Saturday, August 29, 2015

Diane Stoltz: Cuyamaca College graduate thriving in her new career

Diane Stoltz was one of the nearly 9 million Americans who lost their job during the Great Recession. She turned her life around after enrolling at both Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges.

Now she’s taking the skills she learned and putting them to use in her new career at a North County water district where she inspects water distribution systems and connections.

She’s never been happier.

Diane Stoltz at Cuyamaca College's commencement

“I love Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges,” Stoltz said. “I can’t thank the people there enough.”

Stoltz, 46, had worked for San Diego for about 13 years inspecting vehicles bought and sold by the city.  Less than a year after losing her job, she enrolled first at Grossmont College, then at Cuyamaca.

Stoltz immersed herself in her studies, securing an Associate of Arts Degree in Arts and Humanities along with an Associate of Science Degree in Math and Science in 2013 from Cuyamaca. But after meeting with a Cuyamaca College counselor who suggested she talk to then-Cuyamaca College Water/Wastewater Technology program coordinator Donald Jones, her focus changed.

“I had a background in mechanical maintenance, and the counselor thought it might be a good fit,” Stoltz recalled. “Don used to work for the city of San Diego, he was able to connect with me, and he encouraged me to pursue the program. It was a good call.”

And good timing. An aging water industry workforce, coupled with increased demands for water conservation, led to the creation of a new major in water resource management at Cuyamaca College in the fall of 2012. 

Stoltz earned a Water Resource Management Degree and a Water Distribution Degree in 2014, and added a Backflow & Cross Connection Degree and Water Treatment Operator Degree in the spring of 2015.

“I’ve spent 42 years in the water industry and I’ve been at the college for eight years, and Diane stands out as much as anyone,” Jones said. “She is more than willing to roll up her sleeves and get dirty to jump in the industry, and her tenacity is remarkable. Anytime she gets knocked down, she just gets right back up.”

Stoltz was one of the first students to earn a Water Resource Management Degree from Cuyamaca College. And her experience led to an internship with the Viejas Tribal Government Public Works Department, where she operated a wide range of heavy construction equipment, as well as learned to perform water sampling, well testing and other water/wastewater-related tasks.

That led to a job offer from the City of San Diego as a water service technician. She turned it down and instead took a position as Backflow and Cross-Connection Coordinator I–the highly skilled professionals who ensure customers that are using auxiliary sources of water (such as from wells or recycled sources) do not mix that water with potable water coming from the Olivenhain Municipal Water District in Encinitas. With salary and benefits, the position can pay upwards of $100,000 annually.

Stoltz is thriving in a male-dominated field.

“I love this job,” Stoltz said. “I’m in a position where I can utilize all the information I learned from Cuyamaca College in serving the public and protecting the community.”

Cuyamaca College has one of most comprehensive offerings of water-industry programs in the state, and it was awarded a $535,000 state grant in 2011 to lead a partnership of seven California community colleges to provide more training for jobs in the water and wastewater field. About 400 students take classes each semester in water/wastewater technology, with virtually all of the courses taught by experts working in the field.

“Cuyamaca offers an extensive water technology program that provides several specialized degrees,” said Stoltz, who is among the college’s biggest fans and whose husband, daughter and stepdaughter all attended the Rancho San Diego campus.

Stoltz even continued taking courses at Cuyamaca College after moving to Ramona in the midst of her studies. “Why would I leave?” she asked.