Getting Them Started

David Moore created an internship program that for 10 years has funneled qualified young people into water and wastewater careers in northwest Alabama.
Getting Them Started

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After high school, David Moore wasn't sure what he wanted to do. A mentor helped steer him into a job at the Muscle Shoals (Ala.) Utilities Board, and 20 years later he's still enjoying a career in wastewater treatment.

Today, Moore gives back by teaching classes in water and wastewater treatment at Northwest Shoals Community College and by running an internship program that has sent more than 40 bright young men and women to more than a dozen municipal and industrial treatment facilities and has helped many of them enter water-related careers.

Moore is a full-time operator at the Muscle Shoals Wastewater Treatment Plant, a 4 mgd activated sludge facility. He teaches one evening per week in fall and spring and does his best to keep in contact with the students who have gone through his programs.

Moore has Grade 4 wastewater and Grade 4 water certifications, and he has a bachelor's degree in public administration from Athens State University, in Athens, Ala. He talked about his career and about the 10-year-old internship program in an interview with Treatment Plant Operator.

: How did you find your way into the water business?

Moore: In 1991, I was working at Kmart in the home improvement center. A summer job came open at the Muscle Shoals Utilities Board in the water department. It paid $4.25 an hour, and I was making $7.50 at Kmart. My manager, George Echols, encouraged me to take the job. He told me he didn't want me to be a 'lifer' at Kmart, and he encouraged me to go on and better myself.

I turned in my two weeks' notice at Kmart and came to work here at Muscle Shoals on June 1, 1992. I started out flushing and servicing fire hydrants. Then I moved up to a position where I helped in distribution with reading meters and other tasks.

: How did you make the transition to the wastewater side?

Moore: When a trainee job came open at the wastewater plant, [chief operator] Joe Underwood hired me, and later I was able to get my Grade 3 wastewater certification. I was already taking the water and wastewater classes at Northwest Shoals. I took a huge interest in the field. I moved to the water plant and got my Grade 4 certification in water, and then in 2000 I had the opportunity to move back to the wastewater plant.

: What motivated you to become a water and wastewater instructor?

Moore: It was in my blood. My mother was a teacher. My sister is a teacher. My brother has taught on the college level. I'm passionate about training other operators.

A lot of kids coming out of high school don't know what they want to do. Some just aren't cut out for college. They don't want to be tied down to a desk. They enjoy being outside. The program at Northwest Shoals gives them an opportunity to get into the environmental field and see what it's all about.

: What led to the creation of the internships?

Moore: I started teaching in the water and wastewater management program in 1999. I started with eight students, and the program wasn't growing. I believe they used to have that program at a lot of community colleges across the state, but in 2001, Northwest Shoals was the only one that still had it.

I got together with the dean [Glenda Colagross] and told her I thought an internship would have a big impact on the program. The college supported me 100 percent and let me run with it. The internship revived interest, and now, without any advertising or other promotion, I'm running 19 to 25 students per class.

: What does the water and wastewater curriculum consist of?

Moore: I teach courses in water treatment, wastewater treatment, and sanitary chemistry and microbiology. Another instructor, Paul Dickerschied, teaches hydraulics, instrumentation and an introductory class.

The program is offered as an Associate in Applied Science degree, for which students also need to complete basic courses in English, math and other subjects. It's also offered as a certificate program: If they complete the six water and wastewater classes plus the internship, they receive a certificate of completion.

: How does the internship program fit in?

Moore: It generally takes the students a year and a half to complete the full program — or two years if they take all the classes before they start the internship. The internship is offered as a class. During a semester, which is 16 weeks, they have to log at least 150 hours working on a treatment plant site. They have to keep a daily journal, and at the end they're evaluated by the operator they worked under. The program really helps put the book knowledge and the theory we learn in the classroom to work.

: How do you find the sites where the interns work?

Moore: Working here at the city, I knew a lot of people in this field. Muscle Shoals Utilities and Russellville Utilities jumped on board right away to help get the program started. We've put students to work either at industrial or municipal water and wastewater treatment sites.

: What do the interns' workdays look like?

Moore: They assist with everything an operator does — fixing pumps, performing maintenance, process control, lab work. They follow the same safety protocols. We don't have an operator-in-training program anymore in Alabama, so the internship helps fill that void. We've had interns log as high as 500 hours, and those hours count toward the work hours they need for certification.

The interns don't get paid, but what they learn and the relationships they build with the operators and other people in the field are priceless.

: How have you gone about promoting this program?

Moore: When I was building the program, I would set up a booth at career days at schools and hand out little cards I had made. I would talk to the teachers at the vocational schools attached to the high schools. I would set up a booth at Earth Day events and at a local water festival.

I did that for about six years, but once my classes began to close out at the limit of 25, I no longer needed to do that. Here at Muscle Shoals, Joe Underwood and our manager, James Vance, are really supportive of tours. Every year the entire Muscle Shoals sixth grade comes and does a tour. I have the kindergarten classes come in, as well as the biology classes at the high school and Northwest Shoals.

: What has been the impact on the career prospects of students who complete the internships?

Moore: When I started the internship program, my first five interns were hired before their internships were over, and they went to work where they interned. I've been privileged to see a lot of my former students get jobs in this field. Some have gone on to become chief operators, and operators in various locations.

The last time we hired an operator here at Muscle Shoals, the top five people we interviewed all had taken my classes. I had a call from a utility about a month ago asking me about two students I had taught in class. Both of them had taken the internship program, and they were number one and two for the job.

I tell students that when they go for a job, if they can show on a resume that they're taking water and wastewater classes, they will be looked at. If they can show a certificate of completion for these classes, they'll be looked at even more. If they have an associate degree and an internship, they'll be even more desirable. The more education and experience they get, the better off they're going to be.

: How do you see this increase in young people entering the field affecting the water and wastewater industry in your area?

Moore: For this area, I think it has a big impact in making trained people available for hiring. It's good for the municipalities because they get to meet the young people, observe their work habits, and see how interested they are in the field. They can get a good idea how the person is going to perform if they hire them.

: How would you characterize the personal rewards of your teaching and the intern program?

Moore: I give all my students my cellphone number, and I help them with resumes and job applications if they need it. The coolest thing is when I get a call from a former student saying they have a job interview, or they have a job in the field, or they just passed a certification exam. That is just an awesome feeling. I get goose bumps just talking about it.


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