Thinking about careers? Think water.by Jan Janes on Apr 10, 2020
Water, the essence of life. It transports nutrients to the plants that feed us. It fills our coffee pots and bathtubs. It’s transparent, but not invisible. Yet people often don’t think about water until there’s a problem: too much, too little, or undrinkable.
Gavilan College offers certificate and degree programs in water resources management (WRM). The Career Education division also partners with area water programs, offering internships to people studying in the field.
With a graphic design degree from Hartnell and a UPS delivery job, Shaun Smith was exploring new careers in 2017. He heard about an opportunity with the Aromas Water District and was hired on as a part time intern, two days a week.
Shaun Smith starts his day performing system checks at Aromas Water District water stations.
“I was able to get a lot of experience in water distribution,” said Smith. “But they didn’t perform all the processes that bigger water companies did.”
Smith enrolled in the Gavilan College WRM classes. The Santa Clara Valley Water District (now Valley Water) collaborated with Gavilan to offer paid internships to students in the program.
“The internship was just like a job application,” said Smith. He submitted a resume and application and was invited to a panel interview. Smith and seven other WRM students were accepted.
Shaun Smith, third from left, with his WRM classmates as interns at Valley Water.
“At Valley Water I learned quite a few skills as a water treatment employee,” said Smith. The interns learned the basic parts of the plant, how to perform water system checks and how to diagnose problems.
“There are a lot of different adjustments that can be made in a water treatment plant,” he said. “It takes years to learn, and every plant is different.”
Smith interned at Valley Water for a year at all four of its plants, learning systems, lab protocols, and mixing chemicals to perform tests, called batching. His final special project was working on the installation of new membranes in the reverse osmosis processing plant.
Toward the end of his Valley Water internship, the Aromas Water District manager contacted him and said they were looking for a new operator. Smith returned to Aromas as an intern again, hoping to fill that open position.
At each water system, Smith checks various well and pump readings.
“I had already gotten my licenses,” said Smith. “I was certified.” Those WRM classes and certifications, plus his internship at Valley Water, tipped the job to Smith.
During this time he continued to attend classes at Gavilan and is close to completing his degree. Along the way, Smith earned a $5,000 national scholarship from the American Water Works Association and a $1,000 state scholarship.
“All water operators do a system check,” said Smith. “You have to know what’s happening on a physical level, not just looking at numbers on a computer screen. Our main goal is an efficient water system.”
After the system check, Smith goes online for a SCADA read out of the system levels.
On any day, he might be repairing small leaks, breaks in the main system, upgrading meter systems, doing backwashes to clean filters or flushing out fire hydrants. Smith enjoys installing meters, plumbing on the customer side and programming the meters.
“I like to use my hands, my body, operate machinery and use my head to problem solve,” said Smith. “That’s why I got into the field.”
Smith draws water from the internal system to perform water quality tests.
For people researching careers or considering a career change, Smith recommends the water field. He considers it a challenging, satisfying job. “The water field pays well, with good benefits,” Smith said. “Water is extremely important to everyone’s life, and my job is to provide that essential part of life.”
For more information, check out Water Resources Management certificate and degree programs at Gavilan College or contact Jessica Weiler at (408) 848-4848.