The story of an APWA Congress groupie

Susan M. Hann, P.E., AICP
Deputy City Manager
City of Palm Bay, Florida
Member, APWA Leadership and Management Committee

For years, my dad had been pestering me about joining APWA and becoming an active member (I think he wanted to earn an APWA coffee cup or something like that). Well, my life, just like everyone else's, is busy busy busy, so I was reluctant to take on another commitment. Having always been active in professional organizations, I didn't feel right joining without participating. However, fate intervened, as several years ago I was able to take a new job as Public Works Director in Palm Bay, Florida. This seemed to be a hint that it was time to refocus from transportation engineering to the broader scope of APWA.

Consequently, I joined APWA and began a professional development journey that has been tremendous. Because of my schedule and geographic location, it wasn't practical for me to participate in many of the chapter functions, so in 2001 I decided it was time to check out the annual APWA Congress. I received the brochure in the mail and was encouraged by the variety of educational sessions offered. I am very protective of my time and my city's money, so I wanted to make sure I was getting good value for the investment of time and money. Based on the brochure, the APWA Congress seemed to fit these criteria. Having been to other organizations' "national conventions" my expectation was to sleepily drift through three days of dryly-presented, moderately-interesting engineering-type stuff.

Well, I'm happy to report that the APWA Congress shattered my paradigm! My first Congress experience was exciting, dynamic and patriotic, as the September 11 terrorist attack occurred during the 2001 Congress in Philadelphia. Although everyone was in shock, the APWA leadership did a commendable job reassuring the delegates and respectfully continuing Congress to the extent possible. Despite the national tragedy, I was very pleased with the quality of Congress.

Checking out the exhibits at the San Diego Congress are (from left) Larry Lux, President, Lux Advisors, Ltd., and member of APWA's Board of Directors; Todd Sharpe, State and Local Coordinator, Department of Homeland Security; and Larry Nadeau, Project Manager, City of Port St. Lucie, Florida, and member of APWA's Emergency Management Committee.

The Congress program offers a variety of educational sessions for delegates. The topics range from generic professional development (such as time management) to very specific technical topics (such as how this new widget or new process helped our community). The networking opportunities among public works professionals are outstanding. I've been able to meet many interesting folks from across the country, many of whom with similar problems and innovative solutions. The general sessions are entertaining and interesting. The equipment show has something for everyone—from snow plows to vacuum trucks, to street signs, to software—and all of the exhibits are staffed by knowledgeable company reps offering chocolates, pens and other amusing or tasty products!

As an added bonus, since I'm a middle-aged public works veteran, I signed up to be a mentor for the Emerging Leaders Program. Through this program, those of us aging gracefully are teamed up with the younger crowd to share some specific Congress events and share public works stories. Without a doubt, this is one of the most valuable and interesting aspects of Congress as I was able to spend some one-on-one time with other professionals and talk through some of our common issues and interests. Although our time together was limited, I still keep in touch with folks I've met through this program.

If you happen to learn through one of the educational sessions that you're the type of person who enjoys social events, field trips and fun group activities, Congress offers these too. You (and/or your significant other) can enjoy a variety of offsite activities that highlight local interests.

The 2001 Congress was a great experience. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I thought I would try presenting the following year. So, I dutifully submitted my ideas and was fortunate enough to be selected as a presenter for the 2002 Congress. This, too, turned out to be a very exciting and worthwhile experience. I thoroughly enjoyed the Q&A dialogue with public works professionals from across the country and again made some lasting friends. I also thought the 2001 Congress experience was so valuable that I invited my husband to attend with me in 2002. Although he is not in the public works field, he is an engineer and enjoys (perhaps) my thrilling stories of life in the public sector. Although skeptical at first, he also became a Congress fan and has attended with me since. In his case, he's spending his time and our money—so you know that we are both sold on the value of the Congress experience!

Our contributing author takes a shot at the mechanical surfboard during the Get Acquainted Party in San Diego.

In 2003, we both headed to San Diego for Congress. For my third year in a row, the APWA Congress was an outstanding event. We enjoyed the educational sessions, the 5k run, the locally flavored food and entertainment, the equipment show, and reconnecting with our friends from around the country. I also continued what I hope is to be an annual tradition of presenting at least one educational session and volunteering as a mentor in the Emerging Leaders Program. A highlight of the 2003 conference was an opportunity to try land surfing (think mechanical bull shaped like a surfboard) in my business suit. Fortunately, the bruises eventually faded and I'm left with only a fun memory of my trip to San Diego.

So, here we are approaching the 2004 Congress in Atlanta. I'll be there, presenting my favorite topic—"Survivor Local Government"—and mentoring in the Emerging Leaders Program, collecting souvenirs and info from the vendors, learning new things from my peers, and making new friends in the public works field. Even if your budget is tight, the APWA Congress is a comprehensive and fun learning experience that is well worth the investment of time and money.

That's my story of how I became an APWA Congress groupie. I'll be there every year. I encourage you to try it at least once—I guarantee you will be back every year.

Susan M. Hann can be reached at (321) 952-3413 or at hanns@palmbayflorida.org.

Sue's Top Ten Reasons to Attend APWA Congress

  1. You'll be reenergized about your job—all the new ideas and enthusiasm are contagious!
  2. You'll attend outstanding educational sessions—that also fulfill requirements for professional development hours in many states.
  3. You'll network with interesting people from around the country and the world.
  4. You'll be exposed to new equipment, software and other public works products that you might otherwise see only in a catalogue.
  5. You will meet people with ideas on how to solve your problems.
  6. You will have many opportunities to laugh and enjoy yourself.
  7. You'll get a short break from the office that, while not a vacation, is very refreshing!
  8. You'll meet many of the outstanding APWA staff members. These folks are 110% superb professionals and can help you with many of your local public works issues.
  9. You'll meet national officers—yes, these folks will talk to you and remember your name next year!
  10. You and your agency will receive outstanding value for the investment of time and money.