This year’s AWWA Woodard & Curran Scholarship recipient, Ann Brunton, grew up knowing that water is a big deal. She says, “I’ve always known we need to conserve water,” recalling the local water company giving a shower timer given to her and classmates in grade school and her family placing a rain bin outside to collect stormwater for their plants. When she enrolled at the University of Arizona, her desire to study engineering turned into earning a Bachelor of Science degree in biosystems engineering with a focus on water resources.
Hands-on Learning and Leadership
As with many Class of 2020 graduates, Ann’s college senior year experience was derailed by the global pandemic. While personally, she didn’t find the shift to online learning difficult, she did miss the celebratory events with her classmates and seeing the fruition of her senior engineering capstone project. She and her classmates worked with Mister Car Wash to design a car wash water reclamation system, which furthered her interest in water reuse and treatment. “Car washes use a lot of water, but water reuse in the carwash industry is uncommon,” she says. “We designed a UV advanced oxidation chamber to treat the water, kill pathogens, and added a filtration system. We never got to test the design, but it hopefully they will implement it and our project will make a difference in advancing water treatment applications.”
Ann’s passion for water security was solidified during an Honors Alternative Spring Break to the White Mountain Apache Reservation in northeast Arizona her freshman and sophomore year. The service-learning trip had them working on the native-run Ndee Bikiyaa (or People’s Farm) and learning from the Apache people’s perspectives and community issues.
Men from the White Mountain Apache Tribe’s Rainbow Treatment Center described their experience, highlighting the tribe’s higher rates of substance abuse. While the students worked to help plant crops and trees on the farm, they also came to understand how underutilized the resource was. Poor eating habits among the tribal community have led to higher incidents of diabetes further promotes the critical need for indigenous food sovereignty. She recalls a tribal member on one of her trips acknowledging their water conservation efforts, worrying that someday their water resources may run dry. “Certain groups have been affected by systematic events in the past and we need to recognize that,” she says. “We got more from them than they got from us on those trips. I got a different perspective, which has really benefited me.”
A Shift in Course for Grad Research
Woodard & Curran Project Engineer Srivalli B. Sukuru, P.E. was a part of the review process for scholarship applicants. She says, “Ann showed commitment to the water industry through relevant internships and also exhibited excellent leadership qualities.” The $5,000 scholarship, which is awarded annually to a female or minority student pursuing a master’s degree in engineering, will help Ann as she heads of to the University of Illinois this fall where she intends to earn her Master of Science degree in water resource engineering. Her graduate research will center on the use of denitrifying bioreactors to remove nutrients from agricultural runoff water, which is relative to the larger practice of watershed management.
“I was originally planning to stay at the University of Arizona and research the impact of climate change on runoff in watersheds. Last fall, I visited the University of Illinois as part of their Multicultural Engineering Recruitment for Graduate Education (MERGE) program, and a professor from the program reached out to me. The scholarship will help me focus on my studies and research and less about my finances, which I am really grateful for.” Ann is enrolled in a professional development course this summer and hopes the scholarship will help her network with members of the drinking water industry, including those connected with Woodard & Curran.
“I’m looking forward to a more diverse experience at the University of Illinois,” she says. “Beyond graduate studies, I am not really sure yet what I want to do as I can see myself being happy and successful on a lot of different paths. Overall, I want to focus on water resources and sustainability. Whatever I end up doing to achieve that goal, I’m not really sure yet, but I’m hoping that my graduate studies will get me started.”
Photo of Ann Brunton, pictured left, during her Honors Alternative Spring Break in the White Mountain Apache Reservation, courtesy of Bryn Sharp Photography.