and knowledge against the flexibility needs of an emerging technology market.

What are your hobbies outside of work? Fitness in general, cooking, DIY and craft, travelling. More recently, family time has increased in importance with the arrival of our first child in May of this year.

What is a fun/surprising fact about you? I have never shared an office or worked in the same location as my colleagues; even as a PhD student, my project was entirely separate to the work of the rest of my research group.

Are you involved in the community outside of work? If so, how? NA (London, UK), we have a small network on the street that I live on, but nothing “substantial.”

What is your biggest lesson learned so far? Not jumping to conclusions or answers, even if you know you are confident in your approach – listen first and take a beat to carefully consider the situation, there can often be nuances which drastically change the best course of action.

Where do you see the industry going in the future? Large scale: decentralization of water quality monitoring and maintenance following the concept of network systems, bolstering resilience against the challenges of climate change. Small scale: the expansion of UV-C disinfection across consumer appliances similar to that of Bluetooth, increases in domestic rainwater/greywater treatment. Low-resource/rural: Tipping point for UV-C disinfection system efficiency and cost to enable non-mains power solutions, facilitating community-led expansion across developing countries as part of hybrid/multi-barrier solutions.

Advice for other Young Pros? Don’t be afraid to commit to what you’re interested in – wear your passion with pride and plan for the long term. Though most of our generation seem destined to job hop every few years there are still plenty of opportunities to build specialism within an industry.

Name: Helena Steeves 

Official Title: Product Applications Engineer 

Company Name: LuminUltra Technologies Ltd. 

Age: 27 

What are your professional certifications and education? I received my undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of New Brunswick in 2017, followed by my Master of Applied Science in Biological Engineering from Dalhousie University in 2020. I am also currently registered as an Engineer-in-Training with Engineers Nova Scotia.  

What are your professional accomplishments? Since starting my career with LuminUltra in 2020, I have worked on a wide range of projects related to microbial monitoring in municipal and industrial wastewater systems. I have been heavily involved in the development and commercialization of products for in-field wastewater surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 with a goal of making wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) more accessible. Over the past two years, I have authored case studies and whitepapers as well as presented on the subject at several webinars and conferences. I recently took part in a research study looking to expand the applications of in-field WBE to include antimicrobial resistance tracking using a direct nucleic acid extraction method. I presented the study at the 2022 WEF Public Health and Water Conference and continue to look to the future of WBE as part of a holistic approach to public health monitoring. 

How did you come to be in the water industry? After starting my initial role with LuminUltra as a product applications engineer in the clinical sector, I eventually switched focus to the wastewater industry where I felt there was a stronger alignment between my educational background and genuine interests in biological processes, environmental sustainability, and community. 

What are your goals? Beyond my goal of becoming a professional engineer, I intend to continue a meaningful career in the water/wastewater industry serving both the community and environment. I also hope to one day become a mentor to other young engineers in the field helping them to navigate their early professional careers. 

Who is your greatest influence? My parents are my greatest influence. They have always encouraged me throughout all my endeavors, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. 

What are your hobbies outside of work? When I am not working, I like to try out new recipes, explore a new beach or hiking trail and spend time with my rescue dog, Molly.   

What is a fun/surprising fact about you? Before attending UNB, my first year of university was spent at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where I played on the women’s basketball team. 

Are you involved in the community outside of work? If so, how? I have spent many years coaching young women’s basketball teams, and I recently participated in a community clean up at a local park with some of my Halifax-based LuminUltra colleagues. 

What is your biggest lesson learned so far? As a young woman in the profession, it can be intimidating to bring forward thoughts or express opinions. My biggest lesson learned is to speak up when I have something valuable to add and trust my own capabilities. 

Where do you see the industry going in the future? I see the industry expanding to play a bigger role in public health monitoring where testing for microorganisms will be easily accessible. Whether that be through building upon current COVID-19 testing strategies to include more pathogens like norovirus or influenza or tracking other health risks such as antimicrobial resistance, cyanotoxins, Legionella, etc. - our water systems are undeniably a powerful resource for assessing public health risk.  

Advice for other Young Pros? My advice for other young pros would be to follow your interests and don’t fear imperfection - it is all a learning experience. 

Name: Joe Wolff

Official Title: Manager, Product Compliance

Company Name: Zurn Elkay Water Solutions

Age: 34

What are your professional certifications and education? I have a BS in Integrative Biology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and I’m a Master Water Specialist from the Water Quality Association.

What are your professional accomplishments? I secured UK WRAS approval for much of Elkay’s drinking fountain and bottle filling station portfolio, allowing Elkay to significantly grow its presence in the UK and increasing sales by over $2 million over just a few years. I steered Elkay through the lead in water crisis triggered by events in Flint, Michigan. I worked the third shift at an Elkay manufacturing facility for a month during the COVID-19 pandemic to help lower the product lead time while continuing to perform most of my regular day job duties.

How did you come to be in the water industry? It feels like every significant part of my life has been centered around water, so it seems fitting that my career would be too. Even so, my path to the water industry was more due to happenstance than intention. My family and friends steered me to opportunities that one after another led me to where I am today.

What are your goals? I don’t have, nor have I ever had, a specific vision for my future. What I do know is that I want to reach a point personally and professionally where I can have a tangible and positive impact on the people around me.

Who is your greatest influence? My longest best friend. He was a wonderful boss, father and friend. I can’t help but be reminded of him every day and strive to be more like him.

What are your hobbies outside of work? Hiking, biking, SCUBA diving, and of course, relaxing in front of my TV.

What is a fun/surprising fact about you? I spent a summer in college trudging through wetlands and ephemeral lakes searching for salamanders and other amphibious and aquatic animals. Frogs, small turtles and axolotl-like tiger salamanders were the most enjoyable finds whereas snapping turtles and raccoons were the most troublesome.

Are you involved in the community outside of work? If so, how? A year ago, I realized that I could give of myself a lot more than I was, so I signed up to be a “defender of potential” by becoming a mentor to a kid as part of Big Brothers Big Sisters. My little brother, Joshua, is now 14, and every time I see him, he comes out of his shell a tiny bit more.

What is your biggest lesson learned so far? Life’s too short not to take every chance to have fun with the ones you love.

Where do you see the industry going in the future? With fresh water becoming an increasingly valuable resource, utilities and individuals are going to need to innovate in the ways water is collected, treated, distributed and used. In time, I expect to see major shifts toward final barrier treatment and desalination, and I hope that atmospheric water generation advances enough to where it can be deployed in rural and undeveloped locations, aiding in the path toward water as a human right.

Advice for other Young Pros? Try to find work that gives you satisfaction and doesn’t feel like work. Life’s hard enough without having to spend a third of your waking hours wishing you were doing something else.

Name: Thomas Martin

Official Title: Inside Sales Representative

Company Name: Nelsen Corporation

Age: 32

What are your professional certifications and education? Water Quality association MEP Basics module, in process of completing the fundamentals module.

What are your professional accomplishments? Certified UV installer, water quality basics completed, sales portfolio over 2 million.

How did you come to be in the water industry? I moved to the city of San Antonio two years ago looking for a management position. I found Nelsen corporation and started in the warehouse. After speaking with regional sales manager, Brent Heilig, on the water industry I quickly became interested. I started reading waste processing (third edition) by Wes McGowan, and I continue to learn about the industry every day.

What are your goals? Continue to complete the water quality association module program to the end. Learn more of the science behind the water industry. Help Nelsen become more of an industry leader in water filtration products.

Who is your greatest influence? Family, whether it’s my wife helping me focus on training and learning or my father helping me with his experience in the sales and management industry. I couldn’t ask for better influences in life and work.

What are your hobbies outside of work? Most of my hobbies involve the outdoors. Hiking, camping, kayaking. In the summer heat of Texas, I tend to stay inside and play video games on my PC.

What is a fun/surprising fact about you? I got lost hiking the northern California mountains and had to have rangers save me.

Are you involved in the community outside of work? If so, how? Not as much as I would like, I listen to multiple water podcasts including Talking Under Water.

What is your biggest lesson learned so far? Ask questions, for the most part the science and tactics of the industry is always changing. Most people that have been in the industry for a long time have no problem sharing knowledge and insight. The questions asked might also have people in the industry think a different way which helps growth.

Where do you see the industry going in the future? More automation and statistics, especially on the residential side. With the pandemic plus the EPA releasing studies on PFOS/PFAS people will be looking toward their water more than ever. Consumers are going to be looking for how much water they are using and what is in it. With that I expect to see more interest in app connected water filtration giving consumers more hands on when it comes to water.

Advice for other Young Pros? Lean on your mentors. Luckily, I landed with Nelsen, which has some of the best industry pros, but don’t be afraid to network and find some mentors. There is a lot to learn in the industry. Most people who have been in the business for a long time will be able to guide you to the answers. I have been helped even by my customers who have been in the industry for a long time.

Name: John Renaud

Official Title: Commercial Project Manager

Company Name: Hawkins Water Tech

Age: 34

What are your professional certifications and education? WQA- Master water specialist, WQA Certified Installer, David H Paul- RO Specialist I Certification

What are your professional accomplishments? Working my way from the ground up starting at the age of 19 as a delivery tech. Working through the different positions and opportunities to being a commercial project manager and a shareholder at Hawkins Water Tech.

How did you come to be in the water industry? Starting as a delivery tech.

What are your goals? Helping Hawkins Water Tech employees deliver the best service and installation to our customers in a timely fashion. Assisting Hawkins Water Tech employees to grow within the business.

Who is your greatest influence? Dave Hawkins.

What are your hobbies outside of work? Spending time with my three kids and wife.

What is a fun/surprising fact about you? Winning the 4-H Fair Strongman Competition.

What is your biggest lesson learned so far? Never giving up. Looking at challenges as opportunities to grow instead of obstacles

Where do you see the industry going in the future? This is a growing industry as more contaminants emerge and testing abilities become more readily available. Equipment advancement in options and efficiencies have really growth in the past 10 years, and they will continue to grow with the market and demand.

Advice for other Young Pros? Make the most of every opportunity and challenge in front of you. Hard work and dedication can take you places. Always do your best and keep setting the mark higher for yourself. Be a leader not a follower.

Name: Sean Barry

Official Title: Operations Manager

Company Name: Kel Tren WaterCare

Age: 28

What are your professional certifications and education? BS in Accounting from Elon University; Currently in the CWS course with WQA.

What are your professional accomplishments? One of my favorite accomplishments thus far has been to not only maintain the family business and become a third-generation member of Kel Tren but to also continue to grow in and with the business. We have nearly doubled in size from the time that I started three years ago. These past few years have been very difficult for my family for various reasons, but I have been able to give my father some freedom to step away from the business while continuing to grow the business.

How did you come to be in the water industry? After a few years in public accounting, I quickly learned that the corporate world was not for me. This was right when my father was starting to think of a transition plan for Kel Tren, and the timing worked out perfectly that allowed me to become involved and ultimately identify that this was the career path for me.

What are your goals? To provide more families with the best quality of water that we can as a company and to continue to grow the business. By growing Kel Tren, I can continue to employ amazing people and provide to their families through meaningful work while also honoring my father and grandfather’s legacy.

Who is your greatest influence? My dad, Tom Barry, has been the greatest influence in teaching me how to be a great leader and to create a work culture where our employees are excited to come to work each day.

What are your hobbies outside of work? I love to golf and try to sneak out once or twice a week to hit the course and work on my game. I also recently got into getting flying lessons and working towards getting my private pilot’s license.

What is a fun/surprising fact about you? As I am writing this, I am currently sitting on the Amalfi Coast in Italy looking at the beautiful scenery and landscape. Last night, I proposed to my now fiancé on the beaches of Positano.

Are you involved in the community outside of work? If so, how? I am a member of the Newtown Business Association, BNI and was Vice President of my HOA board where I live.

What is your biggest lesson learned so far? Treat your people well, and they will in turn take care of you and your business. There is nothing more important, no matter what industry you are in.

Where do you see the industry going in the future? I only see growth in our industry. My generation is becoming more and more aware of the issues that are facing us with the quality of our water. People are more informed nowadays about what they are putting in their bodies and that only benefits our industry. Ideally, we will have many more years of growth and boom in our industry.

Advice for other Young Pros? Keep working hard and becoming the trusted professionals that the people before us were. There are not many young water guys and girls out there right now, so it’s our job to keep this industry booming and providing people with the best water and service that we can.

Name: Joseph Pheil

Official Title: Executive Director

Company Name: Ohio Rural Water Association

Age: 38

What are your professional certifications and education? Bachelor’s Degree in Business from Muskingum University, Utility Management Certification from National Rural Water Association, Commercial Energy Auditor Certification from Energy Audit Institute.

What are your professional accomplishments? Business enterprise leader for AmeriCorps program, commercial website designer, and I’ve been successfully running a non-profit organization for the past five years.

How did you come to be in the water industry? I started as an energy efficiency technician conducting energy assessments of public water and wastewater facilities.

What are your goals? To provide a stable and rewarding career for everyone employed at our organization, and to effectively utilize our combined knowledge and commitment to provide meaningful assistance to Ohio’s water and wastewater operators.

Who is your greatest influence? My father, our staff, and our board of directors.

What are your hobbies outside of work? Spending quality time with my family, listening to podcasts, doing yardwork, and playing video games.

What is a fun/surprising fact about you? I only applied to be the executive director to make my wife happy. I actually didn’t think they would choose me for the position.

Are you involved in the community outside of work? If so, how? Not as much as I would like to lately, but I do enjoy volunteering and attending community church functions when I’m able.

What is your biggest lesson learned so far? That if you want to be successful you have to work really hard at it, and unless you can find joy in what you do, you’ll eventually burn out.

Where do you see the industry going in the future? I definitely think the industry is going to become a lot more technologically advanced. We’re already seeing a lot more time and resources being put towards the development of “smart” equipment and software, and I think it’s just the beginning of what will be coming.

Advice for other Young Pros? Don’t be in too much of a hurry. If you’re hardworking and committed progress will come, but if you’re too focused on immediate results you’ll miss the opportunity to enjoy the journey. And don’t let work keep you from spending time with your family, the work will still be there tomorrow.

Name: Trevor Townsend 

Official Title: CEO 

Company Name: Alamo Water Softeners 

Age: 34 

What are your professional certifications and education? Water Treatment Specialist Class III 

What are your professional accomplishments? I joined my father, Allen's, business in 2012 when I found out my first child was on the way. I spent years climbing the corporate ladder at a well-respected fitness corporation. I found success by working more hours to offset my lack of experience and was the youngest regional manager they had at 19. A few years later, I found out that as a soon-to-be father the 80-hour work weeks had to stop so I could be the dad and husband my growing family deserved. When my father and I went to the coast to fish I shared my thoughts, and he told me that Alamo Water Softeners was starting to take off and he needed a good sales rep. Within the first month of working at AWS, we far exceeded anticipated sales requirements and began having fun growing my family's business together. 

In 2016 the stress of growing and running the business began to take a toll on my mother and father. Two of our core team members broke off and created their own successful entity using the same business model, and my father passed away in 2017. I was thrust into operating as a business owner while at the same time struggling to support my family as they reeled from the tragedy. Just like every other business we struggled to handle the volatility of the pandemic and changing economy but were able to work with AO Smith to enter new markets and further grow our brand.   

What are your goals? To build on the greatness of my mother and father's legacy and support others in the pursuit of their potential and dreams. To grow and develop employee-owned branches across multiple states. To make a difference by treating water quality issues through service and education. 

Who is your greatest influence? My wife, Ashley, is my first and only love. We have been together since we were 16 years old and married in 2010. She loves, protects and supports with all of her heart.   

What are your hobbies outside of work? My family, hiking, fishing, beach anything to get closer to creation. Fitness and endurance, mindfulness exercises. Wim Hoff Method! 

What is your biggest lesson learned so far? See the people. Whether customers, team members, vendors or competitors, see the heart behind their eyes. Treat them the way I would want to be treated first. Financials have to be managed cleanly and growing teams need to have clarity on goals and metrics to know if they are winning or losing. Have faith and do the work. 

Where do you see the industry going in the future? We are at the tip of the iceberg. The community is hungry for ways to improve longevity and vitality. The closer people look at their water quality the more they will see the importance of taking added precautions to improve the health of their family and home. The trades overall are behind in career planning. I hope we can influence the next generation to begin to take a greater interest in plumbing and water treatment. 

Advice for other Young Pros? It's not about you. People are full of emotions and do all kinds of crazy things but overall are good. Read books, and take care of your mind, body and spirit. The world will throw all it can at you and people need you to work against the chaos. Embrace the adversity and see it as an opportunity to make a difference. 

About the Author

Katie Johns