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Wichita State University Environmental Finance Center Selected for EPA Grant Funding to Create WaterCorps Career Network

Project seeks to alleviate water workforce shortage

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LENEXA, KAN. (OCT. 19, 2021) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that the Wichita State University (WSU) Environmental Finance Center is one of 10 organizations selected to receive a total of $3.8 million in funding under a new grant program that will help build the water workforce by connecting individuals to jobs in the drinking water and wastewater utility sectors, and expanding public awareness about the benefits of careers providing vital water services.

“Workers at water and wastewater treatment utilities provide a service that is absolutely essential to public health, the environment, and economic prosperity in their communities,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox. “The water sector is facing significant workforce challenges and it is critical that EPA and its federal, state, and local partners invest in the next generation of water professionals.”

WSU’s project description states that funding will be used to create WaterCorps, a nationwide network of high school and post-secondary students along with school counselors and water utility professionals, who will connect the students to water utility internship experiences, educational resources, guidance from field experts, and facility tours. The Environmental Finance Centers at the University of New Mexico and Syracuse University will join WSU on the project.

“We hope to recruit WaterCorps members from geographically diverse and tribal communities so that the students are able to learn from peers and professionals from a wide variety of community water systems across the U.S.,” said Tonya Bronleewe, director of WSU Environmental Finance Center. “We will share our methods, resources, educational materials, and toolkits in the Environment-Focused Learning Academy online portal. We want what we develop through this project to be available to any school, utility, organization or individual who has an interest in helping young people to find their careers in water.”

The water industry is facing widespread shortages of qualified workers, due to expected retirements, new investments in the nation’s physical infrastructure, and new technical and scientific skill sets required to operate and maintain these systems. These grants will expand public awareness about job opportunities in the drinking water and wastewater utility sector and will address the workforce needs of drinking water and wastewater utilities.

Other selected recipients for the 2020 and 2021 Innovative Water Infrastructure Workforce Development Grant Program include:

  • American Water Works Association (Denver)
  • Amigos De Los Rios (California)
  • East Central University (Oklahoma)
  • Grand Rapids Community College (Michigan)
  • Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust (Washington State)
  • Rowan University (New Jersey)
  • Rural Community Assistance Partnership (Washington, D.C.)
  • Syracuse University (New York)
  • Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Government (Ohio)

Projects that will be funded under this competition include:

  • Targeted internship, apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship, and post-secondary bridge programs
  • Education programs designed for elementary, secondary, and higher education students
  • Regional industry and workforce development collaborations to address water utility employment needs and coordinate candidate development
  • Integrated learning laboratories in secondary educational institutions
  • Leadership development, occupational training, mentoring, or cross-training programs that ensure that incumbent drinking water and wastewater utility workers are prepared for higher-level supervisory or management-level positions.

EPA anticipates that it will make awards to the 10 recipients once all legal and administrative requirements are satisfied.

Background

On Jan. 22, 2021, EPA announced the Request for Applications. The period for submitting applications ended March 26, 2021. For more information, visit EPA’s website.

About WSU Environmental Finance Center

Across the country, the costs of environmental services, programs, and infrastructure continue to rise. At the same time, the individuals, communities, and governments tasked with paying for environmental protection are experiencing significant financial burdens. The WSU Environmental Finance Center helps solve the “how to pay” questions of environmental protection. To learn more, visit WSU’s website.

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