Director, Distribution & Collection at SAWS
While many San Antonians pour themselves a glass of cold water on a blistering Texas day, engineering manager and interim director of distribution and collection Alissa Lockett is part of the hard-working team at San Antonio Water System who keep the water flowing safely and clean for our fast-growing city. “I love my profession because I can say every day that I was part of protecting the public health and making life better,” she says.
Lockett’s parents were San Antonio natives. “My mother, Rita Raye Riley, and father, Charles Louis Lockett, met at Alamo Heights High School and married right after college,” says Lockett. “My mother obtained a degree in elementary education from Southwest Texas State, and my father earned a degree in zoology from the University of Texas at Austin. He went on to obtain his master’s in biochemistry while my mother was already teaching.” Almost nine years after her parents were married, Alissa came along, and her brother entered the family three years later. “We grew up on the northeast side of town, and I attended MacArthur High School, where I participated in debate and science fair competitions,” she explains.
After high school, Lockett attended Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., where she obtained a degree in civil engineering with a specialty in water resources in 2002. “I chose Cornell without making any college visits outside of Texas,” says Lockett. “I learned the hard way what winter felt like in the Snow Belt. I was too stubborn to transfer, despite my misery!” After graduating, she immediately kick-started her career as a consulting engineer on water/ wastewater projects, back in her hometown. Missing the classroom and searching for opportunities to meet new people, Lockett began her master’s degree in business administration in 2003 and graduated in 2006.
She started the next phase in her career at the San Antonio Water System in 2009, where she initially worked in engineering and later moved to operations as soon as the right position became available. “My father inspired my interest in the water/wastewater industry, when I was very young,” explains Lockett. “He would take me to visit his workplace in the laboratory at San Antonio’s largest water recycling center. I was in awe of the delicate microorganisms that he showed me through his microscope that were essential in making the wastewater treatment process effective.”
On a daily basis, Lockett is surrounded by the hard-working men and women that help keep the water flowing safely and clean in San Antonio. She is honored not only to be a part of this team, but of a major foundation of modern society, as well as trying to knock down any barriers of being a female engineer in this field. “As a female engineer working in utility operations, I think the fact that I am an anomaly gives other women hope that there are not insurmountable barriers in their career path after all,” she says. “I also try to be honest, fair, and compassionate in my actions, while maintaining a sense of humor to keep it real. Working in operations has heightened my passion for my job because it is fast-paced, and problems often have to be resolved in hours, not years, like many engineering projects.”
When Lockett isn’t busy with her engineering/distribution and collection duties, most of her volunteer hours are devoted to the professional association she belongs to — the American Water Works Association (AWWA). “I have served on the board at the local, state, and national levels, and spent many years coordinating activities for young professionals,” she says.. “Our local chapter participates in Basura Bash to clean up the San Antonio waterways and also raise money for ‘Water for People’ — a charity that provides safe drinking water in developing countries.” Lockett may have a busy schedule helping shape and guide water policy and education efforts throughout Texas, but she also plans to participate in her neighborhood association. “I am very interested in the betterment of the historic Monticello area that I live in,” she explains.
Why she is a role model: Alissa Lockett faced many bumps and adversities in her life, as well as her career path, but it was her endurance that led her to where she is today — making a difference by protecting the public health as engineering manager and interim director of distribution and collection at San Antonio Water System (SAWS).
Her role models: “When I was younger, I looked up to heroes like Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela. While I still admire them greatly, my role models now are closer to home — my mother, father, grandmother, aunts and uncles. These are the people that made me who I am and have always supported me.”
Words or phrases she lives by: “Never end your day without learning anything.” Aminoto Kosin; “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Albert Schweitzer; “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.“ Albert Einstein.
Last book read or favorite book: “I am in a book club with some of my high school friends, but I do not always read the book because I feel like email burns me out on reading. My favorite book that I read because I wanted to was probably Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres.”
Favorite band: Duran Duran
Favorite movie: Gone with the Wind
Favorite pastime in San Antonio: “Walking along the River Walk or eating tacos…tough choice!”
Where she grew up: “The northeast side of San Antonio.”
Most memorable moment as a youth: “Since my mother was a teacher, and my father was an aquatic biology aficionado, there was no shortage of learning experiences growing up — visiting the McNay, the Witte, the San Antonio Museum of Art, the San Antonio Zoo and SeaWorld. Riding the skyride at Aquarena Springs in San Marcos with my brother is probably my most memorable experience. That place was magical to me, due to my love for water and the fact that my mom had worked there when she was attending Southwest (Texas State). I still love riding the glass-bottom boats to this day.”
Describe a personal goal: “I hope to help my team win the national championship for pipe tapping, which is a timed competition where men’s and women’s teams from utilities across the nation drill into a cement-lined ductile iron pipe and install a tap for water service. It’s like CrossFit for utility workers. A good time for the women’s team is around two minutes. My role on the team has changed from coach to setter this year, so I have to improve my upper body strength so that we can defeat 10 or more other teams.”
Describe a professional goal: “Looking toward the future, I hope to earn a position in executive management at a water/wastewater utility. Ideally, it would be in San Antonio because I love this city and cannot handle the traffic in Austin, Dallas or Houston.”
What struggles, obstacles or triumphs have shaped you? “Between the ages of 25 and 31, I lost both my parents and my brother. While I have experienced immense loss for someone my age, I do not dwell on the sadness of it, but rather focus on the many wonderful memories. Losing my immediate family has made living life fully even more important to me because I am still here, and I feel an obligation to appreciate, experience and enjoy life to the extreme.”
By Kristin Mears | Photography by Elizabeth Warburton