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Marcia J. Degen, PhD, PE

Technical Services Manager

Virginia Department of Health

Lexington, VA 24450


Marcia Degen received a B.S. in Biology in 1980, a Masters in Environmental Sciences and Engineering in 1985, and her Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering in 1992. All of her degrees were obtained from Virginia Tech. She received her license as a Virginia Professional Engineer in 1997.


Dr. Degen’s Ph.D. research was in onsite wastewater disposal systems, specifically looking at the effect of several variables on the in-ground denitrification rate. While working on her doctorate, Dr. Degen worked closely with Dr. Ray Reneau to oversee the statewide research program in new technologies for onsite wastewater disposal systems.


Dr. Degen worked for several years in consulting and also taught at a local community college for 5 years. She joined DEQ as a water permit writer in 1992 where she wrote both VPDES and VPA permits. She also was a project engineer for the Virginia Revolving Loan Program for two years. She moved to VDH in 1999 where she became an area engineer in that Agency’s Division of Wastewater Engineering. She was the responsible engineer for reviewing plans and specifications for sewage collection and treatment systems in her assigned area. The wastewater engineering program was moved to DEQ in 2003. In 2005, Ms. Degen was promoted to team leader and was the technical program coordinator for the Office of Wastewater Engineering.


While at DEQ, she served as DEQ’s representative on the technical advisory board for VDH’s Sewage Handling and Disposal Regulations and on the Board for Waterworks and Wastewater Works Operation and Onsite Professionals. She also served as DEQ’s representative to the VDH Engineering Design Review Panel and was the initial chairman of that panel.


Dr. Degen moved to VDH in 2009 to assume the role of Technical Services Administrator in the Division of Onsite Sewage and Water Services, Engineering, and the Marina Program.


In 2010 Dr. Degen was elected to the Virginia Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (VOWRA) Board. VOWRA is comprised of practitioners in the onsite industries including engineers, soil scientists, contractors, and operators. In 2011, Dr. Degen was reappointed to the Engineering Design Review Panel, this time as the VDH representative.


Dr. Degen is a current member of VOWRA and the Water Environment Federation.


Leadership Development Opportunities

As an engineer, I have been on the technical side of environmental issues for the bulk of my career. As I moved up to management, I found that consensus building is critical to the success of any initiatives that I engage in, whether they are within my own workgroup or across the state. The opportunity to participate in the CDC Environmental Public Health Leadership Institute was timely as I needed new skills to apply to my new job as state technical services manager for the onsite water and sewage division. I expected to learn some techniques on how to approach problems and maybe how to be a better leader, but what I got was a lot more.


I learned a number of skills on how to approach problems. One of the key skills was the concept of systems thinking. Within state government, we often see problems that continually resurface because a ‘band-aid’ type approach was used to quiet the problem for awhile. The systems thinking approach allows one to break down the issue into its component pieces to understand how the ‘issue’ functions, i.e., what causes it to occur.


Once you understand that, then you can begin to assess where changes can be enacted that can begin to affect the issue cycle in a positive way. By applying this concept to my leadership project, I hope to eliminate a long standing issue regarding the effectiveness of our General Approval process for small wastewater treatment units. Currently there is a fair amount of staff time expended evaluating the ‘exceptions’ and defending the status quo.


The tools used to assess our individual personality strengths and weaknesses were enlightening. In some cases I was not aware that I favored a particular type of personality so strongly, but after the sessions, it made sense that I did. The individual Development Plan (IDP) allowed me to evaluate my skills as a manager and as a consensus builder. I found some areas of weakness that I am working on and my IDP coach was very helpful in providing resources and tools to use to aid me in that task.


I expected to be taught leadership and management tools. What I didn’t expect were the intangibles that I gained. I met a number of truly extraordinary people who are dedicated to their profession of environmental health. It gave me a better appreciation of the overall breadth of our field, the challenges facing the different regions, and a sense of pride at being a part of that larger community of environmental health professionals. In particular, the Team that I was on, #1, was a Team in the truest sense of the word. My fellow team members, Blaine Lyons, Richard Threatt and Kathleen MacVarish, along with my mentor, Tim Hatch, provided guidance and support throughout the process and were a joy to work with.