The Fire Chief Project: It’s not just for the guys

A YWCA technology summer camp group tours a clean-water plant

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It’s easy for the clean-water profession to overlook half the potential pool of future operators: women. The North Shore Sanitary District isn’t making that mistake. The district recently took students from the Lake County (Ill.) YWCA TechGYRLS summer camp on a tour of wastewater treatment facility in Gurnee.

According to a story in the Lake County News-Sun, the girls did everything from looking at vials dragonfly nymphs that live in the effluent, to sniffing samples of biosolids cake. Such activities help further the aims of The Fire Chief Project:

  • Raise clean-water operators to the status of the fire chief.
  • Make kids grow up wanting to be clean-water operators.

Appropriately, Kristen Meyers, a design engineer, spoke to the girls about careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). She told the newspaper, “One of the things I say about wastewater engineering is that while it may not sound like the most glamorous job, from an engineering and science perspective, it’s probably one of the most interesting you can deal with.” She encouraged the girls continue with STEM activities as they enter their middle school and high school.

TechGYRLS is free program for Lake County girls age 7-14. They spend two weeks working in technology areas from water treatment to robotics to computer science.

Program coordinator Jennifer Saviano told the paper, “Around the middle-school age is when the gender gap starts to widen for interest and ability in the science fields. So this gives them a little bit more information to show them that there are lots of careers in STEM available to them.”

The plant tour looked at how effluent affects fish in the receiving stream, the Des Plaines River. The girls viewed an aquarium in the lobby where native fish swim in effluent.

As for the experience of sniffing biosolids, one camper told the newspaper, “It smelled terrible. It was like terribleness that came from underground and was kept there for millions of years.”


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