WSSC: Building the workforce of tomorrow today

Utility investing in students, highlighting engineering and STEM-related careers.

Feb 27th, 2019
Utility investing in students, highlighting engineering and STEM-related careers.
Utility investing in students, highlighting engineering and STEM-related careers.

WASHINGTON, FEB 27, 2019 -- Studying to be an engineer is one thing. Experiencing a day in the life of an engineer is quite another. Especially when you're a junior in college and that engineer happens to be the general manager and CEO of one of the largest water utilities in the nation.

For Brianna Douglas, a University of Maryland civil engineering major, spending the day shadowing WSSC GM/CEO and civil engineer Carla A. Reid, was both eye opening and empowering. "For me, it's pretty important to be following a woman in engineering," said Douglas. "The shadowing day was a really good experience because you can dip your toe in the water and basically see what an actual engineer does every day."

According to the American Association of University Women, females represent only 12 percent of the engineering workforce and only 26 percent in computer sciences. Black and Hispanic women account for only two percent of engineers. For a water utility led by an African American female engineer, and one that is relying on the next generation to carry on our mission of delivering safe, clean water, WSSC is determined to improve those statistics.

Job shadowing is just one way WSSC recognizes National Engineers' Week, the third week of February, by highlighting the need for engineers and bringing the field to life for kids, educators and parents.

Annually, WSSC opens its doors to host elementary to college-age students throughout the week, teaching them about all things water and engineering. From job shadow days to hands-on lessons geared just for girls studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) to Sewer Science, which provides high school students the opportunity to create and manage wastewater, WSSC highlights the wide variety of ways the utility uses STEM-related skills.

"As engineers and STEM professionals, we must collectively build a pipeline of talent that is ready to solve the growing challenges facing our nation," says Reid. "We especially need more girl power and other underrepresented populations in STEM careers. I'm optimistic that WSSC's extensive involvement in National Engineers' Week will help guide local students into this amazing field."

Brianna was just one of 20 college students who were paired with WSSC engineers for the day to see their classroom knowledge applied in the workplace. Spending a day in the life of an engineer, the students visited water main construction sites, went behind the scenes at a water filtration plant and a water resource recovery facility (WRRF) and donned lab coats to see firsthand how WSSC monitors its water quality.

As Brian Garchitorena, a University of Maryland civil engineering sophomore said, "I finally got some real exposure to the profession. It was definitely a valuable experience."

Families were also part of the National Engineers' Week activities, as WSSC joined engineering and STEM organizations at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC, for Discover Engineering Family Day. During this day of exploration, WSSC engaged children and their families in building water pumps and towers to show how WSSC delivers water to their neighborhoods and homes.

Steering children and young adults toward careers in water is critical for utilities like WSSC, who are experiencing an aging workforce. In fact, more than 50 percent of WSSC's workforce will be eligible to retire in five years. As these experts leave the field, they take with them a vast amount of knowledge and new professionals are needed to fill their jobs.

That's why it's so important to recruit tomorrow's leaders today, and National Engineers' Week is just one part of WSSC's year-round effort to help build the talent pipeline. Throughout the year, WSSC offers unique H2O Careers programming for the next generation of water professionals, which incorporates basic engineering as well as the importance of math and science. In addition to a variety of classroom programs, WSSC will launch an extensive "summer camp" in 2019, to help spark the interest of students to consider careers in this industry.

Through hands-on programs like these, WSSC reaches some 3,500 students from elementary school through college. Each inspired offering is exposing students—some for the first time—to STEM-related educational and career possibilities they might never have considered.

"By partnering with schools, communities and youth-based groups, WSSC is ensuring that the young problem solvers of today become tomorrow's problem-solving STEM professionals," adds Reid. "We're investing in the youth of our community and hope they will join us in the future to play a vital role in our becoming a world-class water utility."

For more information about WSSC's programming or to explore STEM partnerships, visit www.wsscwater.com/STEM.

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