2013 IWC Masters Scholarship recipient interview - Maria Brusher
What is your professional background?
My objective is to show up where it counts. I lead with enthusiasm and keep projects moving forward, while also connecting interdisciplinary objectives. My academic training is in public policy and public administration, and I have combined that with seven years of experience at Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), a public utility that provides water, sewer, drainage and garbage services for 1.3 million people in the Puget Sound Region of Washington State. SPU is known nationally and internationally for our groundbreaking work in several areas – water conservation, green stormwater infrastructure solutions (natural drainage systems in particular), asset management, triple bottom line decision-making, climate change adaptation planning, and race and social justice initiatives, including obtaining meaningful engagement by historically under-represented communities.
I began working at SPU as an intern, and then progressed to more challenging opportunities after receiving a Masters in Public Administration in 2005. In my work, I plan, develop and implement programs that ensure the utility is capable of responding to change and have the tools needed to plan, design, commission, operate, and maintain SPU’s infrastructure.
What role are you in now?
I work as a Management Systems Analyst within the Project Management and Engineering Division of Seattle Public Utilities (SPU). I work directly with a small team of senior management systems analysts to initiate, lead and implement process improvements, such as definition of design standards, emergency preparedness planning, capacity analysis in permitting and plan review, and establishing a mentoring program for project managers and engineers. The purpose of our group is to use knowledge and expertise with various technical tools and systems to connect process improvements with innovative technological solutions.
Why did you choose that professional path?
Starting in my teens, I have had passion for public policy, equal access to public resources and overall social justice. I was encouraged to understand first how institutions function before working on influencing public policy. From that point forward, I sought to lessen the ambiguousness of decision-making and government work. I pursued a Masters in Public Administration and began working for Seattle Public Utilities. It became apparent, that the most important functions of a city reside in its management of utilities - the infrastructure that is often not seen on the surface. Since 2004, I have invested my time in making improvements within Seattle Public Utilities, and the City of Seattle. I strongly believe it is at the local level that true change can be realised and I have chosen to invest my professional energy into contributing to organisational development that supports smart, strategic management of water resources.
What attracted you to the IWC Masters program?
The opportunity to engage with the diversity of experience and perspective the students enrolled in the MIWM offer, and the opportunity to learn from Australian water management practices, have been a desire of mine for the past few years. I believe a limited perspective or single skill set cannot solve water resource challenges with the innovation necessary to meet the demands of our changing world. It is imperative that we figure out how to perform with limited resources and stressed environments, organisationally and ecologically. An interdisciplinary approach is absolutely necessary.
I work to bridge institutional knowledge with technology, so we use time and resources wisely. And yet I find it is an uphill battle to implement programs that are effective. It takes strong direction, leadership and focus, yet not with a focus that leaves out social development, business and trade, as well as food security, emergency response, ecosystem health, etc. One truly has to have a holistic perspective when working in the water industry. Building the skills necessary to bring together people with competing interests and needs, and find creative ways to make water resources available in a strategic and equitable way is essential to our collective future. I see the MIWM as the way to find and connect with like-minded people working to make water management work for our changing world.
How do you hope to use what you learn in the program in your current work?
I hope to gain perspective, build connections and find the inspiration needed to keep working to find solutions to managing water in our communities. I hope to build on project management skills and have better insight into technical water resource solutions so that one-by-one, integrated water resource projects get implemented.
At the same time, it is apparent that every aspect of climate change adaptation (food security, land use, flood management, sanitation, energy, etc) requires coordination with decision makers and agencies managing water resources. By studying and working with talented engineers and water leaders, the MIWM will open up opportunities to collaborate on water management projects throughout the world, as well as spread awareness of innovative design and maintenance of water resource infrastructure to colleagues in Seattle and Western Washington State.
How do you hope the program will help your career?
Further academic exposure to the science of water, catchment and aquatic ecosystem health, water planning and economics, and water governance and policy will enhance my competence in the field. The MIWM will expand my knowledge and introduce me to other water leaders, providing inspiration and direction for how to get the work done. In addition, I am impressed with the regulatory requirements established in Australia. The research I will gather, and connections I will make with students, utility managers and research experts within the International WaterCentre will open doors for further collaboration, research, and sharing of best practices, particularly around water governance practices.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I am an outdoor enthusiast, and a life-long learner of music, art and culture. I enjoy the challenge of preparing for and then persevering through an epic mountain climb. Last year I climbed Mount Rainier, a known beauty in the Puget Sound. For the past five years I have been taking cello lessons. A treasured part of the day is returning home from work, picking up the cello and transitioning my mind from work to home. Music brings forth creativity and peace of mind. I enjoy cooking and spending quality time with family and friends. I look forward to developing life long connections and friendships with fellow students and researchers at The University of Queensland.