Before diving into the water reclamation world, Lisa Sasso was looking for a way to integrate her passion for people with her love of science. She initially thought that a career in pharmaceutical sales would be the perfect way to “tie science to people,” she said.
She began her undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater, pursuing a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in Integrated Science, with the goal of entering the pharmaceutical industry. During her sophomore year, she learned her program was adding a water resources emphasis.
“My mom had read an article in the local newspaper (about it), and she said, ‘Lisa, you’ve always been interested in water and the environment, and this would allow you to tie this with your business interest.’”
Sasso says professor Linda Reid, J.D., helped connect her to the professional world, encouraging her to attend various events within the water industry. “It kept growing my interest, and I went to a lot of networking events and conferences and made connections. That’s how this world works. You have to have knowledge, but you also have to know people and how to present yourself as a qualified candidate.”
During her time in school, Sasso interned at The Water Council, an international economic development agency headquartered in Milwaukee, which connected her to her next internship with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), where she remained while she earned her Master of Science (MS) in Freshwater Sciences from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.
As she was finishing up school, a position at MMSD opened, and Sasso was able to remain there full-time as a project manager. “Out of grad school, I had a job here waiting for me,” she said.
The granddaughter of a plumber, Sasso says she is proud to work in an industry that is committed to preserving and managing the world’s most precious resource.
“People think of water, and they think of drinking water or swimming, but there’s so much more. The water you use that goes down your sink, it has to be treated. … There’s just so many things around water that you don’t even realize. You can be a plumber, an engineer, a wastewater treatment operator, a water entrepreneur who develops new technology to help the water industry.”
She adds, “Water is going to continue to be really important and continue to create jobs. There are a lot of issues going on with water right now in regards to quality, quantity and scarcity, and we need to effectively manage it and inspire new innovations. There are a lot of opportunities, both for careers and technologies, coming in this industry. It’s a tremendous place to be.”
The 26-year-old has been working at MMSD for four-and-a-half years, and her position focuses on green infrastructure and managing stormwater. Her job also involves outreach to local schools, churches, developers and other organizations to fund projects that will benefit the water industry, community and the environment. “We have a really big service area, and we have a goal to capture 740 million gallons of stormwater through green infrastructure by the year 2035,” she said of MMSD, which serves 28 municipalities, covering 411 square miles.
Currently, her team is working with Water Environment Federation (WEF) and DC Water to develop a green infrastructure training program. “This past year, I’ve been working with WEF and other municipalities and sewer plants around the nation to work on this program. We’re going to have our first training this fall for the underemployed and unemployed to grow the green jobs industry.”
This career, Sasso says, allows her to work with people while using her love of science to improve her community and the environment. “We’re all working to improve water quality, and we want Milwaukee to be beautiful so people can enjoy living here,” she says. “The same water we had many years ago is the same water we have today, so we need people who understand that growing jobs, growing our economy, improving the quality of water and environment – it all goes hand in hand.”
Sasso says her boss and the executive director at MMSD are “visionary people” who support green and blue infrastructure and allow employees to make decisions and take ownership of their projects. That perspective, and the fact that she can see the impact her job has on her local community is what keeps Sasso coming back to work each morning.