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Celebrating women in science

Denver Water women discuss how their interests led to careers in STEM.

Editor’s Note: In this story from Amrita Gupta, a water quality technician on Denver Water’s water quality team, she and her colleagues discuss their different career paths at the utility that serves 1.5 million people.

Amrita Gupta, water quality technician, joined Denver Water in 2021. Photo credit: Denver Water.

My name is Amrita Gupta, and I grew up in south Denver as a first-generation, American-born citizen. My parents immigrated to the United States from India before I was born. 

As a young girl, I always pictured myself following in my mom’s footsteps to become a commercial pilot. 

But at the end of my freshman year at the University of Colorado Boulder, I became fascinated by ecology, which stimulated a growing curiosity for natural sciences. I decided to major in biology and started working at a research station. 

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After graduating, I worked as a chemical analyst, which then led me to Denver Water, where I currently work in the water quality lab. 

Something that’s always stood out to me throughout my education and professional career is the lack of women in the science industry

Women have increasingly established their places in the workforce, making up almost half of U.S. workers. However, women are severely underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math fields — often referred to as the STEM fields. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women represented only 27% of STEM positions in 2019. 

Denver Water reflects this demographic, with women making up 28% of our workforce across a variety of departments. 

I recently had the opportunity to talk with three other Denver Water women to learn more about their journeys in STEM. Let’s meet them. 

Diana Benedict, IT applications senior developer, joined Denver Water in 2016. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Diana Benedict, IT applications senior developer 

Benedict was born in Colombia and came to the U.S. when she was 6 years old. She is fluent in Spanish. 

Why did you decide to pursue a career in STEM?

Her interest in science was within her at a young age. 

“I recall as a very young child sitting by my front window watching some bees interact with each other and the flowers. I was so fascinated that I went to the library and got some books about bees. From then, I realized I had a natural inclination to science.” 

What brought you to Denver Water?

Benedict received her bachelor’s degree in biology with a pre-med concentration and a Master of Science degree with a concentration in evolutionary biology and biogeography. 

During graduate school, she was a teaching assistant for various labs and taught lectures to students. She also took additional classes in GIS, or geographic information systems, while in graduate school and decided to pursue a career in GIS after graduating. After many years of experience, she came to Denver Water in 2016. 

What advice do you have for women and girls pursuing a career in STEM?

Benedict has mentored young women who are interested in STEM and encourages them to follow their passions and stay committed to their studies. She encourages girls and women to find mentors. 

“When someone told me I could not do something because it was going to be too hard, I would take that as a challenge.” She asks all women to remember, “it is challenging but very rewarding.” 

Rita Balderes, safety specialist, joined Denver Water in 2021. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Rita Balderes, safety specialist 

Balderes grew up in a large family with seven siblings in Wichita, Kansas. She is a descendant of the Maya Indians.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in STEM?

Balderes grew up with conservation and sustainability always top-of-mind. Her mother instilled her great-grandmother's values of conservation and also helped Balderes develop a strong connection with the environment. She also experienced the tumultuous Kansas climate, including tornadoes, which sparked an interest for environmental studies.  

What brought you to Denver Water?

Balderes moved from Wichita to Brighton, Colorado, with her sister, where she was able to get her first position as an environmental specialist, receiving 14 certifications in just six months.  After taking time off from her career to care for family, she came to Denver Water as a safety specialist in 2021. 

What advice do you have for women and girls pursuing a career in STEM?

She encourages young women to network in the organizations they’re interested in and ask questions. Get your certifications and stay diligent and ambitious. 

Nisha Nelson, senior electrical engineer, joined Denver Water in 2014. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Nisha Nelson, senior electrical engineer 

Nelson was born in India and is fluent in Hindi and Konkani.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in STEM?

In school, Nelson always loved science and math and was fascinated with how things work. She would often help her dad fix things, which grew into her seeking a career path in STEM. After her first year in college, she decided to focus on electrical engineering. 

There are many types of engineers at Denver Water who all work together to build and maintain our vast system

What brought you to Denver Water?

She was influenced by her uncle to pursue a career in the water industry and joined Denver Water in 2014. Prior to living in Denver, Nelson lived in Las Vegas, Nevada, where water is also scarce. 

What advice do you have for women and girls pursuing a career in STEM?

She advises women not to be intimidated by male-dominated fields, conveying that women can pursue a career in STEM. She hopes that one day her daughter will also seek a career in the STEM fields. 

I hope that reading these stories of just a few of our amazing Denver Water women encourages other girls and women to get out of their comfort zones and not let intimidation prevent them from following their own paths. STEM is an important and growing area, and we need the voices of women to impact our future.