Award-Winning Lab Supervisor Wendy Schultz Takes Performance to New Heights in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Environmental lab supervisor Wendy Schultz succeeds with people skills, a love of learning and a forward-thinking attitude.

Award-Winning Lab Supervisor Wendy Schultz Takes Performance to New Heights in Ann Arbor, Michigan

The Ann Arbor Water Treatment Plant produces water with turbidity at 0.3 NTU or less. It treats 14 mgd and serves about 125,000 people.

Wendy Schultz took an interest in water and the environment after spending summers at a Michigan lake.

“My mom, aunt, and uncle were teachers, and my dad worked for the EPA,” she says. “We had a cabin on Sand Lake in southeast Michigan’s Irish Hills, and I spent every summer there until college.” 

That interest has stayed with her. In her job as environmental lab supervisor, Schultz helps to ensure that the city of Ann Arbor’s drinking water, wastewater and stormwater are in compliance. She also finds time to volunteer and is the outgoing chair of the Michigan Water Environment Association Lab Practices Committee. She is also a member of the Michigan Section American Water Works Association Lab Practices Committee.

In June 2018, Schultz won the Michigan Water Environment Association Lab Analyst Excellence Award for outstanding performance, professionalism and contributions to water-quality analysis. In 2017, she received the Extraordinary Partner Stewardship Award from the Huron River Watershed Council.

Love of knowledge

Schultz’s career in the water testing industry began in an independent commercial laboratory. “I had a degree in biology and wasn’t sure what I was going to do with that, so I got a job in a drinking water lab,” she says. “It was captivating, and I loved it because there was always something to learn.”

After four years, she went to work in a corporate environmental laboratory as manager and chemist. She designed and oversaw the lab’s work supporting groundwater remediation, as well as internal and external client projects. She also started her own business on the side as an environmental method designer: “I provided method development assistance to laboratories that wanted to increase their capabilities and expand their client base.”

After eight years, Schultz moved to a senior quality assurance specialist position at an engineering/biotech company. After several years there, she saw an online ad for an environmental lab supervisor position in Ann Arbor.

She credits her mentors for much of her success: “My mom was my first mentor, and she was, and is, an amazing woman. She raised six kids while working full-time as a teacher and then as assistant principal. She taught me respect, honesty and the benefit of hard work.”

The lab manager at her first job, George Krisztian, also made a difference. “He suggested I learn as much as I could about the methods and instruments. So, I asked the other analysts to teach me, and I filled in for them when they went on vacation. It also helped that I am a curious person with a love of knowledge.”

Lime softening plant

Schultz has been with Ann Arbor for almost seven years. Her office is in the lab at the drinking water treatment plant. The water supply is 85 percent Huron River water and 15 percent well water. The raw water undergoes lime softening, ozone disinfection and activated carbon filtration. Chloramines are added as a secondary disinfectant.

The treated water quality is excellent: turbidity 0.3 NTU or less. The plant treats an average of 14 mgd and serves about 125,000 people in Ann Arbor and adjoining townships. Plant staff members also manage the city’s water distribution system, consisting of five pressure districts. The main reservoir, three outlying reservoirs, four remote pump stations and two elevated tanks supply these districts.

The certified lab operates 365 days a year and performs more than 145,000 annual drinking water tests. The lab also analyzes samples from the wastewater treatment plant and from local rivers and creeks.

Dream team

Schultz oversees drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater sampling, testing, and compliance, and she also handles research, training, and budgeting. “The research we do on drinking water and wastewater depends on what we are interested in,” she says. “Right now, we are collaborating with the University of Michigan on research involving the water treatment plant filters.”

She works a 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. shift Monday through Friday. Reporting to her are:

  • John Danielson, environmental lab analyst IV
  • Cicy Jacob, Joel Guild, and Julie Peterson, environmental lab analyst III
  • Zach Kellogg, environmental lab assistant.

Schultz has high praise for her group. “They come to work each day and contribute to the team, help each other, and do their best to be a great work family. Like any great team, we cooperate, communicate, and collaborate. Teamwork makes the dream work!”

Staff members collect daily wastewater samples and bring them to the lab for analysis. Drinking water samples are collected by lab staff or the plant operations staff, depending on the sample type.

“There are always advancements in technology that require us to change testing methods,” Schultz says. “In the past, microbiological testing took much time and media, but we are now using the Colilert-18 and Quanti-Tray method (IDEXX Laboratories), which makes bacterial testing easier and faster.”

Other laboratory equipment incudes an atomic adsorption spectrophotometer (Shimadzu Scientific Instruments) and a Dionex ion chromatograph (Thermo Fisher Scientific).

Giving back

Schultz’s interest in giving back has motivated her to volunteer. One organization she favors is the Huron River Watershed Council. The council has called her “a key ally” of its water-quality monitoring program and further observes, “Wendy and her staff test our samples from Washtenaw County, identify and solve programmatic problems, and graciously greet our volunteers throughout the season, offering tips and encouragement for collecting much-needed water samples from our streams.”

In 2017, Schultz served on the planning committee for the Borchardt Conference, a symposium held every three years on advancements in water and wastewater. She feels her visibility as chair of the Michigan Water Environment Association Lab Practices Committee helped earn her nomination for the Michigan Water Environment Association Lab Analyst Excellence Award: “My commitment to water quality was recognized, and it feels great to be acknowledged.”

She sometimes gives tours at the water treatment plant, and occasionally university students visit the lab. “We explain what we are testing, how we are testing and, most important, why we are testing for it,” she says. “We stress the importance of monitoring and tracking the data in order to maintain water quality not just for drinking water, but also in our source water and wastewater. They all have a role to play together.”  

Schultz is concerned about a future shortage of water treatment professionals: “We don’t have a problem getting younger people to work in the lab, but fewer are entering the trades. So, there are not many operators to fill the void when people retire.”

The solution? Education. “How many people have had to deal with long-term loss of clean drinking water or not being able to flush their toilets?” she asks. “We don’t think about that enough or put a value on what we take for granted until it’s gone. That attitude needs to change, and educating the public on what we do is a key step.”

Making a difference

Schultz says her greatest success is her children. “My son, Ryan, is in the Air Force, and my daughter, Christine, is a student at the University of Michigan.” She likes to think her greatest career achievement is yet to come: “That way, I’ll always be trying to improve myself and keep a forward-thinking attitude. Of course, becoming a manager was the realization of a personal goal. Hopefully, I am a mentor to somebody. You don’t always know if someone considers you a mentor until later on.”

Given a chance to do it all over, “I would choose this path since I enjoy where I am and I like making a positive difference. I would like to see a balance between our needs as humans and protecting the environment that supports us. Water supplies are getting smaller, especially in the Western United States, so we need to protect the sources we have. Water analysis is an opportunity to do that.”

Schultz says she may consider moving into another position in the water industry so she can continue to learn and grow in her career. “It’s a possibility since I’m already located in a water plant. But I do love the lab, so we will see. I agree with Mark Twain, who said, ‘The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.’”

Square-foot gardening

When she’s not at the Ann Arbor (Michigan) Environmental Services Lab, Wendy Schultz likes to garden. “I have a small vegetable garden, around 4 feet by 8 feet,” she says. “I practice a technique called square-foot gardening, which optimizes space to get the most out of it. I have lots of flower beds. Nothing fancy, just your regular plants like hosta, brown-eyed Susan, hydrangea, tulip, daffodil.”

Another hobby is upcycling: “I take wooden pallets that manufacturers are getting rid of and make things out of them. I made a chest for my daughter to take to college. Sometimes I find an interesting object online and fix it up and reuse it.” She turned a free wooden shelf set into a ladder-type cookbook shelf and an end table.

For eight years, Schultz has volunteered for Last Day Dog Rescue in Livonia. The program saves dogs from high-kill animal shelters or those being sold for research, and places them with foster families.

“I foster dogs in my home and help adopt them out to safe and happy homes. I also help train new volunteers. We foster whenever we can. It’s good to give your time to something greater than yourself.”


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.