As part of OCWA’s monthly series highlighting some of our dedicated employees and the important jobs they perform, this month we’re featuring Tavia G. from our Engineering Department. Each month we’re asking a different employee a series of ten questions about his/her background, what he/she does at OCWA and some of the employee’s most interesting work experiences.
1. What is your current position at OCWA?
I am a water systems construction engineer.
2. What other jobs have you held, both OCWA and non-OCWA positions?
I have moved through the ranks in the engineering department. I started as Engineering Technician 1, Engineering Technician 2, and water systems construction designer, all for OCWA. Prior to OCWA, I was an environmental engineer at a private consulting company. Before finishing college, I worked with mentally disabled adults for New York State.
3. When did you join OCWA, and what brought you here?
I started in February of 2004. I wanted to settle down and start having kids and my other job required traveling and long hours that I didn’t enjoy.
4. What does a typical day at work look like for you?
I come in and check on how the hydrant flushing went the night before. Update the GIS map with the areas completed, write new sequences for the flushing work. I review back flow prevention applications. I talk to potential customers about what back flow is required for their business or project. I also talk to people interested in large services or trying to get new water to their houses and projects. I also work on our lead pipe inventory project to identify and track lead services in (or connected) to our distribution system. I often work with Distribution, Operations and the Meter Departments on a variety of projects to get work completed or provide them information so they can do their work. During the summer, I work with different summer aids/interns who are learning about engineering. I still do some design work, but not as much. I act as a contact point with the Onondaga County Plumbing Control and County Health Departments for things like if they notice hazardous condition or other construction or code issues, if they suspect illegal hookups, as well as on the BFP device approvals and installations.
5. What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I really enjoy working for the public benefit. It can be frustrating when people push back on things like back flow prevention, but I find it rewarding to know I’m doing a job that is necessary for life and business in Central New York. I think of water as one of CNY’s greatest assets. If we do it right our water resources are practically limitless and it could be the reason business and people come and stay in CNY. I also love that the work I’m doing now is an ever-changing and has purpose. I love this area–its beautiful AND we have water!!!
6. What has been your favorite project at OCWA?
When I first started, I enjoyed being out in the field all summer flushing with my mentor, Tony Palamara. I also got to know some of the gentlemen in Distribution and Operations. It was a good introduction to the water industry. Another one of my favorite projects was putting together a hydrant meter rental program that still continues today. I saw it being created and become something that was useful. Additionally, I have really enjoyed the progression of our back flow prevention program. I think we have a pretty good program now, its even a model for other local purveyors. It is constantly evolving – getting better and more robust.
7. Before working at OCWA, what was the most interesting/unusual job you’ve ever had
In college I used to clean Saratoga race track at night. We would have to rake, sweep, and clean up trash in the public picnic and grandstand areas after the day’s races. It was hard work and strangely fun. I also worked for Better Bee – a bee keeping supply business and meadery. I got to build hives, extract honey, and taste some really good mead.
8. What three words best describe you?
Open, sincere, outspoken.
9. What is your educational background?
I have a bachelor’s degree in engineering from SUNY ESF. Before coming to OCWA, I was in the process of changing careers to teaching and I’ve completed half a master’s degree at LeMoyne. I’ve also taken MBA classes at SUNY Oswego, and from Penn State I am one class shy of a certificate in GIS. I love learning and taking classes but my two kids are just becoming teens now and super busy so course work has taken a back seat for now.
10. Why did you select the career you are in?
I was directed toward engineering in high school because I was really good in math and science. I was an outdoorsy kid/teen and environmental science class was very exciting so I applied to SUNY ESF. Working in consulting was exciting at first and a great learning experience but it got very redundant and frankly, disappointing. It was all about billable hours, little about new or better ways to clean up industrial messes. Desperate for a change I took a few different civil service tests and was expecting to go to the DEC, but OCWA offered me a job first. I took the job. These days, I feel like I found my niche here. I really like that OCWA is a public service and a business. I like what we do, really enjoy the people I work with, and I get a lot of satisfaction with the work I do these days.
But if I could do college all over again… I would be a chiropractor, forensic psychologist, or brain science researcher. Who knows, maybe in retirement!