WQP 2021 Young Professionals: Dare to Lead

Jan. 13, 2022

WQP highlights the 2021 class of Young Professionals

About the author:

Lauren Del Ciello is managing editor for WQP. If you have questions about the WQP Young Professionals and Industry Icon programs, email [email protected] for more information. If you would like to nominate a Young Professional or Industry Icon to be featured next year, submit nominations at wqpmag.com/nominations.


"Choose courage over comfort,” said researcher Brené Brown in her book Dare to Lead, and WQP’s 2021 class of Young Professionals certainly exemplifies that skill. The young water leaders highlighted in the following pages are already tackling the challenges the future of the water industry faces through innovation and perseverance. They have chosen courage over comfort throughout a pandemic year with an unheard of business climate by launching new businesses, leading their peers through obstacles, pushing technology forward, and more.

Each year, WQP invites its audience to submit nominations for the WQP Young Professionals program. The following professionals were nominated throughout 2020 for their exemplary work and selected to profile through a voting process by the WQP editorial team. The WQP editorial team is honored to share their stories and encourages readers to nominate future young professionals for next year’s program at wqpmag.com/nominations.

RELATED: Nominate for WQP Recognition Programs: Industry Icon, Young Professionals & Dealer of the Month

Taylor Armstrong

[View a video interview with 2021 WQP YP Taylor Armstrong here.]

Sales & Applications Engineer, Canature WaterGroup

Age: 29

Education: Bachelor of Science in Biology (2014), and Bachelor of Applied Science in Environmental Systems Engineering (2017).

Why water?: “I have always had an interest in the sciences, mainly biology and chemistry,” Armstrong said. “Throughout my schooling I developed a passion for studying and designing methods to improve the sustainability of our environment. During my engineering degree, I found myself gravitating to the water treatment electives. Water treatment is essential now, and will forever be, to everyone around the world. This means that we, as individuals in the water industry, are also essential.” 

Past life: Prior to entering the water industry, Armstrong was a student. “Only a few short months after graduating with my degree in Environmental Systems Engineering, I was hired to work at Canature WaterGroup,” Armstrong said. “However, as a student, I did work as a Lake Project coordinator with WaterSheds Canada & The Canadian Wildlife Federation, where I performed shoreline assessments all around Katepwa Lake. The purpose of this work was to educate landowners on ways they can improve their shorelines and the quality of the lake in future years. 

Additionally, while completing my engineering degree, I led a project which focused on practical options for reducing wastewater load in small SK municipalities, subsequently reducing the number of discharges that occur into nearby bodies of water. This project earned a Saskatchewan Sustainability Award from the Regional Center of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development in 2017.” 

Professional accomplishments: “In my time at Canature WaterGroup thus far, I have led, and been involved in, many successful water treatment designs for the removal of various water contaminants (iron, manganese, hardness, TDS, arsenic, bacteria, organics, etc.) with flow rates in excess of 300 gpm,” Armstrong said. “These treatment designs are typically for projects such as hospitals, Hutterite colonies, breweries, grow operations, and other commercial and industrial applications. I have not only been involved in the design of these treatment systems, but I have also been involved in the start-up and commissioning of the designed equipment. Additionally, I have been exploring and winning business in new market segments, with the hopes of growing our commercial and industrial engineering division of Canature WaterGroup.”

Goals: Armstrong is currently registered as an “Engineer-In-Training” with the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Saskatchewan (APEGS) and is working to gain her “Professional Engineer” designation.

Surprising fact: Armstrong cites her affinity for music as a surprising fact. “I began playing piano at a very young age and soon after taught myself how to play the guitar,” Armstrong said. “As a child, I would enter many piano competitions and compete at a provincial level.”

Giving back: Beyond work, she is a member of ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) and AWWA (American Water Works Association)

Jun Kim

Product Design Engineer, Amway

Age: 39

Education: Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering, Rice University

Why water?: “Back in 2001, my college friends and I took a semester off and volunteered to build houses on a remote island in Kalimantan, Indonesia,” Kim said. “After hard day-work, I took a bath in river water, but the water quality was not safe enough to drink. It led me to more questions about the water treatment process and water quality analysis. And that was the starting point of my journey in the water industry.”

Past life: “In graduate schools, I studied applications of bimetallic nanoparticles and carbon nanomaterials (CNTs, graphenes, supercapacitors, etc.) for water treatment,” Kim said. “After graduating, I started my career in various water sectors, such as ultrapure water for semiconductor manufacturing, seawater desalination, oil and gas produced water treatment, groundwater desalting and municipal wastewater treatment.”

Professional accomplishments: “During my 20 years in academia and industry, I have published high-quality journal papers (citation greater than 250), U.S. and international patents, research articles, and conference presentations. Many of the works are recognized as fellowships and awards, such as Certificate of Merit from American Chemical Society (ACS), Constancio Miranda Fellowship from Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and the best paper award from TX-American Water Works Association (AWWA). Most recently, my colleagues in Amway and I worked together and published a filtration performance simulation research. And it was a great honor for us to receive the best paper award from the COMSOL 2019 conference.”

Goals: “My long-term goal lies in providing high-quality drinking water to all customers in the world with different water quality,” Kim said.

Greatest influence: “Bill Stoner and Bill Luke at Amway always give me positive encouragement to explore new challenges with critical thinking. I feel more confident because of their great support and leadership. Also, Dr. Roy Kuennen is so passionate and continues to guide my research even after his retirement. I have learned the most fundamental scientific approaches from his publications and directly from him. I am so thankful for their mentorship.”

Out of the office: “I love outdoor sports (water skiing, snowboarding, paragliding, etc.) and want to try skydiving sometime. I also love visiting new places. Before the age of 30, I traveled to more than 10 countries (Israel, Indonesia, Greece, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, China, India, France, Switzerland, and South Korea).”

Surprising fact: “Meeting students in classrooms always makes me happy and thrilled,” Kim said. “In 2020, I gave special lectures to students and postdocs at Rice University and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.”

Giving back: “I truly hope that my life to be wholehearted and passionate. From school years, I have been engaged in many National Science Foundation (NSF) STEM Outreaches for students and teachers from High Schools (REHS), Community Colleges and Universities (REU),” Kim said. “Now, I am actively participating in NSF International task groups and Water Quality Research Foundation (WQRF) research projects as a member of the Water Sciences Committee at the Water Quality Association (WQA). From 2021, I am also supporting the Michigan Section American Water Works Association (AWWA) as a member of the Research & Treatment Practices Committee.”

Christopher Vizcaino

Research Scientist, Carbon Block Technology

Age: 35

Education: BS Chemistry minor in Physics; MS Chemistry Computational emphasis.

Why water?: “I wanted to dedicate my time to an industry that can make a large impact on a person’s well being,” Vizcaino said.

Past life: “I was a research scientist working on gas phase contaminant reduction, focusing on combustion systems relating to energy generation,” Vizcaino said.

Professional accomplishments: ASTM D28 (American Standards of Testing and Materials D28 Activated Carbon) member contributed to the initial mercury reduction guide; EUEC (Energy Utility Environmental Conference) presentation on novel mercury reduction simulation reactor; Water Quality Association presentation on Activated Carbon reduction mechanisms in water matrices; and Co-inventor on nine patents issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Goals: His goals include “to make water purification technology more accessible to all people around the world,” Vizcaino said. “Not only freshwater but also desalinization and atmospheric. Oftentimes large populations may not have access to freshwater.” 

Greatest influence: Vizcaino’s greatest influences include scientists from around the world. “I stand on the shoulders of all scientists dispersed throughout history, without their help the momentum of scientific contributions would be lost,” he said. 

Out of the office: His hobbies outside of the office include hiking (mostly in national parks), astronomy, reading and programming.

Surprising fact: “I’m a natural introvert trying my best to be an extrovert.” 

Giving back: “I enjoy various forms of volunteer work, mostly environmental and educational opportunities,” Vizcaino said.

Gabriel Foreman

[View a video interview with 2021 WQP Young Professional Gabriel Foreman here.]

Co-Founder, Vice President, Duro UAS

Age: 35

Education: MBA, Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management, Baruch College Zicklin School of Business (2016); BA, Political Science, SUNY Purchase College (2008)

Why water?: “My co-founder and I felt there was too high a barrier to collecting water quality data, specifically regarding the cost, efficiency and user-friendliness of the available options,” Foreman said. “By developing more practical and higher-tech tools, we wanted to play a role in broadening access to this critical information.”

Past life: Prior to entering the water industry, Foreman was working in youth development in the Bronx.

Professional accomplishments: “Duro has won awards, including the American Entrepreneurship Award and FutureworksNYC. Last year, [Duro] was featured in the New York Times,” Foreman said. “I’ve served as a guest lecturer at Cooper Union, Barnard College, Parsons School of Design and the City College of New York, as well as a featured speaker at NYU’s Urban Future Lab and panelist for MIT’s Community Innovators Lab and the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute. The most meaningful accomplishments to me have been to help our students plan for and get started in their careers.”

Goals: “We are working on a number of exciting projects pertaining to the development of the STEM talent pool and increasing access to environmental data, and hope to make a difference at the national level in both areas,” Foreman said. “Stay tuned.”

Greatest influence: His greatest influence is Abraham Lincoln.

Out of the office: Foreman’s hobbies include typography.

Surprising fact: “I’m a twin. Shout out to my brother Max.”

Giving back: “I’m a proud donor to organizations, such as the Food Bank for NYC. But one of the reasons I am in love with entrepreneurship is that we were able to structure our work to engage positively with our community every day, which has made my job fun and fulfilling,” Foreman said. “While it’s true that not every problem has a commercial or commercial-adjacent solution, we believe we are just scratching the surface on what can be achieved through social entrepreneurship, which incentivizes scale in a way nonprofits usually do not. It’s my hope that more people will consider it.”

Merritt Partridge

[View a video interview with 2021 WQP Young Professional Merritt Partridge here.]

Vice President, Partridge Well Drilling Co. Inc

Age: 34

Education: Partridge is a licensed Florida water well contractor and holds a business administration degree from the University of North Florida.

Why water?: “My family has been in the water business for six generations,” Partridge said. “I’ve grown up around the industry. It was just a natural progression for me.”

Past life: Prior to entering the water industry, Partridge attended school. “I worked at our family well drilling business in the summers of middle school and high school,” Partridge said. “The water industry is where it started for me.”

Professional accomplishments: “I have served on a lot of industry boards both nationally and locally,” Partridge said. “I have been fortunate to have been elected by my peers as president of the Florida Ground Water Association and the National Ground Water Association.”

Goals: “Our company, Partridge Well Drilling Co. Inc., has a long, successful history,” Partridge said. “It was founded by my great, great, great grandfather in 1892. There is pressure and responsibility that comes with that. My goal is to improve on the success our company has had and to make sure that it can continue to be profitable for years to come.”

Greatest influence: “This is a tough question for me,” Partridge said. “I have been very fortunate to have many great influencers in my life. I’ll pick two: My wife, Kasey and my Dad, Pat. Both have had a tremendous impact on my life both professionally and personally.”

Out of the office: In his free time, he loves spending time on the water. “I enjoy overnight boating trips with my family and playing golf when I can.”

Surprising fact: He has earned his boat captain’s license.

Giving back: “I have three young children,” Partridge said. “They keep my wife and I pretty busy outside of work.”

Brian Bellon

Owner, Great Water Company Inc.

Age: 36

Education: Bellon is a certified, independent dealer of Kinetico water treatment products.

Why water?: “I was raised in the water industry,” Bellon said. “My dad bought a Kinetico dealership when I was only 14-years-old. He, my brothers and I worked to build a successful water treatment business. I was home-schooled so I would do my schoolwork in the backroom of our first office space and went with my dad on installations and service calls.”

Professional accomplishments: “Though all within our family-owned-and-operated company, I have worked in a couple different fields of the water industry, including bottling, delivery, and treatment and have been fortunate to gain experience in all of them,” Bellon said. “My wife and I officially bought the family-business in January 2020, and I am working towards getting my [New Mexico] Plumber’s License and becoming WQA-certified.”

Goals: “I’m looking forward to continuing to learn everything I can about the water treatment industry in order to help improve the lives of my customers through better water and continue to grow my business in a way that is beneficial to my family and my employees,” he said.

Greatest influence: “I’ve been blessed to be surrounded and influenced by several people in my professional and personal life, with a lot of wisdom and experience that I’ve been able to glean from my entire life,” Bellon said. “I am incredibly grateful for these relationships and how they’ve helped me along the way.”

Out of the office: “I enjoy shooting rifles competitively and teaching my kids to do the same,” he said. “I like to take my family hunting, hiking, UTV-riding, and exploring the amazing area that I get to live in.”

Surprising fact: “I have owned several different types of farm animals and currently own dozens of chickens and two goats that are trained to hike with me,” Bellon said. “These goats are able to easily hike for miles with me and my family and have actually enabled me some awesome opportunities to get closer to wildlife than I could without them.”

Giving back: I am a board member at our local gun club. I am involved in my kids’ home-school activities and sports. As a company, we are always looking for volunteering opportunities, such as local trash-clean-ups and children’s reading programs, and enjoy being able to donate our company’s bottled water to community activities like kids’ camps and sporting events.

Jake Pleadwell

[View a video interview with 2021 WQP Young Professional Jake Pleadwell here.]

Technicians/Customer Support, Advance Pump & Filter Co. 

Age: 27

Education: Pleadwell currently holds a B.S. in Business Administration. He is also working to obtain his MBA & WQA Water Quality Specialist Certification. 

Why water?: “My parents had been in the water industry ever since I was born, but I was originally planning on being a marketer or a teacher,” Pleadwell said. “As time went on, I decided that I wanted to work in a field that helped people, that solved real world problems, was challenging both physically/intellectually, had an opportunity for international involvement. And it just so happened that the industry for me was right under my nose.” 

Past life: Prior to entering the water industry, Pleadwell worked as a paraprofessional in a special education program that worked with students who had a variety of mental/emotional conditions, he said.

Professional accomplishments: “Removing 75 old lightbulbs from our office warehouse,” he joked. “In all seriousness though, I had the opportunity to travel to Sri Lanka to learn about the country’s problems with Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology (CKDu) and it’s possible connection to water quality. This was an eye opening experience, and I was fortunate to speak to a number of people involved with researching both water quality and CKDu.” 

Goals: “I want to put myself and others in a position to help tackle some of the big problems that our world will be facing regarding water; both at the micro and macro level,” Pleadwell said. 

Greatest influence: His greatest influence is his mom, he said. “She has always been such a rock for our family and for the business. I really don’t know how she does it all. I feel super lucky to have her as mentor with 35 years in the water industry and as my mom.” 

Out of the office: “I really love movement, so I’m big into running, yoga and skiing,” Pleadwell said. “I’m also a ballet dancer. My girlfriend and I are to perform Swan Lakes pas de deux this spring.” 

Surprising fact: “I played Justin Beiber on Hawaii 5.0, S6 E10. It was my 15 seconds of fame.” 

Giving back: “I‘m an assistant lacrosse coach for Exeter High Schools JV/Varsity teams,” he said.

Akintunde Aboaba

[View a video interview with 2021 WQP Young Professional Akintunde Aboaba here.]

Director, Aqtros Water

Age: 35

Education: BSc (Industrial Engineering), Msc (Industrial Systems Engineering), CSSGB (Certified Six sigma Green Belt). WQA Design certification (in progress)

Why water?: “I started my engineering career in the brewing industry working in the water treatment plant, which was crucial for beer production as contaminants affected the taste of beer,” Aboaba said. “While in graduate school at University of Regina, I was offered employment as a Service Technician with Nimbus Water of Regina (a kinetico dealer in Saskatchewan). [I learned] about numerous water filtration systems, as well as installing and servicing kinetico products. My love for water treatment and filtration products lead me to be an entrepreneur and a kinetico dealer in the lower mainland of British Columbia.”

Past life: Prior to entering the water industry, Aboaba worked on process improvement and production engineering projects for a brewing company in Africa. The company was a division of Heineken International, he said.

Professional accomplishments: “Winning numerous academic awards that was used to fund my graduate research work, which focused on developing high efficiency chemical solvents for carbon capture at University of Regina,” Aboaba said. 

Goals: His goals include, “To be successful in the water treatment industry and be a great model to other aspiring engineers and professionals.” 

Greatest influence: Aboaba cited Greg Makelky and Benjamin Olaleye as his greatest influences.

Out of the office: When he is not working, Aboaba loves traveling and cooking.

Surprising fact: “I enjoy challenges because it helps to shape my character as an individual, and it enhances my problem solving skills to handle difficult situations,” Aboaba said.

Giving back: “I do welfare duties at my local communities and support by organizing vocational programs,” he said.

Stephen Evangelista

[View a video interview with 2021 WQP Young Professional Stephen Evangelista here.]

Owner, HQ Water Solutions

Age: 31

Education: Evangelista holds a Project Management certificate from Penn State, as well as an OSHA 30 certification, Aqua Technician I certification and Electrical Theory & Concept certification. He holds a CDL-A, and is working toward a WQA professional certification. Evangelista is also a member of the Eastern Water Quality Association (EWQA).

Why water?: “I viewed the industry as an opportunity to challenge myself and learn the depths of a niche field while traveling, honing my craft and developing a new skill set,” Evangelista said. “After spending nearly 10 years in the commercial/industrial water treatment business, I decided to chase my longtime dream of owning my own company and providing the high-quality customer service experiences I thought the industry was lacking.” 

Past life: “Before entering the water industry, I was in the construction/heavy-equipment field where I served primarily in a construction-management role,” Evangelista said. 

Professional accomplishments: “I am most proud of being an entrepreneur and having the ability to shape my work and meet my client’s needs in new and creative ways,” Evangelista said. “I love giving back and helping others — especially those in my community. I am incredibly proud of the high-quality work that HQ Water Solutions provides our customers.” 

Goals: “I aspire to continue to grow my business and serve my customers to the best of my ability,” Evangelista said. “I would love to continue to build a company that my family and children are proud to be a part of, while always remembering to give back to my community and those in need. I also look forward to modernizing the field while continuing to innovate and utilize new technology in the space.” 

Greatest influence: His family and other successful small business owners have been Evangelista’s greatest influences. “My parents instilled within me a strong work-ethic and the ongoing desire to provide for my family,” Evangelista said. “I also greatly admire other successful entrepreneurs and small business owners. My wife continues to be my biggest cheerleader, and she’s not only helped me establish and grow my business, but she continues to motivate and inspire me to be my best self.” 

Out of the office: “My hobbies include spending time with my family, mountain-biking, watching Penn State football, riding motocross, and venturing out to local breweries and restaurants.” 

Surprising fact: “I had the opportunity to live in an RV while traveling the country working with a motocross promoter,” Evangelista said. “It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I’ll never forget.”

Giving back: “I’m very involved with my local chamber as well as a few other professional organizations and water treatment associations,” Evangelista said. “I enjoy supporting my community through volunteerism, involvement with various boards/chapters, and via philanthropic support of organizations that are meaningful to me and my family.”

Cody Brooks

Service Coordinator, Puroserve Water Conditioning

Age: 28

Brooks has worked for RWS Corp./Puroserve since he was a teenager. He has run soft water and salt routes, and performed DI deliveries, installations and service, including laboratory sanitization and maintenance. 

Brooks had a severe foot fracture and was unable to work without restrictions for six months in 2018, according to John Foley Sr., who nominated him. At that time, he worked in the office. Brooks now oversees all scheduling with an emphasis on efficiency, Foley Sr. noted.

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