Why Volunteering can Lead to Bigger Ponds

Author: Amy Uyen Truong

With great efforts, Gabriel Eckstein, Professor at Texas A&M Law School, served as the conference chair for the XVI World Water Congress held in Cancun, Mexico. Professor Eckstein encouraged TAMU faculty to attend the international conference and for students to serve as “Rapporteurs” or volunteers for the span of the week. The platform serves as an opportunity for TAMU to showcase its water-related research while offering students an introduction to international water issues. For any student considering ways to broaden their experiences or enter a new research area, this blog post aims to suggest why volunteering can lead to bigger ponds.

When the conference is held in Cancun, Mexico- pack some walking shoes. In between long hours and decisive networking, grab a backpack and go walk the ruins of Tulum or enjoy the local cuisine. This exercise gives the mind the opportunity to breathe and digest all the new concepts learned from the conference.

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Caption 1: Tourist laden streets colored the environment and served as the perfect place for the conference.

When a professor asks you to volunteer at a conference- weigh the costs and then just do it. As a student, securing funds to travel might be the hinging factor but at the right conference, the benefits will outweigh the costs. The World Water Congress is held every other spring and serves as a roundtable with ideas that will contribute to the World Water Forum held the following fall. The role of the rapporteur serves as a unique opportunity to engage in the international water discussion while cultivating the mind and perspectives of the youth. When serving as a volunteer, over-seers view you with gratitude while you are gaining knowledge free of cost.

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Caption 2: Rapporteurs work together to summarize sessions at the end of each day which inevitably fosters close working relationships.

Think about who you are and what you want to bring to the table. As a rapporteur, the opportunity to meet and engage with somebody new offers unique insights. Influential members include the International Water Resources Association (IWRA), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), World Bank, UNESCO, and countless other organizations and universities. Be prepared to talk about the content of the conference and about yourself. Get that elevator pitch down and make sure you can communicate your work, research, or thesis in three minutes or less. But don’t just give your thesis title or your alternative or null hypotheses; try to engage on how your work can impact the global common, and try to convert domestic vernacular into an international dialogue.

For example, the key to engaging in meaningful conversations at an international conference is to think about your own research as a gateway to discussions but maintaining attention by shedding light on why your research matters. How does your research inspire you? Can it inspire others? What research results do you anticipate? How might that change in a developing community? At the beginning of the conference, you might fumble through these questions, but by the end of the week, you’ll be surprised on how your answers evolve through shared dialogues and countless inspiring sessions.

Remember to be yourself and represent your organization well. Don’t hesitate to relax after each day of the conference, but find ways to engage with other students or participants too. Scholars are tasked with creating a sustainable future for the world, but they’re also normal people. These are the same people you’ll find in a taxi cab, restaurants, coffee shops, or even on the dance floor during the dinner gala. Who you are during the conference matters outside the conference as well. Let the best you come through.

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Caption 3: Participants unhinge after countless days of brainstorming for a sustainable future.

If you were unable to attend the congress, here are some key concepts to take away.

There was a major emphasis on Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) as a key innovator for the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Challenges in IWRM include the need to enhance education and outreach efforts to communities, include the political class and civil society for effective policy making, and to think about issues, such as transboundary water sharing, not only from the national- but from the basin-scale as well.

Of equal importance, there was a shift in the transboundary water management discussion as not just sharing waters but sharing benefits. Expect this sentiment to permeate upcoming research and projects.

Another major focus was on water security and the upcoming challenges and opportunities of ensuring reliable access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation for all regions and climates. For example, scholars discussed the importance of water security from the national level but also from the city-local level as highlighted in the session covering challenges and opportunities for Asia. Other valuable moments included lessons learned from implementing technology in the arid regions of the American continent which included case studies on wastewater treatment, desalination, rainwater harvesting and drought monitoring.

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Caption 4: Moderator Dr. Torkil Jonch Clauson asks panelists to speak on the future of IWRM.

Additionally, the WEF nexus is here to stay, and it wants you to be a part of it. There was an emphasis for the WEF nexus to be a framework that does not alienate other frameworks but rather seeks to solidify good water management by bringing in the energy and food sector as well.

Lately, there is a place for students in the water dialogue. There was a statement to high-level panelists on how and where students should be placed in the water decorum. As future influencers, the youth called on the government to represent and include students and young professionals to the conversation when considering a sustainable future.

In closing, I came to the congress with my own research but left with new research interests and project ideas. Volunteering for the Congress gave me a perspective on potential research avenues and additional career goals. Being a rapporteur afforded great opportunities but keep in mind it was a full-time job that required countless hours of writing and dependability. For students interested in becoming a rapporteur in the next congress, come prepared to work hard, represent your organization well, and bring an open mind. I hope to see you in Daegu, Korea!

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Caption 5. Amy Uyen Truong, Texas Water Resources Institute, presents on integrative irrigation techniques for urban water conservation and drought management.

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