Nick Steffen’s passions for wastewater treatment and teaching others can be traced to his youth in Torrance, California. An avid surfer, he became sick after one of his rides on ocean waves polluted by stormwater runoff, leading to his interest in water quality. His parents were school teachers; hence, his zeal for mentoring others on his wastewater team.
Both qualities were high on the list in Steffen’s nomination as an Emerging Leader. “Beyond his ability and role as an effective operator and supervisor, what truly makes Nick an emerging leader is his passion for the industry and sharing his knowledge with others,” wrote his supervisor James Langley at the City of Simi Valley. “I’ve seen him continually inspire and motivate his coworkers, make a positive impact on plant operations, and volunteer his time to help others in the industry.”
Steffen received a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from Cal State University Channel Islands, worked as a laboratory technician for the County of Ventura, earned a master’s degree in civil engineering, and worked for the City of Simi Valley. He achieved Grade 5 Wastewater Operator certification and became lead operator in just three years. After serving as operations supervisor for the last year and a half, he joined the City of Los Angeles in early March as operations supervisor in the collections department.
And, while he doesn’t surf as much as he used to, he continues to teach. “When I got into the field, I realized a lot of operators were struggling with basic math,” he says. At Simi Valley, he put together a math program offered during lunch-time training sessions, then branched out to teaching math workshops for the CWEA Tri-Counties section. That led to a position on the Tri-Counties Board or Directors.
He also teaches night classes in the Water Systems Technology program at the College of the Canyons. His new job will expose him to wastewater collections, especially stormwater control. “The system includes low- flow diversion structures and constructed wetlands,” he explains. “We need to look at wastewater differently. It has been all about treatment, but in the future it’s going to be about capturing resources and reusing treated wastewater and stormwater for beneficial purposes.”
He’s challenged by the new opportunity, as well as managing a growing family, continuing to teach, and “trying to juggle everything.”
But James Langley is confident he’ll succeed. “Nick is always looking forward to the next accomplishment,” he says.