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Female Operations Challenge Team Blazing a Trail for Women in Industry

By: Michelle Segrest

The TRAilblazers, a WEF Operations Challenge team of women from the Trinity River Authority of Texas in North Texas, got together because they wanted to make a difference. And an impact.

“We wanted to show women that we can do anything we set out to and hopefully encourage more women to explore opportunities in this industry,” explains Dani Etchegaray, Operator MCRWS and coach of the TRAilblazers. “As we spent a couple weeks getting to know each other and working out how this team would operate, I was elected Coach, Crystal Harness was elected Captain, and we have the pleasure of working with Maria Rubiano, Gladys Garcia, and Crystal Delgadillo.”

Captain Harness is the Chief Solids Operator at Ten Mile Creek Regional Wastewater System and described by Etchegaray as “very disciplined, goal-oriented, and driven.” Rubiano works as an Engineering Support Analyst in the Metering department of the Collections System Group (CSG). “She is very methodical and is always making sure we have a solid grasp on what the best way to execute our runs would be. She also makes tests for the team to study,” explains Etchegaray.

Gladys (Gigi) is an Environmental Specialist—always prepared and on top of any updates in the rules and always an uplifting person that doesn’t let a little difficulty stop her, says Coach Etchegaray. Crystal Delgadillo is a Utility Maintenance Worker II with CSG and operates the vac truck. “She is good at encouraging everyone and is an excellent team player as well as a good motivator. I truly believe we have a solid set up of different personalities and skills that makes for the best team. These ladies are incredibly attentive to detail and don’t have any quit in them. Any doubts just make them stronger.”

In the beginning, however, there were a few challenges.

“We didn’t get discouraged,” Etchegaray says. “Instead, we put our heads together and worked as much as we were allowed to get to where we needed to be for Texas Water. The improvements we made in six weeks are absolutely incredible, and I would like to credit that to our teamwork and drive to prove that we, as women, can also get it done and get it done well.”

Etchegaray graduated from Mansfield High School in 2018 and decided college wasn’t the right fit at that time. “I wanted to start a career,” she says. “My dad has worked in and around the water/wastewater industry my whole life so I searched around for jobs and landed myself at the City of Cleburne water treatment plant where I spent almost two years learning the ins and outs of the plant and how water reacts to various changes.

Etchegaray obtained a Class C Surface Water license and then moved into her current position at TRA, which is an Operator at Mountain Creek Regional Wastewater System (MCRWS).

For the TRAilblazers, the Operations Challenge is a chance to prove not only to others but to themselves that they can accomplish whatever they put the effort into. “It is a chance to improve skills we use day-to-day, as well as hone skills we may not do as often,” Etchegaray explains. “Not only are we improving practices in the workplace but soft skills as well, learning to communicate better, work together, active listening, and overall getting out of our comfort zones. We practice hard and consistently work toward being a team we can be proud to be on as well as a team that others can be proud of and look up to.”

Advocating for women in the industry is the most important mission of the TRAilblazers, Etchegaray says. “Without the women in the industry we wouldn’t be where we are today. Despite any doubts people may have or adversity we face, we put our heads together and find a way through it. We adapt and overcome. We consistently encourage each other, and the women who come to see us practice, to step out of our comfort zones. Not only do we celebrate our accomplishments, but we pick each other up and find a way through any obstacles we face.

“We have an incredible support system within our team, and outside of our team we have so much support and mentors like Jennifer Moore and Dale Burrow helping us navigate everything from the event challenges to challenges within ourselves. Our communications team made some posts throughout different social media platforms marketing the team and what we have accomplished and the amount of feedback we have received from other women in and out of the industry is incredible.

“We are all very happy to be able to make an impact and hopefully inspire more women to step out of their comfort zone and show what they are capable of. I would just like to say that I am thankful for this opportunity to show women that we are strong mentally and physically and we can do anything.”

The TRAilblazers won First place for Brand New Team, Third place Overall, Second place in Safety, Third place in Lab, and Second place in Process during Texas Water.

Check out this article and others like it in our Empowering Women in Industry Digital Magazine.

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