Can a water-focused internship or a scholarship steer high school students to successful careers in the water sector? The Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) asked some former students who have been there and done just that.
High school students transition into water jobs
Take Eric Melanson, who in 2011 was a junior at Ella T. Grasso Southeastern Technical High School in Groton, Conn., when he interviewed for a summer internship with the Groton Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA). Three years later, he still is there, having moved up the ladder twice, including a recent promotion to senior operator.
“Most high school graduates from around here end up working at places like McDonald’s,” Melanson said. “Without the internship, I’d probably be there, too.”
Rudy Pacheco of Irving, Texas, can relate. He owes his job as a utility service technician at the Irving water treatment facility to the internship he completed there during the summers of 2009 and 2010, he said. “The partnership between the city and our local school district opened doors for me that I otherwise wouldn’t have even known existed,” he added.
For Pacheco, the internship opportunity was also a lifeline. “I remember walking down the corridor [at my high school], feeling completely lost,” he said. Pacheco was unsure what career path would help him provide for his family. Then he looked up and saw a sign about a water utilities training program. “I went directly to the teacher in charge and asked how to get started, right then and there,” he said.
“Rudy was hungry to learn and to build a future for himself,” said Anthony Galindo, the city’s utility maintenance supervisor. “I wish I had another 10 just like him.”
College students travel the road to engineering
Internships and scholarship competitions have ignited water-sector career aspirations in college-bound students as well.
Megan Yoo Schneider says she always had an affinity for water. But winning California’s Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition 2 years in a row confirmed that she wanted to turn that love into a career.
Today, at 26, Yoo Schneider is working at an Irvine, Calif., consulting firm and has completed a master’s degree in environmental engineering. In addition to already serving as member of the California Water Environment Association’s Board of Directors, she also is about to become the chair of WEF’s Stockholm Junior Water Prize committee.
In Connecticut, Kelsey Reeves was studying plumbing and heating at Groton’s technical high school when her internship with the Groton WPCA led to an epiphany.
“I had no real plan at the time,” Reeves said. “But I totally fell in love with what I was doing and decided that I wanted to make this my career.”
This fall, Reeves will be a junior at the University of Connecticut (Storrs, Conn.), where she is studying environmental engineering. She already has completed an internship at a Connecticut consulting engineering firm and is participating in a green renewable energy program in Iceland this summer.
“I like everything about the idea of working in water and wastewater,” Reeves said. “You’re helping the environment. You’re helping other people. It’s really one of the most rewarding jobs you can have.”
— Mary Bufe, WEF Highlights