Friday, January 18, 2019

Center for Water Studies gives program more depth

It’s official. The Cuyamaca College’s Center for Water Studies is open for business and the program formerly known by the clunky title, Water and Wastewater Technology, is brandishing a new name.

Equipped with a state-of-the-art Field Operations Skills Yard and a newly renovated L Building complete with a water quality analysis laboratory, renovated classrooms and workshops for back flow, cross-connection controls and related hands-on courses, the Center for Water Studies was dedicated during a Jan. 17 ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house.

“Nobody else west of the Rockies is doing what we’re doing here,” said Don Jones, who has overseen the transformation of Cuyamaca College’s Water and Wastewater Technology program into the Center for Water Studies.

The Center for Water Studies has been years in the making. In 2013, Cuyamaca College hosted a two-day meeting of water industry and community college managers to discuss how to train California's next generation of water industry professionals. What emerged was a strategy focusing on the importance of regional, ongoing partnerships between education and industry.  

A key component of the Center for Water Studies is the Field Operations Skills Yard, which was funded in large part through a California Community College Strong Workforce grant of more than $190,000, a National Science Foundation grant of more than $70,000, and contributions for the above-ground network of pipes, pumps, valves, meters and other equipment from the water and wastewater industry.

The total NSF grant of nearly $900,000 will also fund curriculum development by Cuyamaca College, the Grossmont Union High School District and water industry experts, as well as the recruitment of veterans, women and students from under-represented communities into water and wastewater management careers.

The building renovation was funded through approximately $1 million from the Grossmont-Cuyamaca College District’s Proposition V, a construction bond approved by East County voters in 2012.

The Center of Water Studies is seen as a critical component in addressing a looming shortage of workers in the 4,500-strong regional water and wastewater industry due to a glut of pending retirements. The San Diego County Water Authority forecasts between 1,200 and 1,500 open positions in the next three to four years. The Padre Dam Municipal Water District anticipates 40 percent of its employees will retire in the next three to five years, said Lisa Sorce, the district’s director of human resources. Sweetwater Authority General Manager Tish Berge said her agency recruited almost 10 percent of its workforce just in the past year.

“We want people to know that Cuyamaca College and the Center for Water Studies is ready, we are prepared, and we cannot wait to train you to thrive in this industry as we prepare for the future,” Cuyamaca College President Julianna Barnes said.
The Jan. 17 dedication was among the highlights during the daylong Women in Water – Exploring Career Pathways symposium that drew approximately 250 industry professionals and high school girls to hear about growing opportunities in the water and wastewater industry.

A General Manager’s Forum moderated by Lan Wiborg, deputy director of the San Diego Public Utilities Department’s Long-range Planning & Water Resources Division, provided ample tips for industry professionals and those contemplating a career change.

“Take advantage of every opportunity and don’t be afraid,” said Cari Dale, Oceanside’s director of utilities. “Have fun. It’s a wonderful, wonderful career.”

Essie Mae Horne, a water system technician who has been working with San Diego Public Utilities for the past 14 years, plans to enroll soon at the Center for Water Studies.

“I’m looking to move forward in my career,” Horne said. “And Cuyamaca has an amazing program.”

Cecilia Bernal agreed. 

“Water and wastewater is an important industry, and it’s definitely more interesting than what I’ve done in the past,” said the former waitress and retail clerk pharmacy technician.

Renee Anderson, an experienced analyst who attended both and the symposium and center dedication, said she’s motivated to make a career shift.

“This is a fascinating industry, this is a beautiful campus and this is a wonderful program,” she said.

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