Years ago, Amber Baylor read Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert, packed up her car, and headed for California. She’s never looked back. “California represented the most complex water system in the world,” she says, “and I wanted to be part of it.”
She got her wish and after 10 years managing a water quality laboratory, she is now the Director of Environmental Compliance at the South Orange County Wastewater Authority in Dana Point. Along the way, she completed a master’s degree in environmental science at Johns Hopkins University, and has experience with activated sludge, drinking water, biosolids, storm water, and more. “The water interplay among agricultural, commercial and municipal needs in California is intriguing,” she says.
In her early years, she was the only female working at the plant, a situation that didn’t bother her because she once played soccer on an all boys’ soccer team. “In some aspects, that takes a special kind of person,” she says. “But coming from the scientific and analytical side, your brain is trained to work through any issues and keep the noise out.”
She encourages both men and women to pursue their individual career goals, despite obstacles. Gender doesn’t really matter, she believes, and says that is becoming the case in more and more institutions today.
“Male or female, it is what you really want to do with your career,” she says. “Each person has a skill set, and that brings more to the table than any differences in gender.”
In her own case, she believes in giving back to the community, something her work in environmental science and public administration enables her to do. She recalls a phone conversation with a NASA scientist who thanked her for her answers to a number of technical questions on water quality. “It is nice to realize there are people like us giving back by delivering clean water and preventing pollution.”
She says young people – especially women – interested in the water field need to network and focus on things they are best at.
“Recognize your skill sets, find a culture that relates well with you, and never stop pushing in that direction,” she says.