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My PWX Perspective: Cody Mathisen, YP Stipend Recipient

October 22, 2023

My PWX Perspective: Cody Mathisen, YP Stipend Recipient

As a first-time attendee to PWX, my bar has officially been set high for future years of this conference. The City of San Diego and its local partners delivered nothing short of a first-class experience from start to finish. My memorable time here was made possible by the APWA Minnesota Chapter Young Professional stipend, and for that I’d like to open with a sincere thank you to the APWA Minnesota Chapter and the executive committee. 

As thousands of people filled San Diego’s sprawling convention center for the opening sessions, I was amazed at the sheer scale of this event. The conference hosts did an outstanding job weaving the local fabric of the area throughout the entire week beginning with local performers before sessions, and even a patriotic welcome from members of the United States Navy who made the short trip across San Diego Bay from the Coronado Naval Base. With the conference center overlooking Coronado, sight seeing was never more than a few steps away as some of the Navy’s most prominent vessels were visible less than a mile away. 

The conference had several highlights for me both personally and professionally, and the balance of both of these spent alongside old and new connections from the Minnesota chapter only enhanced the experience. On the personal side of my highlights, the Get Acquainted Party on the USS Midway was at the top of this list followed closely by a behind the scenes tour of the San Diego Zoo. At nearly 1,000 feet in length, the flight deck of the USS Midway is serving a renewed purpose after its storied military history as a one-of-a-kind entertainment and museum space. Aircrafts from the last century scattered throughout the flight deck and its storage below provided plenty to analyze for a boat full of engineers. At the San Diego Zoo, we were able to get a first hand look at many of the processes that look all too familiar to a municipal engineer in the world of water treatment. Instead of working to provide potable water, water operators within the zoo are closely monitoring water chemistry for things that impact the wildlife throughout their many open-air saltwater tanks. It was fascinating to hear the challenges they have with maintaining these habitats such as inclement weather and filtering animal waste, and how these parallel the challenges we face in our own profession. 

On the professional development side of this conference, learning opportunities were plentiful and I specifically left with new tactics and knowledge surrounding organizational culture, leadership, asset management, and public/private sector relationships. Keynote speaker Jessica Kriegel provided eye opening statistics on the contrast of what employees look at as important components of culture and organizational success, versus what those in leadership roles have historically assumed. Other keynotes including Morris Morrison and Neal Peterson provided inspiration on turning your disadvantages into advantages, disrupting the norm, and nurturing the relationships that have carried you to where you are today. A breakout session I found particularly interesting dug into difficult conversations regarding public versus private project delivery. As someone who has worked on both sides and values the challenges of each, this session had many useful reminders and clarifications for me on how I can help consultants better assist me while also being respectful of their resources. The exhibit floor is the final place I must make mention of as it was here I attended engaging sessions on items such as emerging technologies and asset management. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I took away from this floor in terms of connections and new innovative solutions from vendors around the country.  By the time I left San Diego, my bag was filled with business cards and resources to return to my team with solutions ranging from software to heavy equipment and everything in between. 

 After reflecting on the conference, two themes emerged as my key takeaways:

  1. We Are Not Alone – As engineers or anyone working within public works here in Minnesota at times it can feel like our problems are entirely unique, however, I found myself being consistently reinforced that public works professionals across the nation are fighting similar battles to me. Having never seen a conference of this magnitude, it was refreshing to see how vast our organization of teammates really is and the strength that resides in our numbers. 
  2. Adaptability is Our Way Forward – In an industry where change has historically occurred in a rather gradual way, adaptable practices, adaptable cultures, and adaptable leaders are the best chance we have at keeping up with the multitude of challenges facing our industry. The last 4 years have been trying times of change for everyone, and public works is no exception. Collectively as an industry we must manage our people, our cultures, and our infrastructure assets in a way that is adaptable to the conditions of the time, and be open to constant change as needs evolve. 

I again would like to thank APWA Minnesota for the fantastic experience that I was afforded through the young professional stipend. This experience in San Diego was educational, motivating, and most of all memorable because of the people the time was spent with. Thank you!

Cody Mathisen, PE
City of Hastings Principal Engineer

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