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From Uganda to Colorado: Opportunities and adventures

Denver Water surveyor builds success in her new country through working hard and making connections.

When Lynate Wanyana was in high school and college in her home country of Uganda, she was used to being one of a few women in her math, physics, geomatics and engineering courses.

“I didn’t mind being the only girl in class with mostly boys, because I loved math and physics and was good at it. Being a girl wasn’t an issue,” Wanyana said.

But she was surprised when, during a survey internship, only the men were taken out into the field to get crucial practical experience.

When Wanyana told her female supervisors that she wanted field work, their response was something she’s remembered ever since.

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“They told me to claim my place,” Wanyana said. “I had to learn how to ask for those jobs, knowing that if I didn’t ask, I’d be left behind. Now, if I want something, I know how to ask for it.”

Those lessons served Wanyana well. It’s how she ended up moving on her own from Uganda to Colorado. It’s also how she landed her job in June 2021 as a survey technician at Denver Water in the midst of a world-wide pandemic, when many organizations weren’t hiring. Wanyana now works as an associate drafter on the team that manages and oversees Denver Water's physical assets. 

Wanyana grew up in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, where her family prioritized education and hard work, which helped her succeed in both university and in her professional career in Colorado. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Wanyana wanted to be a surveyor for years, after listening to her father, a construction contractor and land broker, talk about the important role surveyors played on his projects.

Wanyana grew up in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city. Uganda is about the same size of Colorado, but with far more people. The country has more than 48 million people, compared to the roughly 5 million currently living in Colorado.

“Kampala is the most developed city. Everyone comes from the villages to start something in the capital, so it was fun to grow up there,” Wanyana said.

With one older sister and two younger brothers, Wanyana’s family home was a bustling and busy place. Her mother worked in marketing for a large hotel and both parents prioritized education and responsibilities.

“In Uganda, parents care the most about their children going to school and getting good grades, so they promote talents instead of hobbies,” Wanyana said.

The days were typically filled with homework and chores.

“Our parents were strict because they wanted to make sure we grew up right and were ready to take advantage of future opportunities,” Wanyana said.

Wanyana credits her mother, Tendo Serinah, and her father, Tendo Apollo, shown here at her university graduation party, for supporting her education and her chosen field. She learned about surveying from listening to her father talk about the surveyors on his work projects. Photo credit: Lynate Wanyana.

It was great training for Wanyana. Her academic successes paved the way for her to study geomatics engineering — a discipline that involves gathering, storing, processing, and delivering location data — at the University of Ndejje in Uganda, about 45 minutes from her home in Kampala.

“When my dad talked about the surveyors at work, I thought that sounded like such an interesting job.”

Wanyana loved her university studies and the year she graduated won an award for being the best female student in the entire university.

“I was so surprised at the awards ceremony, because when they called out my name as the winner, they pronounced it wrong,” Wanyana said. “I didn’t even know they were calling me!”

When she graduated from university in Uganda, Wanyana received the award for being “overall best performer” from Ndejje University officials in 2019, a moment captured by the Ugandan newspaper The Monitor. Photo credit: Dan Wandera/The Monitor.

During school, one of Wanyana’s dreams was to travel. She wanted to see the world, so movies became a way to travel without leaving home.

“Movies gave me a chance to see and experience other places, which was helpful when I moved to the United States,” Wanyana said. “Now, when I miss home, I bring up a video from YouTube and it brings me right back.”

Wanyana left Uganda in 2020, moving to the U.S. to join her husband, whom she’d married half-way through her university studies.

Having never traveled internationally, Wanyana navigated multiple large international airports on her own, often asking people for help to get to the right place.

“Before moving to Colorado, I had never been outside of Africa,” Wanyana said. “I was worried about moving to a new place, which I only knew from movies, so I didn’t know how things would go and it was all so new.”

Wanyana left Uganda in 2020 to be with her husband, Ivan, who was already living in Colorado. Photo credit: Lynate Wanyana.

She landed in Colorado in March 2020, on one of the last flights to land at Denver International Airport before airlines were grounded in the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic.

With her husband away on a construction job, living in an apartment in a new country, and her closest sibling in Texas, Wanyana knew she was responsible for creating her new life.

She knew English, but needed to learn new American words. So she got a job at a grocery store, which turned out to be the perfect place to meet people. She learned the names of American foods and the different cuts of meat, which were totally different than in Uganda.

Most importantly, she learned different communications skills.

“At the grocery store, I learned how to talk to people,” Wanyana said. “Sometimes I’d have to say something three times for people to understand my accent, so as much as I wasn’t understanding them, they weren’t understanding me.”

Meet Viviana Verde, a mechanical engineer at Denver Water.

While she worked at the grocery store, she looked for work that was related to her degree. She talked to surveyors in Uganda, asking if they had connections in Colorado, and scoured websites and LinkedIn for local companies and surveyors.

But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies were on hiring freezes. With no response from her applications, Wanyana started to think about jobs outside her field.

Then, a leading surveyor at a Denver-area company she’d researched responded to her inquiry asking about how she might get her foot in the door.

He suggested Wanyana look at one of the local utilities. She did: Denver Water was hiring.

Wanyana remembers being thrilled when Denver Water called to schedule an interview. She also remembers being stressed: Would the skills she’d learned in Uganda transfer to the United States?

“Before the interview, I had doubts. I was not sure that I would be able to answer their questions or be familiar with the equipment they use at Denver Water,” Wanyana said.

“Then, I was so excited when I had the interview because I knew the answers to everything they asked me about. I loved every bit of it.”

Her survey work at Denver Water has taken Wanyana to many unique places in the utility's mountain collection system as well as across its distribution system in the Denver metro area.

When Wanyana lived in Uganda, she dreamed of seeing different parts of the world. At Denver Water, she has worked in many unique places, from cities to mountains and from reservoirs to dams. Photo credit: Lynate Wanyana.

“I wanted to be a field person, and I love that I’m doing that now,” Wanyana said. “Every time someone here at Denver Water tells me they’re so excited to have me on the team, what they don’t know is that I’m more excited than they are.”

In her two years at Denver Water, Wanyana has continued to seek out new challenges, including taking advantage of Denver Water’s tuition reimbursement program to further her education by studying for her master’s degree in Geographic Information Systems at the University of Denver.

Her survey teammates have taught her how to drive the large pickups they use in their work, and she navigates the Denver metro area easily.

“When I talk to my parents and tell them about my work, they’re so proud,” Wanyana said.

“I want to keep gaining skills so I can be useful to the group. Any opportunity or chance I get, I want to keep growing and climbing the ladder when I can,” she said.

“Denver Water focuses on growth and having personal work-life balance, and I love working in a place where I’m prioritized. I really love Denver Water and in 20 years, I hope I’ll still be here.”