The Project WET Foundation is pleased to announce that Edna Primrose, Assistant Administrator of Water and Environmental Programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is joining its Board of Directors. With an impressive 20-year career as a champion for youth education, she has the experience and passion to guide Project WET into a new era of water education. Edna joined us for an interview to help our network learn more about her background and interests.
Why water education?
Edna supports many causes, but water is very important to her. “Water literally is life and it’s a fundamental need for survival,” she says. “I think one of the things that surprised me is that there are people in the United States who don’t have access to safe drinking water and clean sanitation. It has been very eye-opening for me to learn that there are serious equity and access issues right here where we live.”
Having worked with several international organizations throughout her career, Edna is aware of the challenges that are faced in developing countries and underserved populations globally. She sees her new position on the Project WET Board as an opportunity to make a difference both in communities in the United States and worldwide, so that everyone has the same access to water and sanitation.
A varied background in education and making a difference
Edna compares her career experience in both the public and private sectors to the journey of Bilbo Baggins in the classic novel, The Hobbit. She has been “there and back again,” and believes that each step brought her closer to where she needs to be, which is with Project WET.
Edna’s first job was with a labor union where she worked for an apprenticeship program helping women and minorities begin careers in the skilled construction trades. Although she had studied business administration in college, her true passion was education. Inspired by her sisters in the education field, she found herself gravitating in the same direction. “It was a concerted effort on the part of the union to create more opportunity for people,” she explains. “Apprenticeship is education with business sense.” She continued her work with apprenticeship programs, eventually overseeing an initiative on women in the skilled trades. Edna recalls, “I think that was where I got the bug to try to do something meaningful – to help make an impact where there isn’t as much representation.”
From there, Edna began her work in the Job Corps, a national residential program for youth. In her words, the program helps students “come into their awesomeness.” She eventually became the national director of the Job Corps program, but never lost her personal touch. To her, it was about cultivating relationships with key partners and helping students learn how to be productive members of their communities.
That talent for making a local impact through a national program is essential in her current position at the USDA. She says, “I think that’s really the crux of what I like to do: to cast as wide a net as possible, to be impactful and to help people improve the quality of their lives, but also have that personal touch.”
Edna’s love for working with youth and desire to make a difference in the water space motivated her to join Project WET. “It’s such an honor to be a part of the board. Project WET is a phenomenal organization with a global reach that is so inspiring,” she says. “The more you educate people, the more you can be impactful about access and teaching people to be responsible stewards of the water they have. That collaboration can lead to creative solutions to make sure water systems are sustainable.”
Big plans for Project WET
When asked about her plans for the future, Edna first acknowledges the remarkable accomplishments that Project WET has already achieved. “It’s important to remember that Project WET has a great legacy and a very strong foundation,” she says. She also sees a lot of potential for new opportunities. “One thing that has impressed me is the way Project WET has pivoted during COVID-19 to create more virtual learning. That’s wonderful because you can reach more people.” She is also eager to see the organization establish more partnerships. “The truth is we’re all connected, so where we can make those key strategic partnerships that will increase outreach, increase education, and most importantly increase results around water security, I think will be pivotal.”
A message for the network
Edna wants the Project WET educator network to know how awesome they are. She explains, “I like that they can take very complex scenarios and break them down so that a regular person can understand them. The curriculum makes education fun while teaching lifelong lessons about water.”
She also recognizes that while educators might not see the effects of their work immediately, their work has an incredible impact that extends far beyond the classroom. “You are literally changing people’s lives every day. I think that is one of the reasons I wanted to be part of this organization, because I can see not only your commitment to excellence, but also your commitment to community and to the planet, and that’s something I want to be a part of.”