Chris Lundeen, CWEA Director of Certification, has accepted a position at a heath care professional certification board based in San Francisco.
“It’s an exceptional opportunity for Chris, one that doesn’t come along often,” said CWEA executive director Elizabeth Allan, “so I’m thrilled for him on a personal level while at the same time very sad that we will be losing him. Chris has been such a valuable member of CWEA’s staff for 22 years, growing both our certification program and our organization.”
Chris recently reflected on his career at the Association, including his fun initiation with live turkeys and biosolids. “On my first day on the job,” he recalled, “I flew down to Ventura for the Southern Regional Training Conference, and experienced my first Tri-Counties Section ‘Turkey of the Year’ banquet. They rolled in live turkeys in cages, while members marched onto stage in orange t-shirts indicating that they had also been honored as turkeys at one time or another. Then, at some point, they watched a video of a guy skiing down a huge pile of biosolids. By the way, no turkeys were injured or eaten at that banquet. I can’t say what might have happened to them the following Thanksgiving week though.
“I thought, ‘what is this outfit I’ve signed up with? I might be able to fit in here!’
Much has happened since then and Chris acknowledges he’s learned a lot about water and wastewater in his time with us.
What did you know about the wastewater industry when you took the job and what have you discovered about the profession?
I came to CWEA with some certification experience, but I had no water background; it was all new to me. I quickly learned that CWEA serves an industry with a wide range of occupations—collections, maintenance, operations, managers and superintendents, laboratory, and environmental compliance. It was really eye-opening. I attended a lot of meetings at wastewater treatment plants and always took up offers for plant tours. It was a great experience being around the plants, learning a lot, and working with the operations and maintenance staff. It was fascinating.
Was that your favorite thing about the job?
That, and the fact that CWEA is a huge organization doing lots of things. It was fun to go all over the state and meet people from every different corner of California, from San Diego to Eureka. By getting familiar with all the different communities around our state, you become a true Californian.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of our accomplishments, helping people in our industry build and maintain great professions and careers. Our people do a great job, and they’re clearly in the middle of one of the most important sectors of our economy and society. With water scarcity, environmental issues, and population growth, nearly everyone in California is affected by what we do.
You mentioned the turkeys. Was that the funniest moment of your career?
There have been a lot of hilarious moments over the years. One of the more memorable ones to me was probably when we made some changes to the certification program, adding new requirements necessary for members to keep their certification. The changes were pretty standard, as far as certification programs go, but there was some resistance because we were introducing an additional requirement. After I gave a presentation on the changes for one of the southern sections, many of those attending gathered around me for a vigorous discussion. I didn’t think much about it until a month or so later when a big picture of me was published in the CWEA Bulletin showing me with an older gentleman in a white lab coat who got quite animated waiving his finger at me. Wasn’t a great picture of either of us, but it was kind of hilarious.
What about some of the people who mentored you, who worked with you?
There were so many over the years, and some go way back. I have had so much support over the years from our volunteer leaders. Many future leaders of CWEA worked with me on certification program development and other CWEA projects. Simon Watson, past president of CWEA, was really fun to work with back when we were developing plant maintenance exams at OCSD, back when he wore a blue shirt with his name embroidered on it. He really knew how to ask the right questions, and challenge the other subject matter experts and me, with respect and humor. Phil Scott, another past president, was there with me when we went through the first validation of the collection systems exams way before he was on the Board or became CWEA President. Phil is so fun to work with and has such a great sense of humor. Carrie Mattingly was another up-and-coming leader who worked with me on our certification program years ago while she was working full time and getting a degree. She eventually became CWEA President and now holds a top utility management position. She taught me to toot my own horn once in a while and showed me that a little hard work won’t kill you, and I introduced her to Ethiopian cuisine… and Ethiopian coffee.
On the staff side, I’d have to say former CWEA Executive Director Lindsay Roberts was a wonderful role model, mentor and leader whose support made me realize I could have a challenging and rewarding career in association management and certification. She is a captivating story teller and one of the smartest and most caring people I have ever met. After Lindsay left, Elizabeth Allan continued to support my professional development 100 percent, and gave me the opportunity to take on so many different roles here at CWEA. I will benefit from that always.
In your 22 years here, you worked on many association activities in addition to certification. What are some of the highlights?
I had the opportunity to work on lots of things at CWEA besides certification….local sections, leadership, publications, the website, just about everything except managing events—although I did help out with events whenever needed. I was always learning new things.
I managed our publications for a few years. For a while we went all electronic (no print media), but it caused a bit of a backlash. We went back to print and an electronic publication. Maybe we were too early. A good mix is important. I think we like to have access to all different forms of media, rather than all one way or the other.
A few years ago we installed a new Association Management System that gave us the technical ability to do more electronic communication with members and certificate holders. We have a huge mix of people in the association, representing different occupations and career levels, and we try to make our communications relevant to each member. However, when we launched the new system we had emails for only about 65 or 75 percent of the membership. Now it’s more like 97 percent. We’ve made the transition to more electronic communications, making it easier to help candidates through the certification application process and to get certified. Before it was phone calls and letters. We’re seeing a change.
At the same time. We’ve sped up the timeline for the publications. I think Alec Mackie and the communications team are doing a great job. They have taken our communications to the next level.
Your new job with a health care professional certification board will be different from your CWEA duties. What are some of your new challenges?
I have a feeling many of the challenges will be similar to those I have had here at CWEA running our certification program, but a with new group of content development experts, staff and other leaders. I am really looking forward to joining a new team, learning from them, contributing in new and different ways, and making new friends. However, I’ll miss not being a part of the water environment community in California.
What advice do you have for your successor?
Get to know everybody. There’s a lot to learn. Have a sense of humor. Definitely get to know the volunteer leaders and subject matter experts. Also, take care of your small, but mighty, certification team and all of the other staff who support the certification program. Listen to them. They’re all critical to your success.
Allan emphasized Lundeen’s contribution in her announcement of his departure:
“Chris been an essential part of the progress the Association has made,” she said.
“When Chris started, CWEA had about 5,000 members and 3,000 certificate-holders; now we have about 9,700 members and about 5,700 certificate-holders.
“Chris was instrumental in advancing the program, including developing study guides, transitioning from paper-and-pencil testing to computer-based testing, introducing and institutionalizing validation of our tests, and he even started our first website and jobs board service back in the day.
“Can’t say we don’t grow ‘em smart and in demand. He will be missed.”
Phil Scott, CWEA Past President shares thoughts and memories of Chris:
I remember when such a young looking Chris Lundeen joined the CWEA staff and was a little shy and reserved but also excited about working on the Certification Exams and getting them NOCA compliant. I had just put the Collection System exam questions in an Excel spreadsheet “Question Item Bank” and Chris was all set to work to get them all in multiple choice format and get the Item Bank ready to use in a Computer Based Testing system. He finally convinced the Board to pull the trigger on Computer Based Testing a few years later and made it happen and it’s all running super smoothly.
One memory of Chris I’ll never forget is eating dinner at the Nugget in Sparks, Nevada. Chris ordered a big bowl of Garlic Soup. It was a huge bowl and very strong. Chris was undeterred and ate the whole bowl though I think he regretted it a little bit later. I was amazed he got the whole thing down.
Good luck Chris with your new career endeavor and the best of everything in life to you.
We would love to hear your stories of working with Chris. Use the comment section to share.