Working towards water for all: An interview with Aria Harris, Xylem emerging leader

Working towards water for all: An interview with Aria Harris, Xylem emerging leader

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, catalyzed Aria Harris to take action and focus her undergraduate studies at Howard University – and now her career – on working for a more water-secure world. Today, as a recent college graduate and member of Xylem’s Engineering Leadership Development Program (ELDP) and equity champion, Aria is a program manager concentrating on improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

As part of Xylem’s commitment to creating a high-impact culture that empowers employees to lead, the company offers several early career development programs. These programs provide recent graduates with the opportunity to work in key roles in finance, operations and engineering, and other disciplines.

Aria reflects on her experience in the ELDP program – and why she’s bringing her talent and passion to solving water:

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey that led you to the water industry and Xylem?

Aria: I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from Howard University in Washington, DC – one of the oldest historically black universities in the United States – in 2022. I wanted to become a biomedical engineer to work on solutions for those grappling with diseases and life-altering conditions. Little did I know that a single project during my undergraduate tenure would ignite a passion for water security that would shape the course of my career.

Q: What was that project that ignited your passion for water and water security?

Aria: It was a project presented by my chemical engineering professor, who posed a simple yet profound question: if we could alter one engineering catastrophe, what would it be? Instantly, my mind turned to the tragedy unfolding in Flint, Michigan, at the time – a crisis where a community of predominantly people of color were denied access to clean, potable water.

Q: How did the water crisis in Flint shape the course of your career?

Aria: I knew if I wanted to make a difference in helping more people achieve water security, I had to deepen my understanding of how the water sector works, and where I could best apply my talents. I found out that Howard University collaborated with WEFinFlow, the Water Environmental Federation’s program committed to enhancing diversity and inclusion in the water industry.

I seized this opportunity and joined their StemPATH initiative, which connects students to the water sector and helps them build their network within the water community. WEFinFlow opened doors by providing resources, connections and exposure to industry leaders like Xylem, which provides financial support for the program as well as Xylem experts as mentors. One such event, “Journey Through Water,” resonated deeply with me.

Listening to leaders in the water sector share their commitment to community service through their work filled me with profound gratitude. It was clear that I had found my tribe – individuals driven not just by ambition, but by a shared mission to make a tangible difference in the world.

Through WEFinFlow, I found a mentor at Xylem who guided me toward the Engineering Leadership Development Program, which I started in 2022. The program focuses on developing leaders to tackle the world’s most pressing water challenges.

Q: What has your experience at Xylem been so far?

Aria: Being part of Xylem’s ELDP has been an incredible opportunity. I’ve had the chance to gain experience in a number of different areas across the company, including learning about emerging water trends and technologies as part of Xylem Innovation Labs. I’ve also worked as an application engineer at our Charlotte, NC, location, helping to implement a software management platform for our treatment team, and I’ve served as a program manager for Xylem Watermark, the company’s corporate social responsibility program, helping to scale Xylem's WASH capacity by analyzing our internal capabilities and collaborating with our partners to disseminate our technologies and expertise.

With each new rotation, I’m building my skills and knowledge, and getting a better sense of where I want to focus my talent and passion for solving water.

Aria Harris at the Reservoir Center for Water Solutions

Joining Xylem opened my eyes to the multitude of opportunities to blend service into the work we do, through initiatives like Xylem Watermark and our Employee Network Groups. I’ve had the opportunity to get involved with some of Xylem’s amazing partners, such as the National Society of Black Engineers and Engineers Without Borders (EWB-USA), channeling my passion not only to give back to communities and showcase opportunities within the water industry to underrepresented youth. I also recently represented Xylem as a subject matter expert on domestic WASH at an industry event at the Reservoir Center for Water Solutions.

My journey underscores the importance of education, mentorship and community involvement. It highlights how our skills and passions can make a meaningful difference in achieving water security for all.

Read more about Xylem’s commitment to sustainability in our 2023 Sustainability Report, which launches on June 3, 2024.

Learn more about careers at Xylem.