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Communicating passion to inspire careers in water

The water community has never been short on passion, but as water challenges continue to grow and transform, it has never been more important to inspire the next generation of thinkers to join in the incredible work involved in producing life’s most precious resource.

To help with this aim, AWA Water Literacy and Education Network Chair and University of Melbourne Associate Professor Stefano Freguia is championing the importance of communicating the science and technology behind water to the broader community.

With extensive experience in the application of water research and technology to solve urban water cycle challenges, Freguia said science communication is a personal passion, one that has developed through his experience within the sector. 

Stefano_Freguia_photo“I am really passionate about science communication in general, which is about communicating complex concepts and technologies in simple ways that are accessible to the broader population. That’s really what I love,” he said. 

“Research is a really boutique product. Specialists have access to research papers, but a lot of people miss out on learning all about new technologies and processes that are emerging and being utilised to produce the water that comes out of their taps. 

“People are paying for this product and it’s good to be able to communicate where their money is going, but also to communicate the importance and continued relevance of research and development for everyone.”

Freguia said his work in water research led him to think about how to communicate the science behind water to the broader population, and to help steer the AWA Water Literacy and Education Specialist Network

“I have been the Chair for four years. It’s been a great journey being part of the network. We all share the same passion about communicating water knowledge to different parts of the population. Everyone who joins is always so passionate and it is such a pleasure to be part of this community,” he said. 

“Water is a really exciting area of work that every single person in our society can relate to – everybody consumes water. Access to water is something a lot of people might take for granted. We really need to communicate that there is a lot being done to enable our access to water.”

Meeting complex challenges

As the challenges facing the water sector continue to grow, including growing urban populations, climate change and emerging contaminants, there is an urgent need to communicate these issues so that everyone can move forward with necessary solutions. 

“These issues pose significant challenges to the reliability of our drinking water supply and we will need to do things differently. And whatever we do differently in water needs to be endorsed by the broader community. This is not something technology alone can solve,” Freguia said. 

“A lot of people think that, when it comes to water, we are done – we have nailed it, we know how to source and treat water so there is nothing else to learn. 

“But the reality is that there are massive infrastructure requirements and workforce behind water. There is also a very fast pace of change occurring in society, which makes existing infrastructure and expertise less than sufficient to be able to move forward. 

“It is important to carry the community along on the journey as we transform how we use water. 

“It is important to get people of all ages educated about water so that any transition will be facilitated appropriately. We can’t just introduce a technology and force it into the system. People will not accept it.”

Freguia said water literacy and education is also crucial in attracting the most brilliant minds into careers in water to help solve these problems, a necessity that requires everyone’s effort.

“We need to get the best minds into careers in water. And to do that we need to inspire, and to inspire we need to share our experience and passion to show people who are not yet working in the water sector that this is an incredibly exciting career path,” he said. 

“We are aiming to create understanding about water across the whole population, understanding of what we are doing and the challenges involved in this work.”

Passionate diversity

Freguia said everyone working in water has the ability to share their passion and to showcase why it is that they are so fascinated and engaged in their career path, with the diversity of opportunities available in the sector a key message to deliver.

“We will always have new things to find in water. The closer we look, the more we find. And some things are okay and some things are very problematic. There are opportunities here for people to make a real difference,” he said. 

“I focus on technology, but water needs expertise from many fields of work, whether it’s science or engineering, healthcare or AI. 

“Around the world, we are managing an incredible length of drinking water and sewer networks. I read once that the length of our combined networks could reach the moon and back. To manage and control a network of that size requires us to shift away from traditional ways of doing things. 

“There are also problems we have with water that have gone unnoticed until recently. Things like sewage spills, which still occur often in Australia and the UK. This has been an issue for a while and we are only starting to acknowledge that this is a big problem for our environments.”

AI is becoming more and more important in our efforts to mitigate issues like this, Freguia said, but communications, economics, business, social science and psychology are all just as important to leverage when it comes to overcoming challenges. 

“The diversity of the opportunities available to people in the water sector is not really surprising. Water is the main ingredient in our life and our existence,” he said. 

“There are a lot of really cool areas of work that people can engage in, like designing new airplanes or developing new chatbots, but water is still an area of development that presents lots of really interesting and important hurdles. 

“And these challenges are urgent. Our traditional water supply in many parts of the world is not going to be sufficient as we move forward, so we need to be thinking about solutions that are unconventional.”

Helping to inspire

Everyone currently working in water has the opportunity to help educate the young people and the broader community to help shift the dial on the continued development of the sector, Freguia said, and there are plenty of platforms to get involved in. 

“Clearly, water professionals are very passionate about their work and so there must be something really great about our work. We can enjoy these jobs that we do, but I think that we should be finding ways to share that enjoyment with the community and with young people,” he said. 

“What triggers a person's love for their work in water might be something that resonates with others, too. 

“Water professionals can help with this process of communicating important developments in science and technology by getting involved in outreach programs, like the AWA Water Ambassador Program. We want to see the Water Ambassador program grow well. 

“When you are passionate about your work and you go and talk to children about that passion, there is an immediate satisfaction. I’ve given a couple of talks to highschool students, and it's amazing to see them engaging with the ideas and being surprised about what they are learning.”

Freguia said that, when we go on that journey of understanding with young people, “it's inspiring to see them inspired. It creates an amazing connection”.

“Another avenue is for us to be focused on ensuring we are reaching young minds in the places where young minds hang out. 

“As water professionals, we focus on sharing information in professional contexts, like conferences or LinkedIn. But we need to ensure we are also present in spaces like TikTok and Instagram, as a way of sharing our love and passion for water.”