Montgomery County teams up with CSU to train in-demand engineers

Montgomery County officials recently formed a partnership with Central State University as part of its efforts to collaborate with area colleges and introduce students to science, technology, engineering and math careers.

Central State students have worked with the county as it upgrades its aging water and sewer lines. They created a database that the county Environmental Services employees will use to troubleshoot and maintain the water and sewer infrastructure.

The partnership has been a great learning experience, the students said.

“This whole internship has made it easier for me to relate to things in class,” said Coria Richardson, a Dayton native and a senior in environmental engineering. “It introduces me to not just wastewater but also solid waste, and also consulting, and different things that I could do being an environmental engineer.”

As part of the two-year agreement, signed in 2018, Montgomery County matched the university’s $200,000 federal land grant dollar-for-dollar. County officials say they hope the agreement will be renewed when the current one expires later this year.

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The arrangement calls for the university to conduct water management research and provide engineering student interns for the Montgomery County’s Environmental Services. The students get real-world experience working alongside county engineers, Montgomery County Director of Workforce Development Marvene Mitchell-Cook said.

The county has partnerships with several other area colleges, universities and high schools. But this is its first with CSU, she said.

Need for more STEM employees

Montgomery County’s aim is to introduce STEM careers to young people early in hopes of creating a pipeline of home-grown talent to fill future vacancies, she said.

“STEM is in high demand, however, the shortage is such that we are now looking at middle school to high school students to get into the career if they’re interested in STEM subjects,” Mitchell-Cook said. “Also, what we’re trying to do is work with our local school districts and the colleges to make sure we can get them an internship or work experience, learning both soft skills and hard skills.”

In the decade between 2018 and 2028, the number of STEM occupations is expected to increase nationally by nearly 9%, compared to 5% for non-STEM occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Ohio added more than 34,000 STEM jobs between between 2009 and 2015, the latest statistics available, according to the BLS.

In 2015, STEM occupations made up 7.5% of total employment in the city of Dayton and 3.4% in Springfield. Nationwide, the median average salary for STEM professions are nearly $85,000 per year, compared with $37,000 for non-STEM occupations, according to BLS statistics.

Details of the agreement

The agreement between CSU and Montgomery County is specifically with Central State’s C.J. McLin International Center for Water Resource Management. The college restructured some courses to allow the students to work with the county one semester and return to the school the following semester to finish the second half of the course, said Alton Johnson, dean of the College of Engineering, Science, Technology and Agriculture.

“The key thing is having Central State University and the International Water Resources Center working together to solving some of the problems in the city of Dayton or Montgomery county as a whole. That’s very important to us,” Alton said.

The students work 10 hours per week during the school year and 40 hours per week during the summer.

Related: Montgomery County saw record water main breaks. How it will fix its aging systems

Around the time they formed the partnership, the county launched a 20-year, $750 million plan to upgrade its water and sewer infrastructure. Water main breaks — one of the areas CSU students are working on — are increasing, said Brianna Wooten, director of communications. The county has averaged 340 water main breaks per year, costing about $2 million. Last year the number of breaks peaked at 370.

On average, Montgomery County spends about $6,000 for each water main break repair, she said. Additionally, taxpayers currently pay about $2 million on water and sewer line replacements annually, county officials said.

CSU’s water management experts are helping the county conduct research on how to improve its water and sewer systems.

Students also have been working on reducing water main breaks and fix other issues with the aging water and sewer infrastructure. They have been installing technology on the pipes to help county officials locate the most vulnerable lines and detect potential problems. They also collect data on pressure in the water lines and fire hydrants to ensure that are working properly and not overwhelmed, said David Swanson an engineer with the county environmental services who works closely with the students.

The students then collect the data from the devices and enter them into a database, as well as help with analysis and problem solving, sometimes even troubleshooting, he said.

Long-term impact

The work the students are doing will have some impact on how the county staff manages and maintains the water and sewer infrastructure long-term, Swanson said.

“More long-term effects will be seen in the processes they develop,” said Swanson, a University of Dayton graduate who interned with the county while in college. “So it’s not just a matter of putting the (monitors and sensors) out in the system. It’s how do we communicate consistently to the field staff to do that? How does that get recorded into our mapping system? And how do we get this data in a place where we can look it up every time?”

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Richardson, the CSU environmental engineering student who is minoring in nuclear engineering, said she’s given a lot of flexibility to solve problems, and the internship is preparing her for the next stage of her life.

“It gives me the experience of the real world before I to make a big decision,” she said. “I can see what I like and don’t like first.”

She has done so well in the program that county officials would like her to remain in the area after graduation. However, she was accepted in the Navy Civil Engineer Corps.

Bobby Gist, a junior in manufacturing engineering, said the internship has also been a wonderful learning experience. The Cleveland native has learned skills that he can transfer to his career field.

“I didn’t know a lot about the environmental aspect of engineering,” he said. “So when I got here it was really eye opening to learn everything I have taken in as far as how the sewer systems work, and everything that goes into the whole environmental aspect of it.”

STEM employment as percent of total employment by metropolitan area, May 2015

Dayton: 7.5%

Springfield: 3.4%

Cincinnati/Kentucky/Indiana: 6.8%

Columbus: 7.6%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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