High School and College Students Introduced to Waste Water Treatment in New York City

By Raymond Kvalheim

What did you do this past summer?

I know 23 students who worked in NYC wastewater treatment plants for the experience of a lifetime.
A century ago New York City had animal carcasses and garbage floating in the harbor, rivers and canals that were essentially open sewers. People were dying of cholera and diphtheria from wastewater discharges.

How times have changed! Today the New York City sewer system is an engineering marvel – an underground labyrinth of more than 6,000 miles of water mains and pipes that handles more than a billion gallons of waste every day.

During the last 10 summers nearly 200 city students have participated in the very successful Youth-in-the-Environment program.

The Youth-in-the-Environment Program in NYC is a cooperative between Bronx Community College, Woodycrest Human Development Center, Inc. and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and EPA. These agencies have contributed to the success of the program along with in-kind contributions. Each year the NYCDEP has improved and expanded their support from all the established partners by adding a variety of jobs for participation by the students. Our success can be verified by the testimonials provided by both the youth and the New York City DEP host site supervisors.

Some of the areas of interest include:

  • Working in a Pump House – Learning about warehousing, conducting inventory control, sorting supplies, storehouse operation and maintenance.
  • Working in Water Registry – Learning about customer service, cashier, processing payments, processing, validating and data entry of tap orders, engineering department office support.
  • Working in North River – Learning about warehouse, conducting inventory control, sorting supplies, storehouse operation and maintenance.
  • Working in Marine Services – Performing office support, clerical, payroll prep and data entry.

Students have gained laboratory skills in process, metals, biological, chemistry labs and research labs that reinforce STEM skills. These youth acquired exceptional skills in sample preparation, pH, temperature, conductivity analysis, sample distillation and sample evaporation.

Youth assigned to the Water Registry have assisted in:

  • Processing a six-month backlog of Engineering Dept’s data entry of street openings and connections
  • Processing and filing customer records
  • Handling customer service calls
  • Processing payments
  • Data entry in the Engineering department

Because of the skills and work ethic demonstrated by the students through education and training elements of the program, NYC DEP has utilized the students to catch up on back-logged work, fill in for some activities of vacationing personnel, and reinforce the capability of the next generation of our workforce.

The program provides a two-fold mentoring program for youth-at-risk by providing Summer Youth Coordinators (college students from local community colleges) and host site supervisors who provide guidance through this summer employment, education and development experience.

Through work experience, the students are exposed to hands-on applications that reinforce the application of math, science, English and team work that have instilled further interest in high school and further education interest beyond.

About the author: Raymond Kvalheim has worked with EPA for over 30 years. He is currently the US EPA Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and the Clean Watershed Needs Survey Program Manager for EPA Region 2 New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Raymond reports to Congress Wastewater Treatment needs as well as Stormwater, Nonpoint Source, and on-site wastewater Systems needs. He also develops new methodologies for documenting these needs for a report to Congress

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