Turning Job Skills Toward a Passion For Global Clean Water

Jason Cocklin

When I was an Engineer-in-Training, my manager at Freese and Nichols encouraged us to get involved with professional organizations but also to devote time to a cause we felt passionately about.

As a result, I’ve become increasingly active with Water for People, an international nonprofit group that focuses on providing “innovative and long-lasting solutions to the water, sanitation, and hygiene problems in the developing world.” One of the reasons I became an environmental engineer is that I saw what a critical issue water is both in Texas and globally, and it’s an area where I felt I could contribute.

The culture at FNI encourages this and provides a lot of freedom and flexibility for this kind of involvement. We don’t just work with water as a key part of our business — FNI cares deeply about making sure clean water is accessible by everyone.

Leadership role

For the past few years, I’ve co-chaired a statewide committee through the Water Environment Association of Texas (WEAT) and Texas chapter of the American Water Works Association (TAWWA), and we help raise funds for Water for People through various events around the state. Local volunteers host a casino night, a golf tournament and a silent auction at the annual Texas Water Conference. Texas has become one of the top five fundraising states for Water for People. It is an amazing team, led by Adam Conner with San Antonio Water System (SAWS) and supported by significant contributions and effort by a long list of passionate volunteers.

This has been an exciting journey for me, working with other professionals across Texas toward a common goal of raising awareness about global water needs.

Growing up in a military family, I saw a lot of places that lacked the advantages of the United States, where we can just turn on our faucets and get clean water. I try not to take that for granted. And I believe that sharing the resources we have can make a meaningful impact in places that don’t have those same resources.

International volunteering

I was inspired by a trip to Nicaragua in 2012 with a Houston-based group called Living Water. Working in teams, we helped drill and develop a well. That not only helped people in that community get access to a necessary resource, we also reduced their exposure to water-borne illnesses and gave them back the time they used to spend traveling long distances for water. That’s time and energy they could spend on improving their community.

I went on that trip with three friends: Ross Ward, a fellow FNI engineer; and Jim Koss and Jared Barber, who worked for other firms at the time. Jim and Jared later moved to Freese and Nichols, partly because of the importance we attach to community involvement.

In my nine years at Freese and Nichols, I’ve been exposed to a range of projects and have been able to learn from professionals with unparalleled knowledge about water issues. I regularly talk with my managers about other opportunities to use my skills for water-related volunteer work. My long-term hope is to be able to take time each year to volunteer on a water project. With the experience, tools and support that I’m getting at FNI, I’ll be able to make even more of a difference.