To meet the needs of the growing water and wastewater industry, a multidisciplinary team of Rowan faculty and students is developing educational tools to help prepare today’s students for careers in water and wastewater.
The project, titled “Waterworks: Developing a Next-Generation Workforce for Water/Wastewater Utilities,” is one of 10 projects funded by the U.S. government. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Through a new grants program aimed at clarifying careers in the water services industry.
Led by Principal Investigator, Dr. Kauser Jahan, Chair and Professor of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Henry M. Rowan School of Engineeringa team of civil engineering, electrical engineering, computer science and education teachers will use a $499,999 grant to develop four educational tools that will give Camden City Schools K-12 students the access they need for water jobs functions and skills.
“This program provides young people with the information and direction they need to pursue careers in a field that is critical to the health of any community—clean water,” said Giuseppe, Dean of the Henry M. Rowan School of Engineering Dr. Giuseppe Palmese said. “I am delighted to see our teachers and students share their energy and expertise with schools in Camden City.”
The first tool, WaterMOBILE, is a hands-on mobile learning environment designed for classroom tactile learning with activities focused on pumps and pipes, water treatment, water pollution, the effect of soil on buried pipes, and building materials such as concrete water/sewers pipeline.
WaterTALK involves a module on remote water quality monitoring and other remote data collection practices. WaterCAVE will give students the opportunity to visit the Rowan University Virtual Reality Center at the Camden United Health Sciences Center for virtual classes on the day-to-day functions of a water utility. Finally, WaterPAL will provide educators with lesson plans and learning resources, such as videos, through the app.
“We want these events to be contemporary and relevant,” Jahan said. “It is important for the future workforce of the school’s current students to understand that water and sewerage work is not just about going home to read the meter or repairing the manhole. As technology innovates, it also becomes innovative.
“These tools are primarily about teaching the next generation of sensors how to work, how things communicate with each other, and how virtual and augmented reality can help you understand how things work,” Jahan added. “You don’t have to go to that site in person — in this pandemic, we’ve learned how important it is to be able to do things digitally.”
Dr. Ying (Gina) Tang, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rowan, said the use of digital technology will create an instructional and fun workforce training program.
“What makes this project even more exciting is that these technologies enable real-time monitoring and evaluation of the student training process and have the potential to provide effective and efficient self-regulated learning,” Tang said. “Assessing how students explore training materials digitally, this feeds back into our training system to further guide students’ own learning.”
South Jersey Land and Water Trust, U.S. Water, Camden County Municipal Utilities Administration and Atlantic County Utilities Administration will work with the Rowan team to adopt and advance careers in water/wastewater utilities. Educators in the Camden City School District will be trained to use the WaterWorks program, and high school students will have internships with local utilities.
Engineering juniors and seniors will work on all aspects of the project. Mechanical engineering student Ryan Petzitillo was assigned to the WaterTALK team to build programs that relay communications between water sensors and computers.
“This project demonstrates the broad involvement of engineering students in Rowan,” Petzitillo said. “You can become a mechanical engineering student and be involved in an electrical and computer engineering clinic.”
Genna Brunetta, an advanced civil engineering student, is part of the WaterMOBILE team, designing fun, hands-on experiments for all ages and abilities.
“The overall goal was to create an equitable program, one that used all the same materials and methods, but with a flexible range of difficulty, so all students felt the same entertainment and challenge,” Brunetta said. “That’s the best part of engineering — the challenge.”
Jahan expects students in Camden to benefit from the program starting next school year.