APWA Congress: Go for the Education. Stay for the Celebration!

Brigitte A. Mayerhofer, P.E.
Director of Engineering
Village of Wilmette, Illinois
Past President, Chicago Metro Chapter

Education and Celebration...It is these two words that best describe APWA Congress for me. This year I am celebrating my ten-year anniversary attending APWA Congress. Compared to many of my long-tenured colleagues, I would consider myself an infant in the organization. Having been a member since 1994, I attended my first Congress in Dallas, Texas in 1995 and have not missed one since. While my perspective on APWA and Congress may not be as broad as some, it is nonetheless just as sincere and heartfelt.

For me, the best part about a career in the fields of engineering and public works is diversity. Boredom and complacency are nonexistent in this career, because of the breadth of challenges that fill our days. At the moment of writing this piece, my desk is covered with everything from soil remediation studies, to bike maps, to sewer hydraulic studies. And when I am done reviewing these projects, the historic brick street program, expressway sound wall and water plant equipment specifications require my attention. Finding a single training opportunity that covers these and dozens of other topics is an unwieldy proposition, but APWA Congress does just that!

The author (third from right in the front row) attends one of the sessions during the 2004 APWA Congress in Atlanta, Georgia.

Before I even get on a plane to Congress, I like to map out the sessions that I intend to visit. Looking ahead to Minneapolis, the educational sessions look terrific. My initial review of the program topics brought to light an astounding 64 sessions, over four days, that captured my interest as being beneficial to me and the community I work for. Every year, my most difficult challenge is prioritizing my time so that I can attend as many of these programs as possible. Many states require registered professional engineers to obtain continuing education credits in order to maintain their licenses. In case you fall in this category, you can have your badge scanned after each session you attend and order a copy of your earned credits. Last year, I even attended a couple of sessions on behalf of our Village Manager.

Like many other smaller cities, Wilmette is challenged with trying to do more with less and tighter budgets. I am thankful that my Village Manager and Village Board continue to recognize the value in sending me to Congress. Each year when I return, I prepare a report outlining some of the most beneficial sessions at Congress. Sharing this information is one way of assuring my Village Manager and elected officials that their investment in my attendance is well spent.

My focus thus far has been on the dynamic and diverse educational sessions found at Congress; however, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Where else can you network with literally thousands of your peers from across the world, sharing problems, and more importantly, sharing solutions? I would encourage anyone who has not attended a roundtable discussion to try one this year. Held on the exhibit floor, these informal discussions are perfect to share knowledge and dialogue on a variety of topics. Last year, I joined a roundtable discussion led by an attorney who specialized in construction contract management. It just so happened that I had spent several hours at Congress on the phone with my staff back in Wilmette, working through an issue with a contractor who was close to defaulting on a contract. With the help of the moderator and advice from others who attended, I was able to gather some helpful and timely advice. I can almost guarantee that there will be a roundtable discussion that can offer the same for you!

Last year as the Chicago Metro Chapter President, I was invited to attend a forum with the APWA Board of Directors to discuss issues concerning the chapters. This opportunity to network with the Board and professional staff was invaluable. I strongly encourage future leadership to participate in similar meetings that are offered. If you sit on a committee for your local chapter, there are typically national meetings to discuss everything from membership to diversity, so that you can bring new ideas back to your chapter. I have found the leadership of APWA to be extremely approachable and welcoming. Through Congress, APWA creates an opportunity to network with your chapter peers across the country; all you have to do is show up with your ideas and experiences!

An integral part of each Congress is the annual Awards Ceremony, where APWA pauses to honor its own outstanding members. In this photo, Brigitte Mayerhofer (then-Vice President of the Chicago Metro Chapter) accepts the Presidential Award for Chapter Excellence (PACE) Award on behalf of the chapter from then-APWA President Dwayne Kalynchuk at the 2003 Congress in San Diego.

Congress is also about Celebration! In a profession that is too often taken for granted and overlooked, Congress is our opportunity to celebrate the passion for what we do. The energy and enthusiasm at Congress is contagious and I leave every year with a feeling of renewal. This passion for public works is recognized at the annual Awards Program at Congress. In addition to cheering for the recipients from our chapter, I truly enjoy celebrating the people and projects that represent the best in our industry. And after ten years, I am still awestruck and inspired by the Top Ten Public Works Leaders of the Year. I hope to follow in their footsteps some day.

I could continue on about the outstanding General Sessions, the wealth of knowledge on the exhibit floor, the camaraderie at the chapter dinners, and the thrill of the Get Acquainted Party, but duty calls and I can no longer see the top of my desk. I would like to thank all of the APWA staff and local chapter volunteers who work so hard to make Congress a reality each year. I hope you know that the APWA membership appreciates your efforts to bring this magnificent show to life. See you in Minneapolis!!

Brigitte A. Mayerhofer, P.E., received APWA's Young Leader Award in 2001. She can be reached at (847) 853-7627 or mayerhoferb@wilmette.com.