LAUREL — The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) held a class for high school students to get hands-on learning experience working with water distribution systems at their headquarters in Laurel on June 22.
“The program is targeted to high school sophomores, juniors and seniors in the Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program,” said WSSC engineer Hala Flores. “The purpose is to get them introduced to and excited about engineering or science.”
WSSC holds the program every year during winter, summer and sometimes spring breaks. They have a separate session that also occurs over school breaks that focuses on sewer processes.
The water session of the program aims to teach students the processes of water treatment and control and what they do when problems such as leaks, water loss and when fires occur. Not only this but how the WSSC employs a variety of professions which work together that they can become involved in such as engineering and IT.
“This program has more of an engineering focus,” said WSSC Spokesperson Charles Brown. “It focuses on waterworks, and the behind the scenes of field operations and what we do in critical jobs.”
The main focus of the program was explaining to the students the water pressure distribution model built by the WSSC Trade Shop. The model demonstrates how water is taken from a body of water such as the Potomac River, goes through a filtration system and is held in a water tank. It is then distributed through pipelines under intense pressure throughout the city.
The model is a few of its kind, according to Flores. Most schools and universities do not use them to demonstrate these ideas and professionals such as the WSSC usually use computer models.
Although they expected about 20 students from Prince George’s County and Montgomery County to attend, this session of the program consisted of only 11 students, but it allowed for a fruitful experience.
The students sat through a brief presentation given by Flores and were allowed to look at the model up close. It contained simulations of schools, homes, hospitals and factories up close to show how they compare in their water usage. They could turn on different water pumps and see how one affects the pressure of the other. They played with various scenarios to understand how pipe breaks and fires affect the water pressure system throughout the entire city and throughout the process, they learned about water pressure and flow as it changes with water use.
The hope after seeing the water model and all that the WSSC does is that the kids will go back with a greater understanding and appreciation of water systems. They especially hope to reach minority students, especially women who make up 50 percent of the workforce but only 15 percent of the engineering industry, Flores said.
“We want to create a spark in their minds and lead them to believe that they can do this,” Brown said.
Blen Jimma, a University of Maryland graduate who recently began an internship at the WSSC, said the class for the day was a really great opportunity for the students to get a feel for what a great organization like WSSC does.
“There are a lot of mentors here,” she said. “WSSC is full of people with experience. I can see the diverse demographics and I think it makes people stay. I love the company and what it provides. It really says something about the place.”
Jimma hopes to be offered a full-time position at the WSSC after her internship focusing on process design and working in wastewater treatment or water filtration.
“If we can touch one person and make them say ‘I want to do this,’ then the program was a success,” Flores said.