Summer’s over and school supplies are flying off store shelves. For ten students, it’s time to return from a special experience.
At the end of August, ten high school students completed internships at King County Wastewater Treatment Division (WTD). For six weeks, these interns have seen their world view and horizons expand. They’ve learned about water and wastewater systems at the foundation of our region. They’ve learned about careers that protect the environment. They heard industry professionals describe their career paths and commitment to our region. They’ve gained an understanding of how government can work for people. And they’ve taken this perspective back to explore their own communities and identify ways to reach out to them.
WTD’s intern program was designed to fill a gap. With the Clean Water Act reaching its 44th birthday, many professionals who invested a career in the water/wastewater industry will retire in coming years. Through the intern program, WTD reaches out to high school students and their communities to raise awareness of the growing job availability in these fields and the value of safe, reliable infrastructure for all communities.
The intern program- a dry run for the work world
During the school year, WTD’s team reaches out to schools and teen-focused community programs throughout the region year. The team seeks a diverse, representative pool of applicants with a wide range of interests.
The competitive application process gives experience in marketing their interests and skills and interviewing. Students first screened for exposure to and interest in the wastewater industry. The education team looks for students who participated in school field trips with WTD, WTD-hosted career events, and/or a WTD presentation at their school’s career event.
In 2016, about 30 students of the over 100 who applied were selected for interviews. These interviews give students real-world experience in the job market.
Ten students are hired to work 20-30 hours a week for approximately 6 weeks. They attend weekly field trips to expose them to a variety of environmental topics and careers related to the work WTD and DNRP do.
Students from different cultural, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds get a look outside the familiar ‘bubble’ we all live in as 16-18 year olds. They visit diverse neighborhoods to see community change in motion, and begin to understand the challenges government planners face to meet equity goals. They work alongside youth in an inpatient treatment program, , visit community farms, and see homeless encampments near WTD’s office building. These experiences spark conversations about housing costs, opportunity, equity, and the current justice and corrections systems.
These interns get a view of King County’s rich and varied environment and the County’s vision of conservation and sustainability. Field trips to recreation and conservation areas, community farms, green buildings, and environmental education centers foster stewardship and help the interns visualize a sustainable future.
Several days a week, interns develop professional skills and familiarity with computer programs used at King County. The interns get practice in professional interactions and informational interviews with staff representing various career fields.
Students complete a valuable assignment during their internship: developing a profile and key contacts within their home community: their schools, community organizations, ethnic and religious organizations. They gain understanding of their own community’s needs and interests. The interns’ work products provide valuable insight for WTD education and outreach staff to better engage residents throughout King County.
2015 interns teaching their community members to treat the wastewater system well.
WTD staff are the key to program success
Support by WTD staff is key for the success of this program. In a survey, 2015 interns ranked informational interviews with staff as one of the most important components of the program. Many WTD staff supported career events during the spring months and participated in informational interviews during the program.
WTD staff members get something in return: they report that sharing their experience and passion for public service with the interns is a highlight of their summer. They get a sense of hope from the fresh, young people who will be future stewards of our infrastructure, our environment, and our region.
…so much for putting time aside to inform us on your role in wastewater construction projects. I found your job to be so invaluable and impactful. 2016 intern
Program coordinator Casey Plank says, “Working with these students- watching them grow, change and meet so many amazing people in our community and in WTD is hands down the most valuable and inspiring program I work on each year.”