Overall Impression and Advice to New Students
The thing I liked most about my assignment is how genuinely helpful and inclusive the staff were at ARJWS. When I first started my rotation, I was fairly nervous about bridging the gap between what I learned in class and what I was expected to do at work. This is because the utility world is vastly different in comparison to the classroom and requires a dimension that can only be learned through experience. While I am by no means saying I’ve mastered this dimension of utilities, the staff at ARJWS are extremely patient and willing to answer any questions you have regarding the plant. I feel it is important to emphasize that everyone at ARJWS will treat you as part of the team rather than a stereotypical intern. Furthermore, everyone understands that the purpose of co-oping is to learn more about the industry you want to work in. As such, the staff will go out of their way to help you understand and grow during your rotation. If you end up working with ARJWS, my advice is twofold; don’t be afraid to ask questions and become as involved as you can.
At the beginning of my rotation I spent getting to know everyone at the plant, as well as asking questions about the plant’s operation. There was no formal orientation class, rather I was given a personal orientation by the HR Manager where I was introduced to the staff. I spent a lot of time talking with the staff not only about what is expected from me as a co-op, but what is expected from ARJWS by hiring co-ops in the first place.
I personally found these open discussions to be very meaningful, since it helped ease my transition from being a full-time student to being a full-time employee. In general, I would say this awareness is a function of ARJWS’ casual work environment because open discussions such as these are common while getting to know everyone. Indeed, I found that everyone at ARJWS invited friendly conversation while maintaining a sense of professionalism in regard to doing their job well. It’s also important to point out that ARJWS puts a lot of emphasis on allowing their employees to grow and expand their knowledge of water treatment. As a co-op, I feel like this gave me a lot of freedom to participate in the operational side of the plant.
One of the most important jobs of a water utility is providing the public with safe drinking water to avoid the outbreak of diseases and transmission of toxic chemicals. Because of this water utilities are required by law to collect water samples at specific points in the distribution network to ensure that the water being provided is potable. In South Carolina, water utilities must collect a certain amount of water samples each month and determine their chlorine concentration and presence/absence of Escherichia coli. Since ARJWS is a larger utility that provides most of the water in Anderson County and even into Oconee County, a lot of samples must be collected each week from Anderson, Clemson, Starr Iva, Williamston, et. al. Though this task is traditionally done by operators, co-ops at ARJWS are encouraged to collect samples too. Personally, it took me a few weeks of riding with operators before I was comfortable enough to collect samples on my own. Once I became comfortable, collecting samples became a part of my daily routine and has been my most consistent long-term project.
One of the projects that challenged me the most was probably my first short-term project. For this project I was asked to determine how much water from wastewater plants is discharged into Lake Hartwell every year. Finding out how many wastewater treatment plants there were and how much water they were discharging proved to be surprisingly difficult since this information is not readily available. After a while, however, I discovered DHEC’s watershed atlas which allowed me to compile a list of water discharge permits around Lake Hartwell. I also found a page on the EPA website that listed the monthly average discharged by each plant over a period of five years, allowing me to ultimately determine the total volume of water discharged into Lake Hartwell. Though it took some time to compile, it was very fulfilling to give my data to the executive director for him to present at the following board meeting.