Sunday Conversation with Annie Blissit

Female water resources engineer emphasizes education, hard work, service

The best engineers, Annie Blissit says, are people with a holistic perspective and a well-rounded background. The Atlanta native is both. Blissit is a water resources engineer-in-training with Gresham, Smith and Partners in Alpharetta. While Blissit says she happened upon the field of engineering in high school, volunteering always has been part of her life. Her work has opened new opportunities for service, whether it is talking to schoolchildren about engineering or traveling to Nicaragua this May to help build a bridge for a remote village. This combo of work and service is why the American Council of Engineering Companies, a national trade association, has honored Blissit as a 2016 Young Professional of the Year.

Q: What is a water resources engineer-in-training?

A: I do a lot of work with stormwater and wastewater, making sure it is treated before it goes back into our rivers and source waters. I also work on drinking water treatment design.

Q: That is timely, right, given the situation with the lead in the water in Flint, Michigan?

A: Typically, when people find out what I do, the first question they ask is, “Is it safe to drink the water?” It almost always is. The situation in Flint is really awful but the due diligence wasn’t what it needed to be. Hopefully, that will be a large lesson learned.

Q: Are there many women engineers?

A: I work for a company and in a field where I am surrounded by really great women engineers so sometimes I lose perspective. I was at a technology fair and this group of middle school girls remarked, “I didn’t know women could be engineers.” We have to be better about encouraging females and minorities that engineering is a career they fit into.

Q: Yes, but you aren’t an athlete so how do you get kids interested?

A: I know am biased but I think we are cool. The key with kids is to make things relatable and interactive. Fun fact. Two of my bosses, who are brilliant engineers, played football for Georgia Tech.

Q: How did you get involved in volunteer work?

A: My parents emphasized education, hard work and service. I grew up volunteering at a men’s night shelter and was involved with Habitat for Humanity in high school. In college, I was part of the national service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega. I try to continue that service through our volunteer initiatives at work and through the American Society of Civil Engineers. I like working with schools, Habitat, and doing river cleanups.

Q: What about your upcoming trip to Nicaragua?

A: I’ve always had the goal of working with water and sanitation globally. There are so many people in the world who don’t have access to clean water. One of my mentors went to Nicaragua to help with some drainage issues and indicated that the community really needed a bridge. While not treatment-related, he asked if I thought the younger members of the American Society of Civil Engineers could take this on. We will be working with locals and another nonprofit this May.

Q: Are you excited?

A: Yes. We have to take a six-hour boat ride into the jungle to get to the village. The people who need to cross that bridge are a lady who uses a wheelchair and kids who need to get to school. We are there to lend our engineering and construction perspectives to build the 78-foot span bridge. Hopefully, after we leave, the other villages that need bridges will be able to build them on their own.

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