Growing up in Shippensburg, PA, I was lucky enough to have parents who fostered in me a love for culture and the arts. When I entered college, there was no question about my course of studies. I poured my fascination with dance, music, theatre, travel, language and food into the French for International Trade Program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. In early 2001, I chose to study abroad for a semester in Nancy, France, which borders Germany. This strategic location allowed me to travel and explore the cultures of Europe every chance I had.
I returned to Pennsylvania early that summer and realized I needed to find a summer job before the fall semester started. I had previously worked in retail, but was pretty much open to anything that was close, convenient and temporary. My grandmother told me about a two-week-old job posting for office help that she saw in the local newspaper. The advertiser was NASSCO.
I called to inquire and spoke with Mike Burkhard, NASSCO’s executive director at the time. We had a follow-up conversation a day or two later, and he hired me over the phone, on the spot, without even meeting me in person. At the time, NASSCO was facing financial difficulty and Mike was immersed in identifying ways to turn the situation around, so everything was bare bones. In fact, our office was in Mike’s home attic, where I worked alongside his wife, Lisa – who quite possibly worked for free – updating membership records and helping with finances. My job was to work on membership renewals to generate funds so NASSCO could stay in business.
One day I showed up for work and Mike told me that NASSCO just didn’t have the funds to pay me. I could tell it was very difficult for him to break that news. He asked me to go home and wait for him to call me back. My now-husband of 15 years, Berk, told me to start looking for another job; he was sure that I wouldn’t be hearing from NASSCO. But three days later, I did get a call and, with the exception of taking one semester off to complete my degree, I have been with NASSCO ever since.
The Pipeline Assessment and Certification Program (PACP) was in full development the summer I started working at NASSCO, although I didn’t fully understand it and had no idea of the impact it would make on our industry. When I finished college in December 2001, around the same time PACP was launched, NASSCO invited me back full time. The organization had moved up – the office was located above the Christian Light Bookstore in Chambersburg, PA.
We had to enter through a warehouse to get to it, but it was definitely an improvement over Mike’s attic! I also married Berk later that year, so the fact that a bridal shop was part of the retail complex beneath us was a real plus; I could swing by during my lunch breaks for fittings! Over the years, we have had four location moves, improving our environment each time, with our current facility in Marriottsville, MD, which offers a full conference area with state-of-the art technology for PACP and ITCP training.
In many ways, I feel as though I have grown up right alongside NASSCO. My roles and responsibilities have grown from a college kid working in an attic, to the operations manager for an extremely influential industry organization. I am so grateful for the experiences I’ve had. I believe starting small and wearing many hats, including human resources, legal support, web development, membership management, marketing and every other aspect of operations, has allowed me the opportunities and knowledge to hopefully serve NASSCO well.
Since I started as a full-time employee in 2002, NASSCO has grown from under 189 member organizations to nearly 600. It has been so exciting to watch how our members are committed and – more importantly – extremely active in helping NASSCO achieve its mission to set standards for the assessment, maintenance and rehabilitation of underground infrastructure. Our mission has not changed since 1976, and I have witnessed the steadfast commitment to doing what is right for our industry though the demonstration of member passion and action when issues threaten the health of our underground infrastructure. Most recently, some of the best minds in our industry, who also happen to be NASSCO members, have joined with other organizations to address claims regarding the safety of CIPP. We are also coming together to ensure our industry has a strong, unified voice pertaining to potential government budget cuts and reductions in EPA funding.
NASSCO is like a rolling stone. We never slow down and we never gather moss. In addition to the ongoing development of standards and other activity, we are currently expanding Inspector Training and Certification Program (ITCP) to include grouting, and are already starting to talk about PACP Version 8.0. It’s an active and vibrant place, and one of the reasons I stay is because I never get bored. The main reason, however, is that the people involved with NASSCO – the staff, board of directors, and each and every one of our members – are like family. Even competitors seem to get along under the NASSCO umbrella, and I attribute that to our unified commitment to ensure the continued acceptance and growth of trenchless technologies.
We have a strong future in NASSCO because of the sturdy foundation built by our leaders. I have had the honor of working with three amazing executive directors over the years. Mike built the organization up and put processes in place to ensure our long-term financial sustainability. Irv Gemora’s unwavering commitment was critical to the awareness and industry acceptance of PACP and ITCP. Current executive director, Ted DeBoda, has done a remarkable job of catapulting us into the next chapter through strong partnerships with other organizations and academia, as well as working to make our committees more active and productive.
I lucked out when my Grandma showed me that old help-wanted ad for a part-time job in someone’s attic. Our founders had great insight and our leaders have brought it to fruition. I hope to be part of this amazing organization and its sustainability, relevancy and growth for many years to come.