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She Flies with Her Own Wings: 3 Women Who Made History in Oregon and Beyond

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Women’s History Month is a time to remember and celebrate the contributions women have made to our shared history, culture, and society, whether those contributions were made in Oregon or beyond our state’s borders.

To shine a spotlight on women who have made — and continue to make — their marks on the world, we’d like to introduce you to these women whose work has shaped our City and our world.

Portrait of Dorothy McCullough Lee, Portland's first female mayorDorothy McCullough Lee

Dorothy McCullough Lee was a trailblazer in Oregon politics. McCullough Lee served as a Congresswoman in the Oregon House of Representatives from 1929 to 1931. After her service in the House, McCullough Lee and Gladys M. Everett created Oregon’s first all-women law firm which operated out of the Failing Building in downtown Portland.

In 1932, McCullough Lee re-entered the State Legislature, serving as an Oregon State Senator until 1943. McCullough Lee resigned from the Oregon Senate to fill a vacant seat on Portland City Council, where she became the first woman to serve on City Council and the first female to lead Portland’s public utility agencies, including what would become known as the Portland Water Bureau.

Later, McCullough Lee served as Portland Mayor from 1949 to 1953.

According to Historian E. Kimbark MacColl, "Mrs. Lee was probably more qualified by experience and training to serve her office than anyone in Portland's previous history.”

Portrait of Jean RichardsonJean Richardson

In 1949, Jean Richardson was the first woman to graduate from Oregon State University’s Civil Engineering program. Her first job out of college was working for an engineering firm in Birmingham, Alabama, for one month with no pay —to prove to the company that her work was just as good as the male engineers at the same firm. By the end month, Jean had made her point: the firm hired her for pay.

After working in Alabama and taking time to raise a family, Jean returned to Oregon where she became the first woman to head maintenance engineering for the City of Portland where, towards the end of her career, she designed the Columbia River wastewater treatment plant.

Today, one of Portland’s Aerial Tram cars is named “Jean” to honor Jean Richardson’s legacy and contributions to the City as a trailblazing female engineer.

Deepika KurupDeepika Kurup

At 19 years old, if you add up Deepika Kurup’s accomplishment, you’d get quite an impressive list.

In 2012, Kurup received the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Award for her work in developing an inexpensive, solar-powered water cleaning system that can provide clean water to communities around the world, particularly in underprivileged areas.

Then in 2014 she was awarded the U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize award for her project “A Novel Photocatalytic Pervious Composite for Degrading Organics and Inactivating Bacteria in Wastewater.” A year later, Kurup was named one of Forbes’ 2015 30 Under 30 in Energy.

Ensuring that communities have access to clean water is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of life-threatening diseases.

Now a Harvard sophomore studying neurobiology, Kurup says that the motivation for her work is to help people by solving the world’s biggest challenges.

Join Our Team: Water Treatment Operator II

If you're interested in joining an award-winning public utility where employees thrive on the pride of delivering a life-essential product with world class customer service, the Portland Water Bureau might be just the place for you.

The Water Bureau is a recognized leader in the utility industry. We've achieved this success by investing in the very best people and empowering them to find new and better ways to meet our customer's needs.

The Water Bureau currently employs approximately 560 people. All current job postings with the City of Portland are posted online, and updated weekly. We are an equal opportunity employer that values diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Current Opportunities at the Water Bureau

Position   Emp. Type   Salary   Closing Date/Time Join Our Team 
Water Treatment Operator II  Full Time  $26.31 - $34.01 Hourly

Mon. 4/21/17 4:30 PM Pacific Time

 Apply Here!

All completed applications for this position must be submitted no later than 4:30 p.m. on the closing date and hour of this recruitment. E-mailed and/or faxed applications will not be accepted.

Learn More About the Water Bureau


For more information regarding career opportunities at the Water Bureau, contact (503) 823-3515 or e-mail.

Women in Water: Jasmine Varela, Operating Engineer

The Portland Water Bureau is celebrating Women’s History Month by recognizing the women on our staff who have made a mark on their chosen profession through hard work and talent. We share with you a series of stories about women in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) field who embody that achievement.

Women of the Water Bureau: We tip our hat to your achievements, and to all of the dedicated women who work to provide our customers with clean, safe and high-quality drinking water.

Jasmine Varela at work stationJasmine Varela
Operating Engineer at the Portland Water Bureau

What is your role at the Water Bureau?

As an operating engineer, I help operate, treat, and maintain our water distribution system. I maintain all of our pumps and motors within our system, making sure they are working efficiently and effectively.

Describe your typical day for us. What does that look like?

A typical day for me is a morning meeting within our group discussing our projects and activities for the day. Then it’s out to the field to complete my daily, weekly, and monthly work orders. Depending on my day, I can be repairing a pump, helping other districts with shut downs, cleaning tanks, repairing a regulator, investigating a pressure issue, operating our SCADA system, calibrating our chlorine analyzer, changing oil in a motor, and ordering parts for our various projects. These are only a few of the things that Operating Engineers do every day.

How has your experience been at the Water Bureau?

My experience at the Water Bureau has been one of daily growth, a thankfulness for my job, and the ability to find my voice among many. Starting as a utility worker apprentice, I worked for some great mechanics who not only helped me succeed, but enabled me to find my path. Being a member of the 2008 Women's National Pipe Tapping Team was the best experience I could have ever had at the bureau. It gave me a sense of pride in not only what I do, but a pride in representing our bureau. 

What is your greatest professional inspiration?

My greatest professional inspiration would have to be my mom. My mom raised my sister and I while going to school at nights at University of Southern California Medical School. She worked two jobs to not only keep a roof over my head and put food on the table but to put herself through school as a radiologic technologist. After my mom retired from her medical profession, she became a floral designer for the movie business in LA. She helped with the floral design work for three major movies and I was a proud daughter. My mom overcame many obstacles being a woman in the movie industry and always continued to push forward.  

Jasmine watches as two young girls go through a “Main Break Simulation” at a Women in Trades Fair workshop.What does it mean to be a woman in a field (or a bureau) where women have been historically underrepresented?

To be a woman in a field where women are the minority is a hard place to be. I think there are always people – whether male or female – who may think that a woman is unable to handle the job. Yet, there are those who also see no difference and find that a woman can actually do the job better. I feel that a lot of thoughts are due to upbringing and experiences. For me, I saw my mom do it all: work, cook dinner, change oil, fix things around the house, and love my sister and me. In turn, I believed I could do anything (within reason, of course). If you have confidence within yourself then you only have to prove to yourself that you can do that job and the others will see by your actions.  It also depends on the crew you get placed on. I had the best start with Otha Govan, Benjamin Campbell, Terry Tanski, and Rick Baldwin. They helped me to be a better utility worker by constantly helping me to learn.

Which women have served as your professional role models or mentors?

Again, my professional role model would be my mom. But outside of that, I would say my college volleyball coach, Lori Zielke. Lori Zielke was a true professional mentor in regards to coaching. She taught me how to love the sport, respect the conditioning, and to care for my players. Lori was the type of coach I knew I wanted to be when I finished college. She was tough, didn't need to cuss at you, and she lifted you up when you were down. She pushed you to the edge and was always positive. Lori made me want to do my best for her by how she treated us as young adults. She never tore us down and always kept us in check. I have had my fair share of coaches but Lori made the biggest impact on me and shaped me to be the coach I am today. She cared about us as athletes but as kids, as well.

Who should we be celebrating as “Women Making History” now?

Welders, mechanics, managers, CEOs, law makers, coaches, firefighters, police officers, equipment operators, and writers, among the few. Times have been changing, and seeing more women in any job where we have been under-represented is a celebration. 

What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in your field?

I am always talking to my volleyball kids about different careers and what they are interested in. I find that many still lack self-confidence and that breaks my heart. The advice I give them is to never give up on what you love to do, always hold your head high, and never let anyone tear you down. There will always be trials and tribulations but how you choose to look at them is what makes you better. If they want to pursue my career path, I tell them to start as a utility worker apprentice and let your actions speak for themselves. Don't ever be afraid to ask questions as that shows interest and helps you learn. The one who doesn't ask questions but “knows it all” is a failure and a liar. I would also tell them to help yourself by researching as nothing will ever be given to you on a silver platter and you wouldn't want it that way anyway. Put your best foot forward and someone along the line will notice but, most importantly, be true to yourself and who you are. 

What else do you want to share about yourself and your work?

I am very thankful for the people I have around me as an operating engineer. We have built a solid crew of players who are hard workers, have a willingness to learn, work together as a team, and are good friends. It provides a positive environment with effective work results.

Describe something about your life outside of work.

If anything, I hope my three-year-old daughter can look back and see what her mommy has done over the years at the Water Bureau, the strides she made over the years and the obstacles that I faced, and that she may have the same pride and self-confidence that my mother taught me.

Women in Water: Ann Levy, Environmental Program Manager

The Portland Water Bureau continues to celebrate Women’s History Month by shining a spotlight on the women of the Water Bureau who have made a mark on their chosen profession through hard work and talent.

Let’s meet Ann Levy, a program manager in our Water Quality division.

Ann Levy
Environmental Program Manager at the Portland Water Bureau

What is your role at the Water Bureau?

I am an Environmental Program Manager in Water Quality. For the last five years I have managed the bureau’s compliance with the Bull Run Treatment Variance.  I have a small team of talented scientists that focus on environmental monitoring and watershed protection activities related to the Oregon Health Authority’s requirements.

Describe your typical day for us. What does that look like?

A typical day will start with checking in with my team regarding the status of our compliance samples, which are the bread and butter of our program. So far in 2017, my days mostly entail following up on the recent Cryptosporidium detections. We are investigating the Bull Run watershed for Crypto sources and planning next steps. I work closely with a variety of stakeholders in the Water Bureau including staff in our Resource Protection, Engineering, Treatment Operations, and Public Information departments to provide the latest technical information and data.

How has your experience been at the Water Bureau?

It’s been a great experience, ever since I was hired as an Environmental Technician I back in 2005.  I’ve had a chance to work on a variety of programs within Water Quality over the years which has kept me challenged and engaged.  I’m grateful to have had so many people at the bureau help me grow professionally.

What does it mean to be a woman in a field where women have been historically underrepresented?

It makes me feel proud. I am reminded that my grandmother actually got her B.S. in chemistry back in the day but never had a chance to use her degree. She might have been the only woman in her degree program. She ended up working in a factory to support the war instead.  I’m sure she’d be proud of me for having a career in science.

Which women have served as your professional role models or mentors?

At the Water Bureau I must give a shout out to Yone Akagi and Briggy Thomas who have always been there for me. It’s important to surround yourself with supportive people who challenge you to step outside your comfort zone but who will also have your back.

Outside of the Water Bureau, the role models I always think of include “the Janes” – Jane Goodall and Jane Lubchenco.  I had the honor of hearing both of them speak while I was a student at the University of Portland. Most people know about Jane Goodall and her trailblazing career and accomplishments.  Jane Lubchenco is a distinguished environmental scientist at Oregon State University and served as the Administrator of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  She inspired me with her practical advice about being a woman in the sciences.

What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in your field?

I would really encourage her to join the environmental science field. It’s always interesting, challenging, and rewarding. Find an area to specialize that you enjoy and connect with a good advising professor. You don’t have to pay to go to graduate school; they should be paying you to be there!  Spend lots of time in the field and the lab. Be open to opportunities as they present themselves. Be patient and put in your time at “the bottom.”  That’s where you build your discipline and work ethic.

Describe something about your life outside of work.

To balance out all my time in the technical realm, I love to spend time enjoying the arts: going to musicals, plays, live music, art museums, and reading novels.

TRAFFIC ADVISORY 03/30/2017: NW Saltzman Road Water Main Replacement Project

Map of NW Saltzman Trailhead closureA contractor for the Portland Water Bureau will begin installing 1,570 feet of new water main along Northwest Saltzman Road on April 3. The project will take approximately 90 days.

This project will replace the leaking two-inch galvanized water main with a two-inch high-density polyethylene pipe to strengthen the water supply system for the area.

As the road is very narrow, NW Saltzman Road – including the Forest Park Lower Saltzman Trailhead – will be closed to all motor vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists except resident traffic during construction hours, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Alternative trailheads include Maple Trail, Leif Erickson Drive, and Wildwood Trail.

For more information on the project, visit