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Chicago Welcomes a First-Timer

October 8, 2013

Chicago Welcomes a First-Timer

By Eric Eckman, Public Works Specialist, City of Golden Valley

There are many career-changing opportunities available to members of APWA-Minnesota. The education and training programs, spring and fall conferences, and participation in committees all come to mind. But there’s a big one out there that is often overlooked and underappreciated. It’s a little known opportunity that comes around only once a year. It’s for chapter members who are 40 years old or younger. And it can punch your ticket to a far away destination loaded with experts, education, events, and energy. Have you figured it out yet?

It’s the chapter’s Young Professional Stipend to attend APWA National Congress.

At the beginning of each year, the Executive Committee initiates an application process in search of members 40 and younger who are actively involved with the chapter and would like to grow professionally in the field of public works. If you fit these criteria and are looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you should apply.

This year’s Congress was in Chicago -- the Windy City, home of Ditka and Da Bears, the beginning of old Route 66 (one of America’s earliest national highways). As a “first timer,” I was amazed at the production, the spectacle, and the enormity of the National Congress.

The Chicago Metro Chapter really put on a great show (and having Anita Rhode as the emcee never hurts). McCormick Place is state-of-the-art and the largest convention center space in the country. The Congress Exposition is the largest annual exhibit of public works equipment, products, and services in North America.

Strolling along the expansive exhibit floor was both entertaining and informative. I met face-to-face with some of our vendors for the first time (like Teresa Dodds from CarteGraph), which was a tremendous benefit. And the sessions…well, they just kept coming and coming.

The speakers were awesome and I found myself taking notes while Thomas Friedman and Cy Wakeman took the stage at the Arie Crown theatre.

  • Some of the biggest take-aways from Friedman: Stay hungry; take pride; constantly innovate and invent; be passionate and curious; and find your extra and “bring it” every day.
  • Some of the biggest take-aways from Wakeman: Don’t waste time and energy talking about a person or situation unless you plan to do something about it; don’t dream up bad things you have not yet substantiated; don’t dwell on things outside of your control; and figure out new ways to do things that you otherwise hate to do (like laundry or taking a whole bunch of kids grocery shopping).

The National Congress experience provides huge growth potential, idea sharing, and networking opportunities for all who attend. Not only did I brainstorm and troubleshoot public works concerns with fellow Minnesotans, but I also discussed topics such as asset management, media relations, bikeway design, and native plantings with public works professionals from other parts of the U.S. and Canada.

At the chapter dinner I had the pleasure of sitting with the Australian delegation. In addition to conversations about Aussie slang, we discussed storm water management and groundwater issues. Did you know there are towns in Australia that pump storm water down into their groundwater aquifers to recharge the supply? (There are aquifer storage and recovery systems in the U.S., but mostly in the south and west.)

The conference was a non-stop, high-paced adventure with speakers, sessions, events, and networking. I was just happy to have 10 minutes each morning to enjoy a Starbucks or McDonalds coffee before boarding the shuttle bus to McCormick.

All of this running around with fellow APWA members builds and strengthens important relationships. With our travels around Chicago some of us were able to enjoy multimodal transportation in a new city -- plane, train, bus, bike, foot (lots of walking), and boat!

During one lunch hour, a few of us ventured out to explore Chicago by boat. The Chicago Architecture Foundation led us on a cruise adventure up and down the Chicago River to view over 40 of the city’s greatest buildings. I’m really glad we took the time to do this (even in the sweltering heat).

In summary, if you’re 40 years old or younger, have a passion for public works, and are looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you need to attend a National Congress. One of the best ways to do this is with the support and assistance of the chapter. The Young Professional Stipend can get you there. Please email Pat Schutrop at admin@apwa-mn.org  for more information or view the APWA-MN 2013 Young Professional Stipend application (pdf).

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