Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) involved in the recent update of the Environmental Compliance Inspection (ECI) exam discuss what it takes to achieve a successful update. In this interview with Shannon Simmers, ECI II with the City of Riverside, Shannon explains her role in the process and the benefits to her profession she discovered along the way.
How did you get into this profession?
After a job displacement from my employment as a Quality Control Lab Technician (QCLT) and at a time when the unemployment numbers were outrageously high, I was encouraged to enter the wastewater field. I spent two years as a student at a local college and graduated with an AS in Water Science. At the same time, I spent a year and a half as a Wastewater Operator in Training at two different wastewater plants, without pay. During those few years, I became a Wastewater Operator II, Water Treatment Operator and Water Distribution Operator. While I was a Wastewater Operator in Training at the City of Riverside, I was fortunate enough to be hired on as an Environmental Compliance Inspector for the City. I feel that my previous employment experience, coupled with the experience I gained as a Wastewater Operator, have helped me in my professional journey to become an ECI. What I lack in experience, I am able to borrow from my certifications, relevant work history and education.
How did you first get involved in CWEA?
My first experience with the CWEA began at the urging of my friend and co-worker Abigail Gomez. As a new EC inspector, Abigail was one of the people who trained me on performing inspections in the field. I admired her diligence and conscientiousness, so, when she asked if I would like to join the P3S Executive Committee, I said ‘Sure, what is that?’ Off I went to my first breakfast meeting at the P3S conference in 2015, where I accepted the nomination to become the P3S Secretary. I had no clue what I had gotten myself into, but, looking back, I am glad I said yes. It has been a rewarding experience where I have been blessed to be a part of some challenging and exciting projects that have helped me along in my professional growth, as I gain new leadership skills, take on new challenges and establish relationships with other professionals in my field.
What was your role in the Environmental Compliance Inspector Exam update?
I started something I feel is important, not only to me, but to those I have encountered during my time with the P3S Executive Committee, which is having a role in the Environmental Compliance Inspector exam update. I feel I brought a unique aspect to a situation where I was at the table with several highly qualified individuals with valuable experience. Rather than being intimidated, I leaned on the fact that I represented many of the people who will be taking these exams in the future. I was a relatively new EC Inspector and had a bunch of study material and knowledge fresh in my mind, having recently passed the ECI exams along with my other certifications. I had the opportunity to provide input from the view of someone who is just beginning their career and to learn from those who I look to as mentors. The process involved a tremendous amount of research and studying that allowed me to expand my own knowledge. There was an enormous amount of discussions and correspondence, as we all came together for a common cause. Several face-to-face and go-to-meetings were held to revise the test and study guides. These meetings involved people from the North and the South, as well as from various agencies to ensure there was broad input on the revised ECI exam.
What is the hardest part of being a subject matter expert?
The hardest part about being a Subject Matter Expert is the feeling of responsibility to those future test takers. For me and the other SMEs, it was important to go over every single word, not just the question, to ensure it made sense, that it was applicable to the exam level and that it had one clear answer that could be sourced. The burden of being responsible for future test takers success or failure was sometimes overwhelming. This came through at times when I felt compelled to speak up on a question I had an issue with or to state my opinion on certain aspects of the test. It was highly emotional at times, as we all tried to do what was best for the exam and look past our biases or differences of opinions. At the end of the day, we could all agree the most important thing was to make the exam the best it could be.
What is your personal goal as a subject matter expert?
I took on the task as an SME as part of my commitment to the CWEA P3S Executive Committee. It is part of our mission, and I felt that accepting the challenge was the right thing to do. As I have previously stated, I also wanted to assist those who had struggled with passing the exams in the past. My goal was to be the voice for those who have expressed their frustration to the P3S Committee. The time I had to devote was sometimes overwhelming, but the cause was worth it. I am proud to say that we, as a group, worked effortlessly to achieve what seemed unobtainable at times. I hope that the test is well received and that we were able to make a difference in the exam.
Where do you see certification in water and wastewater going in the future?
I see the environmental compliance field along with the water and wastewater field growing in the coming years. Times have changed and society is more focused on the quality of life for years to come. I sometimes watch older movies, such as Erin Brockovich, were people have suffered due to water pollution, lack of social awareness, and lack of regulation. I shudder to think about where our water quality would be if it were not for people who cared and decided to get involved. Given things like the new industrial general permit, the growing stormwater retention and treatment focus, and other current and upcoming EPA regulations, this industry is in need of highly qualified individuals who will be looking to become certified. With a program that has a clear path to that goal, beneficial training, and a certification process that is challenging but obtainable, the result will be qualified professionals.
What do you recommend to young professionals?
What I recommend to young professionals is to become a part of, and be active in, an organization such as CWEA and the P3S Committee. The benefits from being involved with others in the field will offer opportunities for mentorship, training and guidance that they may not encounter in the workplace. A one-stop-shop for questions on forums such as Yahoo Groups, Facebook and Twitter is also extremely valuable. Involving themselves in activities and events that involve various areas of their career will help them grow professionally and build relationships that will last through the years.
What is the craziest story you have encountered in your work?
It is hard to narrow down the craziest story I have encountered thus far in my field because each day is filled with different situations that keep me laughing and interested all at the same time. Recently, I performed a joint inspection of a facility that uses a spray booth for the application of fiberglass. They had serious stormwater violations outside and an unpermitted spray booth inside. One of the other agencies involved in the inspection effectively locked out the spray booth due to safety concerns. Someone at the facility was upset and said “Shut everything down we are moving.” The entire plant shut down during the inspection. Ultimately, the facility remained open and is currently in the process of coming into compliance.