Wastewater retiree pursues higher education

Wastewater retiree pursues higher education
Wastewater treatment coordinator James Baylor retired last summer. Now he spends his time hitting the books and preparing PowerPoint presentations for his college courses at Southeast Missouri State University. (Photo courtesy of City of Cape Girardeau)

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When James Baylor retired from the wastewater industry last summer, he knew exactly what he did — and didn’t — want to do. “I didn’t want to sit at home,” he says. 

The 65-year-old retiree is now a college student — for the second time — at Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO). Baylor took two years of pre-engineering at SEMO in the 1960s, and then joined the Marines in 1969. 

Always interested in teaching, Baylor is now majoring in secondary education with a focus in math. He hopes to teach middle or high school students. “I think anybody can teach algebra or geometry,” he says. “But it takes a little bit more effort to train students in seventh and eighth grade when they’re doing general math.” He says those are the crucial years when teachers can influence students and teach them to enjoy math. 

Industry pathways

Baylor started as a shift worker at the City of Cape Girardeau (Mo.) Wastewater Treatment Plant in 1983. “I did plant maintenance and made sure the plant ran for 12 years,” he says. In 1995, he moved up to chief operator and became wastewater treatment coordinator in 2011. He oversaw the plant, pretreatment and biosolids application. 

While working at the plant, Baylor also served as the training officer. “I did in-house training mainly because we had four shift workers and it was difficult for them to take off work to get training,” he says. 

Baylor found that operators and other industry professionals in the area were interested in the training too. “We opened it up to all operators,” he says. “Training involved a course in math, which no one liked to come to, lift stations, pump controls, and confined space. They were all approved by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and they were free.” 

Baylor’s training at the plant helped operators maintain Missouri DNR Clean Water Certificate of Competency Licenses, and attendees received CEUs for the classes. “If you hold a water or wastewater license from the DNR, you have to have 30 hours of training every three years,” he says. 

College prep

All the training Baylor did while at the plant gave him the necessary tools for college. “The training part at the plant helped a lot because you start from scratch gathering all the information you need for class and getting everything worked up for a PowerPoint,” he says. “You have to do a lot of presentations, and being a training officer over the years, I’m used to standing in front of people and talking and giving classes. You’d be surprised at the people who hate getting up in front of people they know and speaking.” 

Baylor says technology is the biggest challenge he’s faced since going back to school. But age is not an issue. “I’ve found that being my age and used to talking to people, it’s easier for me to raise my hand and talk,” he says. “I’m more relaxed and more self-confident. I have so much more experience.” 

He’s also learned some life lessons that may have been helpful decades ago while raising three kids. “By taking a psychology course on the development of adolescence, you find out exactly what you did wrong over the years,” he jokes. 

Baylor hasn’t completely moved on from the treatment plant though. “I come down to the plant about 10 to 12 hours per week to help them with the budget and training like putting motors and pumps together,” he says. 

As a lifelong educator, Baylor is setting an example for other retirees and making an impression on a younger generation. “It beats sitting at home,” he says.


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