A hundred miles north of New York City, not far from the origin of the 107-year-old Catskills Aqueduct that supplies 40% of the Big Apple’s water, a new generation of professionals is being trained to protect the region’s coveted water resources.
All are students of SUNY Ulster Community College (Stone Ridge, N.Y.). SUNY Ulster launched its new wastewater operator training program in January 2019 to address a looming worker shortage and prepare new and current operators to manage and maintain water resource recovery facilities, according to professional engineer Henry Jaen, the program’s director.
Designed for all experience levels
While open to anyone with a high school diploma or GED, the program is primarily attracting people already working in water and wastewater operations, many of whom have their tuition funded or subsidized by their employer, Jaen said. Coursework is available for both entry-level and more advanced certifications.
The work-friendly class schedule is also appealing. Pre-certification training is completed in six months, with classes held in three-hour blocks Monday through Thursday evenings.
The training course covers topics related to the daily operation of a water or wastewater treatment facility, as well as energy conservation, pollution prevention, health and safety, and other current issues, said Jaen, who also developed the program’s curriculum and serves as an instructor. The program has been approved by the New York State Department of Health and Department of Environmental Conservation.
“The overall course [is designed to] give students a well-rounded education that will enhance their hands-on work,” Jaen said. Recognizing the range of experience students bring to the program, it’s also designed to narrow achievement gaps among participants. In addition to basic lecture and laboratory classes, for example, the program offers two specially designed courses to help students brush up on the math skills needed to pass their required licensure exams.
Protecting the environment and public health
Through the program, Jaen says he hopes students are better able to grasp the unique role that operators of water and wastewater treatment facilities play.
“Turning raw sewage into relatively clean and inert water is no small task,” said Jaen. “Discharges that negatively affect fish and wildlife, that can lead to beach closures, that can stop all recreational activities such as fishing or swimming, that can affect drinking water supplies, that can economically ruin a community – these [challenges] all fall on the shoulders of the treatment plant operators.”
The current class completes their pre-certification training in June. SUNY Ulster plans to offer the program again next spring, expecting to enroll between 15 and 20 students, Jaen said. Registration and other information is available at www.sunyulster.edu/continuing_education.
— Mary Bufe, WEF Highlights