Interview with Alyssa Breu
Name: Alyssa Breu
Major, minor, and graduation year: Biology, Environmental Science, Dec 2011
Job Title: Industrial Waste and Pollution Prevention
Organization/Place of work: Metropolitan Council Environmental Services
(MCES)/St. Paul, MN
You're an Industrial Waste and Pollution Prevention employee, what does that entail? What are your duties or responsibilities?
I monitor Industrial Discharge from companies in the 7 county Metro area. It is my responsibility to go to certain industries (we have roughly 850 industries to monitor each year) and conduct multiple sampling procedures on the industrial wastewater that they discharge into the sewer. I also do inspections at industrial customer sites, am involved with community collection systems, wastewater treatment plants, MCES interceptors and liquid waste hauler sites to ensure discharges from industrial waste sources are in compliance with local and federal regulations. My position also participates in emergency response activities related to spills and accidental discharges.
I've also taken over the Fit for Life program in our office. This entails setting up workouts, sending out healthy ideas, tips, and positive living proposals.
What are the highlights of your job that you enjoy most?
I enjoy working in the field. So many people have desk jobs; my position allows me to be in the field 3-4 days per week working with Industrial Discharge and people. It's great! The time that I spend in the office is enjoyable as well. I work with 28 other great individuals that have so much knowledge to offer, it gives me a great opportunity to grow in my position and learn as much as I can.
What are the challenges that you face with your job that are not enjoyable?
Weather is a big challenge that we have to face; mostly in the spring, summer, and fall. To say the least, "Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed monitoring rounds!" Haha!
On a more serious note, we have to deal with confined space entry into manholes which is not too enjoyable. You develop a good ability to deal with defying challenges like this through time and it has helped build me as an individual.
How do you spend your work days? Do you spend a lot of time
My Mondays are strictly office based unless a spill occurs or something out of the ordinary happens, then I get to head into the field and examine what the problem may be. My Tuesdays through Fridays are spent in the field monitoring Industries and inspecting. I also spend quite a bit of time in the lab (it has become a priority for me) observing and critiquing methods and equipment.
How did this type of job/field interest you and how did you get started?
While at UW-Superior I spent a lot of my time working in the field. 90% of my Undergraduate research was field based, so that led me to want an unusual job; something where I didn't have to stare at a computer or sit in a desk chair all day . . . my wish came true. I applied for a position in the Wastewater Treatment lab, as a lab analyst, and was hired within two days. This was a great position to get my foot in the door with Metropolitan Council and an even better position to expand my knowledge base. However, within two months I was getting antsy working in a lab and I missed field work. Industrial Waste and Pollution Prevention opened this position and I was lucky enough to land it.
What qualifications did you need to obtain this job?
Related work experience setting up and programming field instrumentation. Work experience with laboratory procedures or field sampling. The ability to pay attention to detail and manage multiple responsibilities/priorities simultaneously as well as the ability to work with minimal supervision. Problem analysis and resolution skills were also a high priority. The ability to read and understand sewer maps.Knowledge of monitoring equipment and experience in field monitoring and sewer systems. Knowledge of wastewater sampling and preservation procedures. Knowledge of open channel hydraulics and flow measuring.
What personal qualities or abilities do you believe contribute most to success in this job/field?
I believe social skills highly contribute to my success in this job. Being a people person allows me to conduct inspections and monitoring without pestering the company contacts too much, they appreciate it.
What organizations were you involved in College that helped you towards your career?
I was captain of the UWS Cross Country and Track & Field teams. I believe being on and a part of these teams really helped me learn to always give my best, because it is never about you in a sport. You are looking to benefit the team, do your finest, be successful, and have a positive outcome for everyone involved. I've found that this often blends with the work environment as well. Positivity plays a large role in an office space, as well as following plans, and conducting them appropriately; it definitely helps things go more smoothly. I was also a part of GEARS, Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Students. This program assisted underprivileged students and was a motivator for families.
What degree/s is appropriate for this line of work?
Biology and/or Chemistry
Where and/or what do you hope to be in 2-5 years? 5-10 years? What are the keys to this career advancement?
I would like to be with MCES for an extended period of time. The position I am in is a 'career job' and I am very happy where I'm at. I would like to become an Environmental Scientist in the near future with MCES and am hoping that my drive and determination will help get me there. I also think I exhibit a fair amount of passion for wastewater treatment and pollution prevention. The keys to advancement in this kind of career are experience. You get your foot in the door and you learn. . .and keep on learning and experiencing. Gaining knowledge is so important in this field; things are always changing.
What was the best piece of advice you received and from who that helped you towards your career?
Probably from my Mother. She has worked very hard her entire life to get where she is. She always told me, "Do what you love, the money does not matter, only that you find happiness and the ability to look forward to walking into the 'office' every day, that is worth more than any paycheck."
Do you have any advice or "words from experience" for a college student
interested in this job/field?
Yes! If you can get your hands on research opportunities, take advantage of them; even if you are volunteering. Also, get involved with clubs or volunteer work, Students of Science, GEARS, things like that are offered year round on campus and really help build people as individuals. Also, get to know your Professors. I absolutely loved how much knowledge the Professors at UWS had to offer in this field. The Biology and Chemistry department are lucky to have the mentors that they do. I gained a passion for biology from those people because they display it every single day. It's absolutely fascinating to me.
If you knew all this back in college, what would you say were the most
important classes? Is there anything you would have paid more attention to? Any additional classes you would have taken?
Well, I think I took almost every (environmental) Bio course UWS had to offer, but I would have definitely (time allotting) tried to become more involved in tutoring or assisting students. I've found, over time, that this really has helped mold me. I'm not sure what I would have paid closer attention to, for the most part, I got my money's worth. And in regards to additional classes, I would have taken every Bio course UWS offered, regardless if it was health, environmental, cellular, etc… based.
In college, people claim that a bachelor's degree isn't enough anymore and that you need a master's or doctorate degree to get your foot in the door. What's your opinion?
I think experience plays a large role in obtaining a position. I was able to get my foot in the door of a company that mainly hires internally, based on my background in water quality and the research that I did in college. I believe it is all about application. If you can apply yourself in school, you will succeed, which (should) lead to success in the future. Don't get me wrong, a master's or doctorate would be helpful because that shows that you have the ability to do research, from start to finish, and can advance in your field. I weighed out the options and decided against it for now.
UW-Superior opened so many doors for me in life. Because of my running experience in college I was able to land a volunteer pacing gig for Team Ortho and Anderson Race Management out of the Twin Cities where I pace 10ks, half marathons, and marathons in order to help people succeed and finish in a goal time. Since leaving UWS I have advanced my running immensely. I have completed 15 half marathons in 2012, 2 marathons and most recently a 35 mile ultra marathon. Next on the list is Ironman Madison, which will be, mentally, the toughest thing I have taken on! And many more to follow, I'm sure. I don't think that I would be where I am now or as successful as I am
(for a 24 year old) if it weren't for my experiences at UWS. The close relationships that you can develop with your professors, the campus community, and the sports are so eccentric and rare; I wouldn't trade it for the world.