In 2017, when Pellissippi State Community College applied for an ATE grant through the National Science Foundation to fund the establishment of a new program to prepare students for careers in water and wastewater treatment plants, LDA Engineering enthusiastically supported that effort. We understood fully the need that public utilities and private companies have for water/wastewater certified operators and the crucial role they play in our communities.
According to Drexel Heidel, general manager of West Knox Utility District, there is specific technical expertise needed in this field where up to fifty percent of certified operators are scheduled to retire within the next 10 years. In addition, the pass rate for Class 3 and Class 4 operators in the state is only around 30 percent.
We are pleased that the NSF grant was awarded and that the new Water Quality Technology Program’s first cohort of students began classes in January 2020 – the start of the college’s spring semester. (A small group of students were able to get a jump start with two courses in the fall.) As a cohort, this group of 11 students will follow the same schedule and progress through the degree program together. The program is specifically designed for people working full-time. There will be a mix of evening classes, fast-track classes, and online courses. Being part of a cohort will offer students invaluable peer support.
Program Coordinator, Cristina Carbajo said, “I’m very fortunate to be a part of this exciting and much needed new program at Pellissippi State Community College. I have a passion for STEM education and breaking down barriers and stigmas surrounding the field. I have been overwhelmed with the support from industry partners- our students are set up for success upon completion of this program. I can’t wait to see how this program grows and how Pellissippi State can be a part of helping shape the future of the water/wastewater industry.”
The Water Quality Technology Program is the first of its kind in Tennessee, and other community colleges have been inquiring about it. Administrators are currently looking at ways this could be implemented statewide. In the meantime, the program at Pellissippi State, which will give students a broad range of experiences and knowledge in preparation for the state test, anticipates a larger class next fall as interest grows
As an engineering firm that is committed to the future of the field of civil engineering, LDA believes this program will be hugely beneficial to filling the current need of trained water and wastewater plant operators. We will continue to offer our support by referring eligible individuals to the program, helping identify industry-recognized credentials, coordinate site visit and guest lectures with our utility clients, provide a company representative to serve on the program’s advisory or leadership team, and assist with job placement through networking with utility clients.
To find out more about the Water Quality Technology Program, contact Program Coordinator Cristina Carbajo [email protected].