Young & Worldly

April 12, 2022

WWD Class of 2018 Young Professionals

Each year, WWD accepts nominations for top young professionals in the water and wastewater industry. While we intended to select only 10 young professionals this year, we simply felt we could not cut any from this list of 11 talented and passionate professionals under 40 years old. These individuals have not only excelled in their professional lives, they also give back to their communities and hold worldly attitudes and views about the industry’s importance and necessity around the globe.

Yasmin Adel Aboualy

Supply Chain Manager

National Water Works Co.

Age: 34

Education: Bachelor of Science in chemistry and environmental science, MBA in supply chain and international logistics.

Personal accomplishment: Obtaining a master’s degree during her work while being a wife and mother.

Professional accomplishments: Successfully managed all aspects of supply chain from inception of customer order and internal demand through final product distribution with overall responsibility of procurement, logistics and inventory management. Managed all material planning efforts along with direct oversight of all international and domestic procurement. Directed 2016 annual year end physical inventory passing all external audit requirements for accuracy.

Previous life: Worked in manufacturing.

Greatest influence: Aboualy challenges the work in the supply chain despite the difficulties she has faced being a woman in this field in an Arab country. 

How will your generation influence the water industry? Playing a role for a cleaner and greener environment. Youth is the backbone of any nation, and the most dynamic and vibrant human resources can revolutionize the process of water management by convening the other stakeholders and acting as a catalyst to bring about change.

Industry aspiration: ”I look forward to working on a global level.”

Personal passions: Enthusiasm and optimism.

Outside the office: Aboualy enjoys reading economic analysis and business development in her spare time.

Biggest lessons learned: She has learned that recycling water is mandatory, and has increased her knowledge about smart solutions and the greatest challenges facing the industry.

Cristina J. Ahmadpour


Isle Utilities

Age: 32

Education: Bachelor of Arts in business administration, California State University. Masters of law and environmental policy, Vermont Law School.

Previous life: Commercial banker for Wells Fargo.

Personal accomplishment: Graduated law school with the highest honors while maintaining a full-time job.

Professional accomplishments: Led the commercialization of an early stage technology in the Western U.S. and Mexico. Pivoted the growth of an organization and built a strong team to keep that organization moving.

Greatest influence: “Without a doubt, the greatest influence, both personally and professionally, is my longtime friend and now husband. He challenges me to live with purpose, kindness and determination, and is my number one fan!”

Best project ever: First industrial wastewater project was at the Heinz french fry production facility.

Industry aspiration: Ahmadpour aspires to be a leader of change in the way utilities seek innovative best practices and technology solutions to increase stakeholder value. She is a collaborator and problem solver who wants to create and drive sustainable models to effectively manage water and resources with the best available tools.

Outside the office: Camping, hiking, basketball, traveling and, most recently, cycling.

Personal passions: Rueda de casino (a type of salsa dancing)

Worst-kept secret: Has Ichthyophobia, “a completely unjustified fear of fish!”

How will your generation influence the industry? “My generation graduated right around the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. We continue to witness extreme climate variability where there is a growing scientific evidence pointing to anthropogenic causes. We’re living through a time where advancements in space exploration and artificial intelligence are moving at an accelerated pace. Through our experiences, my generation will see opportunity and evaluate risk differently. As we face the ‘silver tsunami,’ we will be bold at embracing different approaches to meet the future needs of the water sector.”

Giving back: Member of various subcommittee groups for American Water Works Assn. (AWWA) and Water Environment Federation (WEF), and advises a nonprofit organization that develops projects to bring clean water to communities in developing countries.

Best memory: “One of my most memorable experiences has to be kayaking the Sava Bohinjka River (Slovenia) alongside the backdrop of the majestic Julian Alps and farm cottages of Bohinjka Valley... after a morning of paragliding at 6,000 ft!”

Best advice: “Simply know your stuff and be confident in your abilities.”

Michael Colby


Stanley Consultants

Age: 24

Education: Bachelor of Science in civil engineering, Iowa State University.

Previous life: Student at Iowa State University.

Personal accomplishments: Married his high school sweetheart

Professional accomplishments: Presented “Proper Procedure for Water Audits and Their Value to Water Utilities” at WaterCon in 2017. Presented “Big Money for Big Projects—Lessons Learned from Illinois,” at WaterCon in 2018. Serves on AWWA Loss Control Committee and Regulatory Practices for Water Audits subcommittee.

Best project ever: Helped a client change water suppliers. The $80-million project included the design of two pump stations and almost 7.5 miles of large-diameter water main through a densely populated area.

Greatest influence: Larry Thomas, water and wastewater department manager for Stanley Consultants. Thomas hired Colby as a student intern and let Colby take on significant project responsibility. “[He gave] me opportunities that many my age don’t have. I admire Larry’s focus on clients and that he never loses sight of the goal and the best way to meet our client needs.”

Industry aspiration: Strives to contribute meaningful water and wastewater design projects that have a positive impact on the world.

Extracurricular work: Judge for water-based projects entered in a state science fair, participating in Stanley Consultants Young Professionals Network program.

Outside the office: Traveling, reading about history and learning about the history of travel destinations; “My wife and I are foodies. We recently returned from a trip to New York City, where we enjoyed many culinary delights.”

Personal passion: To contribute meaningful water projects that can truly make a difference. “One of my goals is to work on international water projects.”

Worst-kept secret: Announcer for the varsity soccer team in high school.

How will your generation influence the water industry? “My generation is on the cusp of coming up with new, innovative solutions to long-standing problems such as aging water infrastructure and water quality issues.”

Giving back: Member and regular volunteer at Grace Church Chicago

Best memory: “When I was 17 years old, I traveled to Zambia on a mission trip with my church friends and family. There I saw first hand the struggles many face to have clean water—a luxury we take for granted. That was when I first realized the importance of having access to clean water and when I decided that I wanted to be a part of the water industry.”

Best advice: “We in the water industry are all working toward the same goal. Together we compose a worldwide fellowship of professionals that is passionate about bringing clean water to the world. We’re ultimately all on the same team, readily sharing resources, knowledge and experiences.”

Hiroko Yoshida

R&D Director


Age: 33

Education: Bachelor of Science in environmental studies, University of Nebraska—Lincoln. Master of Science in water resource management and civil and environmental engineering, University of Wisconsin—Madison. PhD in environmental engineering, Technical University of Denmark.

Personal accomplishment: Accepted invitation to the White House to attend the U.S. EPA Nutrient Recycling Challenge conference and was named one of the top four winners at the event.

Professional accomplishment: Being part of the team to bring the first full scale AirPrex installation to the U.S.

Best project ever: Any project during which optimization of results from pilot tests has been achieved.

Previous life: Yoshida studied social aspects of resource management before entering the water industry. “The first time I saw the effluent coming out of a wastewater treatment plant, I thought that was magical. Soon after that, I changed my degree to engineering.”

Industry aspirations: Wants to turn innovative technologies into full scale installations. While many technological advancements can be exciting developments, they often run into issues when scaling to larger systems. Yoshida specializes in solids handling and would like to contribute to the advancement of the industry as it relates to
that specialty.

Greatest influence: Her husband, whom she met in a wastewater treatment plant design class. He influenced her participation in the Water Environment Federation student design competition, which solidified her career path in wastewater.

Hobbies: Visits museums and enjoys shopping for vintage clothing.

Hidden talent: “I can smell the pH of sludge.”

Giving back: Teaches and finds ways to turn complex concepts and equations into something relatable to everyone.

Best memory: Took her daughter to WEFTEC when she was 10 weeks old. “She was officially the youngest registered attendee of WEFTEC at the time.”

Best advice: “Be a hard worker and your work matters. I have met many people in this industry with a sense of purpose and they want to contribute to the greater good.” 

Gabe Hatfield

President & Owner

OK Pipe & Fittings

Age: 38

Education: Bachelor and Master of business administration, Baylor University.

Previous life: Began working in the water industry in 1998 while still attending college and has not looked back.

Personal accomplishments: The success of Hatfield’s business, OK Pipe & Fittings, which is celebrating 20 years of business in 2018. “I can’t help but think back to when we first started—no money, subpar machines and hard physical labor were the norm. Then, suddenly, large backlogs and fabricating fittings for months straight without taking a day off; the miserably hot summers that we’ve welded outside because the mitered elbows were too big for the old shop; and the many days we had to remove my children from the property to x-ray. We’ve come a long way. I’m so proud of the quality of our work, the way we do business and, more importantly, the crew we have working for us.”

Professional accomplishments: Started OK Pipe & Fittings and doubled sales twice in 10 years.

Best project ever: Fabricated several eight-piece, seven-miter 96-in. elbows and several other fittings for the New York Department of Environmental Protection. The project required 100% X-ray and fittings so large that they barely fit through the OK Pipe & Fittings factory door.

Greatest influence: His parents, Susan and David. Susan taught him attention to detail, particularly as it relates to finances, and David helped shape Hatfield’s character with lessons on honesty and integrity. “I would not be where I am today without [my mother’s] undying love and support. My father gave me the courage, strength and motivation to set huge goals and achieve them.”

Industry aspiration: Hatfield wants to get more involved with AWWA and aims to sit on a board for the association. He also aspires to make OK PIpe & Fittings a commonly recognized name in the industry and would like to get laterals covered under AWWA. 

Outside the office: Member of the Pipe, Valve and Fitting Roundtable; AWWA; and Texas AWWA.

Personal passions: His family, children, wife, golf, motorcycles, swimming and baseball. He is an avid reader who enjoys wine tastings and has even planted a small vineyard to make his own wine.

Hidden talent: Pretending to be an extrovert. While Hatfield loves industry events, he must admit “the introvert in me panics minutes before attending each and every one.”

Worst kept secret: Enjoys math, but hates geometry. The irony that his job now is predominantly calculating degrees, angles, lengths and circumferences of elbows and other fittings is not lost on him. “I had to relearn most of it on my own. I still can’t stand it sometimes.”

How will your generation influence the water industry? “The aging water infrastructure in the U.S. and Canada and around the world as well is a major concern. Most dams and water treatment plants were built before most of us in my generation were even born. A focus on updating this infrastructure in innovative and environmentally friendly ways will soon be a huge priority, as well as getting water to where it is needed in desperate parts of the world.”

Giving back: While Hatfield’s home was spared during Hurricane Harvey, 13 others in the neighborhood were flooded. Hatfield, along with his wife and children, helped demo and repair several homes in his area after the devastating storm. He also volunteers for fundraisers for his children’s activities.

Best memory: “In the early years of OK Pipe & Fittings, my family, friends, employees and contractors would use a scrap of metal ring from pipe and build a bonfire after the first frost of winter. We try to have a fireworks show on the 4th of July or New Year’s Eve. Most of the memorable moments are caught on film. I have photos of my daughter at the age of 2 walking through large-diameter elbows, and my son hammering on the pipe pretending to work with me when he was
a toddler.”

Best advice: “The water industry is much broader and more robust than I ever would have imagined. There are so many different facets to it, and there’s always new areas to discover.”

Jessica Diaz


Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck

Age: 34

Education: Bachelor of Arts, Harvard College. Juris Doctor, University of California, Berkeley School
of Law.

Previous life: Diaz worked in state and local politics for five years before entering the water industry.

Personal accomplishments: “Surviving new wilderness experiences, two kinds of cross-country skiing, relearning how to ice skate, and passing the Alaska Bar during my clerkship year in Anchorage, Alaska.”

Professional accomplishments: Diaz is part of the Water Education Foundation’s 2018 Class of Water Leaders. She also is the recipient of the Concerned Citizens of Santa Rosa’s Agent of Change award.

Best project ever: A multiparty groundwater adjudication in the Paso Robles groundwater basin.

Greatest influence: “My parents and my late grandmother, for instilling an unnaturally early love for Friday night public television news programming.”

Industry aspiration: “To stay collegial in a contentious world, to work on the cutting edge of water solutions, and to surround myself with people much smarter than me.”

Outside the office: Diaz loves exploring the great outdoors—especially the ocean. 

Personal passions: Ensuring access to affordable housing, improving mental health care, protecting natural resources and “appreciating the simple things in life.”

Worst-kept secret: She has never seen the movie Chinatown.

How will your generation influence the water industry? “I believe our generation will help bring much-needed diversity to the water industry, in addition to expanding the use of technology not only to develop new water supplies, but also to help promote consumer-level conservation.”
Giving back: Diaz does community service with her firm’s Karma Committee, is part of the Santa Barbara Newcomers Club, and judges her local high school’s mock trial competition.
Best advice: Diaz has learned that “the legal framework for dividing up our most precious resource is based largely on antiquated and complex case law, and that our job is to help clients turn arcane and confusing legal rules into advice that helps them make economic/business decisions.”

Justin Higgs

Business Development Manger

Evoqua Water Technologies

Age: 35

Education: Bachelor of Science in 

mechanical engineering.

Personal accomplishment: Solo hiking Mount Spalding and Mount Evans three months after a major spine surgery.

Professional accomplishments: Led a series of initiatives for Evoqua focused on wastewater treatment process optimization for a client in the phosphate industry. The work studies included pilot-scale studies on each unit of operation, then applied the results of each study to the plant at full scale.

Most memorable project: Higgs led the mechanical design for an anaerobic waste-to-energy plant for Disney’s Reedy Creek Utility District, which processes up to 120,000 tons of food waste per year from Disney’s theme parks and produces 5.4 MW of electricity and dried organic fertilizer pellets.

Previous life: Technician for Betz-Dearborn before graduating college

Greatest influence: The late Phillip Gerhart, PhD, P.E. and Dean of Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Evansville, who challenged him to fully define a problem and challenge conventional engineering approaches to solving it.

How will your generation influence the water industry? “In the past 45 years, wastewater treatment has gone from being a government mandate to a means of recovering an indispensable resource. My generation is embracing the latter of these two perspectives, and I believe that this is the beginning of a fundamental shift in our approach to wastewater treatment.”

Outside the office: Higgs presents at industry conferences on industrial water treatment, and has co-authored papers for the International Water Conference.

Personal passions: Scuba diving, hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, skiing

Worst-kept secret: “I am not a chemical engineer! My B.S. was in Mechanical Engineering and I studied environmental engineering in graduate school.”

Best memory: “It can be difficult to explain to my two young children exactly what it is that I do for work. Thus far, my most successful explanation has been to read ‘The Lorax’ by Dr. Seuss. I explain my job as keeping the ‘gluppity-glupp and schloppity-schlopp from glumping the pond where the humming-fish hummed!’“

Christina Hughes

Graduate Engineer

Walter P Moore

Age: 27

Education: Bachelor of Science in civil and environmental engineering. Master of Science in environmental engineering. 

Previous life: Hughes interned with a firm in Brisbane, Australia, performing habitat and endangered species assessments for proposed developments. 

Personal accomplishment: Completed her first marathon in January 2018.

Professional accomplishments: Hughes is a member of a number of committees, both internally and externally. 

Best project ever: Hughes and her team created real-time and forecast models of the rainfall to estimate inundation along several major waterways during Hurricane Harvey. 

Greatest influence: Her dad. “He is a quintessential ‘self-made man’ and has taught me the value of persistence and hard work, and how not to take success for granted.”

Outside the office: Hughes has an annual subscription to Houston’s ballet, opera and musical theatre venue, and regularly attends the symphony. 

Personal passions: Sustainability is key for Hughes.She even composts her food at home.

Worst-kept secret: Hughes recently started taking ballet classes for the first time since she was 7 years old.

Giving back: Hughes promotes conservation of Houston’s White Oak Bayou. She also assisted with Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts, helping residents and volunteering at the temporary evacuation shelter. 

Best memory: For Hughes’ birthday this year, she and her friends took a camping trip in Sea Rim State Park on the East Texas Gulf Coast. 

Best advice: “There is an enormous amount of uncertainty involved in our development of rainfall and floodplain statistics, and that is often not well communicated to the public. Small variations in data record length and statistical method for analysis can create largely different results in terms of rainfall depths and floodplain extents when trying to predict probabilistic flooding, so it is very important that the public understand that a line on a floodplain map is not a ‘hard-stop’ for flood risk.”

Nataly Dakak

Environmental Engineering Associate

City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation

Age: 25

Education: Bachelor of Science in environmental engineering from the University of California, Riverside. Master of Science in civil engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles. 

Professional accomplishments: Protecting the City of Los Angeles Public Owned Treatment Works from interference with process operations and pass-through of harmful pollutants. Acting as representative for the Industrial Waste Management Div. of the Bureau of Sanitation Biosolids Action Team to promote and ensure the production of Class A exceptional-quality biosolids. Providing training for industrial wastewater compliance inspectors across Los Angeles to reduce potable water consumption for auto-wash industries.

Best project ever: Dakak’s most memorable project involved working on a team to host the first hybrid webinar in her division. The topic covered how to optimize and maintain water reclamation systems for car washes utilizing a real-time face-to-face ,along with a virtual element that allowed broadcasting for individuals who could not attend in person.

Previous life: During her undergraduate study, Dakak served as a research assistant for developing a titanium dioxide photocatalytic membrane to mineralize new chemicals being discharged into wastewater through ultraviolet treatment, and determining optimal hydrothermal conditions to enhance photocatalytic activity of the membrane. Throughout her graduate program, she worked as an engineering intern for Hazen and Sawyer, where she collected and reviewed water quality data and production capabilities for Coachella and Indio Water Authority wells.

Greatest influence: “Mahatma Gandhi has proven that nonviolent resistance is a great way to achieve social, economic or political noncooperation. Not only did he cause an Indian independence movement, but he was great motivation for several peace and civil rights movements. Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence is a logical approach to many environmental problems. For instance, Gandhi gives me hope for protesters that use tree sitting as a peaceful form of political protest to help prevent logging of ancient forests.”

How will your generation influence the water industry? “My generation is getting rid of the ‘toilet to tap’ term and describing direct potable reuse with more innovative terms such as ‘recycled water.’ My generation is marketing and using consumer psychology to give better impressions to the mind of the consumer. The public’s perception of recycled water is increasingly being viewed as a resource rather than a waste.”

Industry aspiration: “I am currently working on my next endeavor of achieving my professional engineering licensure.”

Outside the office: “It would be fun to start a periodic board game crew at lunchtime.”

Personal passions: Barre, a ballet-inspired fitness class that incorporates ballet, yoga and pilates; hiking; cooking; traveling; environmental/water conservation; family; and self-improvement.

Hidden talent: Pac-Man.

Worst-kept secret: “Growing up I always felt bad to step on grass. I thought that the grass would eventually die if it kept being stepped on by everyone.”

Giving back: Dakak volunteers at Los Angeles Earth Day to help spread awareness on different sustainability programs within the city. She also participates in various events that encourage young grade school female students to pursue a major in science, technology, engineering or math.

Best memory: “My family tradition is to place the graduate after their graduation ceremony into the trash to sarcastically signify that you are worth trash once you obtain your academic degree. I’ve been ‘trashed’ twice in my life.”

Best advice: Policy enforcement is intricate.

Derek Koger

Director of Public Works

Seminole Tribe of Florida

Age: 35

Education: Master’s in public administration

Personal accomplishment: “I purchased my first home. While that may not sound very impressive to some, this personal goal signifies a lifelong, multigenerational arrival for me, my siblings, parents and grandparents. Struggle as a child has brought me strength (and a lot of financial planning skills). I am very proud to be a first-time property owner and plan to expand in the future on this horizon as I grow my own family.”

Professional accomplishments: Awarded Thomas T. Jones Public Education Award, Florida Water Environment Assn. Member of the board of directors for United South and Eastern Tribes. Selected as member of 2017 Cornerstone Class of Leadership, Florida.

Best project ever: The creation of a program that enabled the Seminole Tribe of Florida Public Works Department to cross-train operators in water and wastewater treatment, distribution and collection systems. Koger identified and coordinated the training and learning opportunities needed for staff to prepare to sit for the licensing tests required by the state of Florida in each of these areas. 

Previous life: English/arts teacher at the Okeechobee Juvenile Offender Correctional Center.

How will your generation influence the water industry? ”The advances in technology developed by my generation will have a great influence in the water industry. The technological advances will likely include increasing the efficiency and lower cost of membranes, improving energy efficiency and reducing the use of chemicals, and enhancing communications with customers.”

Greatest influence: Koger’s greatest personal influence is his mother, who worked two jobs to support his family. Her work ethic, positive view on life and encouragement helped shape the foundation he has built his career on.

Industry aspirations: Koger hopes to assist other American Indian tribes in their development with water and wastewater infrastructure on tribal lands. via the programs his department has implemented.

Outside the office: Koger currently serves as vice president for the Chaka Stars Foundation Inc., which offers programs and services for disadvantaged youth in the Okeechobee area. He also serves as the finance chair for the Opportunities Industrialization Centers of South Florida, a workforce development organization that empowers communities and leads people to self-sufficiency through training and employment.

Hidden talent: “My hidden talent is that I enjoy karaoke, I ‘think’ that I am a singer.”

Personal passions: Koger’s passion is to work with and assist people towards becoming examples for others to follow, both personally and professionally.

Best memory: “I helped a friend. The son [of] a good friend became involved and entrenched in ‘inner city issues.’ Barely a teenager, the young man had no idea of the lifelong repercussions nor what alternatives were available to him. Growing up the way I did with similar ‘inner city issues’ proved to be a strength, not a weakness. I understood what he was involved in—the language, slang and depth of meaning associated with the conversation. I coached him and my friend toward appropriate solution options that will steer him toward a better future.”

Shaleena Smith

Process Engineer

SafBon Water Technology

Age: 33

Education: Bachelor of Science in biomedical science. Master of Science in environmental engineering.

Personal accomplishment: “Motherhood. To bring life into this world is truly amazing, and every day I am still in awe of my son who is now three years old.”

Professional accomplishments: Named an inventor of an awarded patent related to membrane bioreactor (MBR) technology. Appointed manager for the largest project her company had handled to date for Saudi Aramco.

Best project ever: Smith’s most memorable project involved MBR/anaerobic pilot projects during her time in research and development. The experience afforded her valuable hands-on experience while the team designed, commissioned, operated and fine-tuned the systems.

Previous life: Student at University of South Florida

Greatest influence: Smith’s greatest personal influence was her mentor while a research associate. Her mentor taught her the basics of water treatment while encouraging her to be resilient and to work towards her goals.

How will your generation influence the water industry? “I suspect the new generation will take the water industry into a new era, with improved technologies and newly developed processes to tackle the global issues faced by the industry today. They will feel the weight of climate change, severe droughts and water shortages, such as Day Zero that is a reality in South Africa, and act more swiftly since they have lived through these experiences.”

Industry aspiration: Smith aspires to help move technology forward, specifically using less power, making advanced technologies more affordable and making membrane use in wastewater treatment more attainable.

Outside the office: Working, being a mom, sleeping. “If I had more free time, I would travel to Europe and see some of the famous historical sites.”

Hidden talent: Can play the violin.

Worst-kept secret: Her original career path was medical research.

Giving back: Community events with a local foster home through her employer.

Personal passions: Music and art.

Best memory: “I have great memories of Christmas Day growing up and going to my grandmother’s house, because not only is it a big holiday, it is also her birthday. There would be a huge family gathering and party full of fun and her nine kids and all of their kids.”

Best advice: “Water is a resource that is taken for granted. Only after entering the industry have I seen the true importance of water and the complexity involved in treating it.” 

About the Author

WWD Staff

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