CWEA Member Betty Olson Honored at Water Symposium

Members in the News, Women in Water

Professor Hee-Deung Park from Korea University presents Olson with a plaque while Jiang looks on.

The Samueli School Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering held a water symposium to honor the exemplary career of longtime faculty member and CWEA member Betty Olson.

Olson, who researches public health aspects of water and wastewater, joined UC Irvine in 1974. In her 44-year career, she also served as a professor of environmental health, science and policy in UCI’s School of Social Ecology as well as a School of Medicine professor of community and environmental medicine.

The June 21 symposium, held at CALIT2, included panels on California’s past, present and future water resources, alternative water resources, water quality, energy and health. The day’s last session highlighted Olson’s water career, courtesy of several colleagues in the field.

Olson is a governor-appointed member of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Western States Water Council, president of the Santa Margarita Water District Board of Directors, and a member of both the Orange County Water Association and the Association of California Water Agencies.

CEE Department Chair Sunny Jiang called Olson a great mentor and role model, as well as a good friend. “I think it’s more than her contribution to the whole water world, where she’s been a steward for California water,” Jiang said. “She has interacted with so many students and postdocs and colleagues over her years at UCI and elsewhere. It’s a source of pride for UCI to have someone connected with the agencies and contributing to the policies, being appointed by the governor … Betty has shown that our faculty is able to reach out to do important things in the world, too.”

One of Olson’s former students, Hun-Kyun Bae, who received his doctorate at UCI and later worked for Olson as a postdoc, praised her patience and warm heart. “She always encouraged me when I was discouraged,” Bae said. “The best part about Betty, and she has a lot of good qualities, is that she knows how to encourage people. She helped me get through [a lot] and I appreciate that.”

For her part, Olson characterized her 40-plus year career as “perfect.”

She said her son always demanded to know why she asked so many questions. “I’ve liked to ask questions all my life,” she said, adding that she is still asking questions in her governmental water quality roles. “What I realize is that I’ve had the perfect career for someone who likes to ask questions.”