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Cheryl Porter Shatters Glass Ceilings as First Black Woman President of AWWA

Cheryl Porter, a trailblazer in every sense of the word, is now leading the charge for the American Water Works Association (AWWA) as its President. Her election is historic, marking the first time an African American and a woman of color has held the top board position in the organization’s 143-year history. As the Chief Operating Officer of Water and Field Services for the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), Porter’s ascent to this role signifies a monumental step forward, not just for the AWWA, but for the broader community she represents.

Porter’s leadership journey is deeply rooted in Detroit, where she attended public schools and laid the foundation for her remarkable career. Her election as AWWA President is a moment of immense pride and significance, reflecting the hard-earned progress of Black women in leadership roles. For too long, these positions have been inaccessible, but Porter’s achievement is a beacon of hope and a testament to the resilience and excellence of Black women in the professional sphere.

“It is a tremendous honor having been elected President of the AWWA,” said Porter. “As a product of Detroit Public Schools and the first Black person to serve in this role, the historical significance of this post is not lost on me.”

Porter’s role is not merely symbolic. She brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the AWWA. Her tenure with the organization includes pivotal roles on the Finance Committee and as a Vice President and Director-at-Large on the Board. She has also been a member of the Board of Trustees for the Michigan Section of the AWWA. These positions have equipped her with a comprehensive understanding of the water sector’s challenges and the strategic vision needed to address them.

In her capacity as GLWA’s COO of Water and Field Services, Porter oversees the operations of five water treatment plants and their associated water transmission infrastructure. These facilities provide treated drinking water to 88 member partners across 115 communities in southeast Michigan. Her leadership ensures that these systems operate efficiently and safely, safeguarding the water supply for millions of people.

Porter’s educational background is equally impressive. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the University of Michigan, an MBA with a concentration in Human Resources Management from Madonna University, and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Detroit Mercy’s School of Law. Additionally, she holds State of Michigan operation certifications for both water distribution (S-3) and Complete Treatment (F-1). This diverse educational foundation empowers her to approach her work from multiple perspectives, combining technical expertise with managerial and legal acumen.

As AWWA President, Porter has set her sights on addressing the most pressing water issues facing communities today. Her focus includes enhancing water quality, ensuring equitable access to clean water, and preparing the water sector for the impacts of climate change. “My focus will be on working with the passionate and committed individuals at AWWA to tackle the most pressing water issues and help ensure our communities are better protected in the face of climate change,” said Porter. Her words resonate deeply, especially given the disproportionate impact of climate change on marginalized communities.

Porter’s presidency comes at a critical time. Water issues are increasingly becoming front-page news, with communities across the country grappling with aging infrastructure, contamination crises, and the looming threat of climate change. Her leadership is poised to guide the AWWA through these challenges, leveraging her expertise and vision to drive meaningful progress.

Joe Jacangelo, AWWA Immediate Past President, praised Porter’s capabilities, stating, “Cheryl brings to AWWA a wide range of experience, having superlative knowledge and skills from a technical, managerial, and business perspective. Her foresight and vision will be instrumental in guiding our Association’s Water 2050 initiative and assuring success in meeting future water community challenges.” This endorsement highlights the confidence the organization has in Porter’s ability to steer the water sector toward a sustainable and equitable future.

Porter’s election is not just a personal milestone but a collective victory for the community she represents. It underscores the importance of representation and the impact of having diverse voices in leadership positions. Her story is a powerful reminder that Black women are not just capable of leading—they excel and bring invaluable perspectives and strengths to the table.

As we celebrate Porter’s historic achievement, it is essential to recognize the broader implications of her role. She is a role model for young Black women aspiring to leadership positions in any field. Her journey exemplifies the power of perseverance, education, and dedication. It also serves as a call to action for organizations to prioritize diversity and inclusion, ensuring that leadership opportunities are accessible to all.

Cheryl Porter’s presidency marks a new chapter for the AWWA and sets a precedent for future leaders. Her vision and leadership will undoubtedly leave a lasting impact, paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable water sector. This is a moment of triumph, not just for Porter, but for all who believe in the power of representation and the potential for change.

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