President’s Message:  What’s in your skill set toolbox?


Wow.  The year builds to the crescendo of our annual conference, and now it’s over, yet already time to start focusing on 2022 and Green Bay.  I was so excited to be back “live” this year and enjoyed this year’s conference as I hope you all did.  There are always venue-specific issues that arise, but we did our best to put on an excellent conference.  Know also that we value your surveys post-conference.  The Board is currently reviewing surveys to see what we did well, what we could improve on, and determine if there’s anything we need to consider for next year.  Thanks for filling them out!

I am truly honored to serve as President of this incredible organization.  It’s an intimidating chair filled by many incredible folks before me, but I’ll work hard to fill that seat. Who would have believed that a “DNR guy”, as one of my fellow Board members constantly needles me, would ever serve in this capacity?  I’ll give you my two cents for an answer, and that is…because this organization is so open and accepting, that’s why!  In my 21 years as a WWOA member, I recall the early days of being a “new guy”, who knew a scant few members, to quickly being welcomed into this huge family.  I felt so appreciated by this organization, that I wanted to submit a presentation to conduct a workshop at each annual conference to help provide training and education for lab folks as well as help generate revenue for WWOA.  It wasn’t much, but it was what I could do to help out.

I think it boils down to skill sets.  Each of us has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses that combine to make up our skill set “toolbox”.   None of us has a complete toolbox, so we work collectively as teams to bring people together that, combined, bring the sum total of skill sets necessary for any particular task.  Consider the Operator’s Competition as a small-scale example.  You assemble a 3-person team to compete in challenges involving collection systems, maintenance, laboratory, and process control.  Only a select few operators are versatile in all these areas, so you put together your team ensuring that each of your members is particularly adept in one or more areas of the challenge.  That is a recipe for a winning team.

Most of you probably know that I am not a certified Operator.  I considered getting that certification   many times, but life just got in the way.  Do I have a grasp of wastewater operations?  Absolutely.  Through coursework with Dr. Aga Razvi at Stevens Point and learning from the multitude of plants I audited, I have a base knowledge.  Plus, building knowledge is my thing.  But you probably don’t want me to help you in a plant emergency.  I always claim that I can take anything apart, but getting it back together, or building something, just isn’t in my wheelhouse.  Heck, my wife usually has me hold the tools as she completes a particular task!  The important thing is that I know my limitations and what knowledge I need to build on.

Borrowing a character line from one of my favorite movies, though: “Hey…I’m not without skills!”  I may not be an operator, but I can and have helped many labs improve their operations through my understanding of wastewater chemistry.  I also have a pretty good grasp of financial information and organization.  Therefore, my mission has been to ensure that all Board members have a clear understanding of WWOA’s financial picture and that we have an updated set of policies that follow our ByLaws, and that policies, Bylaws, and website information all agree.   I also want to be sure that we honor the traditions established by past Boards. These are the tools I can offer, and a solid team requires these tools as well as many others.

As we move towards the holidays and the winter lull, I encourage each of you to take an objective inventory of your own skill sets.  Do you have the necessary skills/knowledge to achieve your career goals?  If not, identify someone that does, and see if you can team with them to build your weaknesses into strengths.  Perhaps you have a strength that happens to be a particular weakness of theirs.  If we all work together, we can use our collective strengths to help others work on their weaknesses, while we can utilize their strengths to help us build on our own weaknesses.  That’s what teamwork is all about.

In the course of my career, I’ve had the distinct displeasure of working with a few individuals who believed that knowledge is power, and therefore one should not share their knowledge or risk “losing their power”.  On the contrary, I have always subscribed to the philosophy of Dr. Koby Crabtree, who believed so strongly in sharing his knowledge that the WWOA named a major award after him.  Dr. Crabtree saw knowledge as indeed power, but power to be openly shared so that everyone has the keys to personal and career development.  I encourage you all to share the wealth of knowledge you have attained with your colleagues.  The WWOA is not about power mongers, but rather about the value of sharing knowledge to ensure that all our members have access to the complete education they need.

I truly value the trust that you have placed in me to lead this amazing organization.  I am also proud to be a part of a talented and inspiring Board of Directors.  I’ve developed strong bonds with Board members I served with including, but not limited to, Juice Simpson, Jeff Bratz, and now Jeff Smudde.  Five years ago, my good friend, Past President Kevin Freber, encouraged me to run for the Board of Directors and insisted that Board members will become a close-knit family of brothers and sisters.  And he hit that nail squarely on the head.  Together, through the past five years, we had the necessary skill set to move us past a financial crisis, a change in approach to the traditional Executive Secretary role, the pandemic, and into the “new” normal.  

 It’s been particularly rough for Board members that came on since October 2019, as (prior to this past August) the Board had not met in person since December 2019.  In-person meetings are critical to building knowledge, confidence, and team rapport.  I applaud those board members for their patience and perseverance in the absence of the ability to connect personally as a team.  There are always challenges ahead, but I am confident that this team will meet any challenges encountered head on and serve you well.

Strive to keep your skill set toolbox full, and share the “wealth” of knowledge you acquire along the way!  Stay safe, stay well, and I wish you all a very happy holiday season!

Rick Mealy



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