USM student receives internship at PRC Utility Authority

Published 7:00 am Saturday, January 24, 2015

QUALITY CONTROL: Pearl River County Utility Authority intern Carla Clark conducts tests at the Neal Road laboratory on treated wastewater as part of her training. Photo by Jeremy Pittari

QUALITY CONTROL: Pearl River County Utility Authority intern Carla Clark conducts tests at the Neal Road laboratory on treated wastewater as part of her training.
Photo by Jeremy Pittari

After receiving nothing but negative responses while looking for a laboratory internship, forensic biology major Carla Clark finally received good news from the Pearl River County Utility Authority.
Clark said she called about 10 different places in the Hattiesburg area, including hospitals, private labs and other wastewater treatment facilities, looking for an internship, but none were looking to fill such a position.
After so many rejections, her boyfriend told her about the PRCUA, so she gave it a shot. She said she received the good news just before Christmas.
“This was the perfect Christmas present,” Clark said.
She’s only been interning at the Picayune wastewater treatment facility for two weeks, but she already feels at home.
“Everyone has treated me like family,” Clark said.
Clark is nearing the end of her quest to secure a baccalaureate in forensic biology with a minor in criminal justice. Her aim is to find a job in a lab, preferably as a DNA analyst.
Her internship at the local utility authority ends in May, after that she has classes set for the summer semester, at which time she will complete the requirements to earn her degree.
While she is not being paid for her time with money, she is earning credit toward her education, PRCUA Wastewater Treatment Foreman Tony Hall said.
Clark drives from Hattiesburg to Picayune four days a week in the early morning hours, and after spending four hours at the Neal Road lab, she heads back to Hattiesburg to attend classes.
“I have a full schedule,” Clark said.
In the lab she has a lot of work to do, including establishing the level of biochemical oxygen demand, phosphorus levels and looking for suspended solids in the treated water.
Hall said this is the first time the utility authority has had the opportunity to provide a college student with an internship, but over the past three years the agency has allowed high school students to tour their treatment facilities. When he received the call from Clark, he presented the idea to the board for their approval, which was granted.
“I think it’s a good partnership myself,” Hall said.
Not only is the internship providing Clark with the experience she needs to get a boost in the start of her career, Hall feels he’s training a possible future employee.
Clark is training under the utility authority’s class four operator, which is the highest classification in the state. Additionally, she is learning how to conduct every wastewater treatment test required by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
Hall said he hopes the utility authority will be able to continue the internship partnership with USM for years to come.
While the utility authority has only one person assigned to conduct the tests on treated wastewater, everyone in the agency has been cross trained, including Hall, which ensures testing will continue no matter what.
Shortly after the agency was formed, all testing was sent to a third party for testing under contract. Hall said that contract cost the utility authority about $2,000 per month. Now that the agency has a lab at the Neal Road facility, all testing is conducted in-house, providing the agency with a significant cost savings and immediate testing results.
Hall also pointed out that a recent evaluation of the agency’s water wells by the Mississippi Development Authority resulted in high marks. The Picayune well on Miss. 43 N received a grade of 5, which is the highest grade possible.
The Poplarville and Hillsdale wells received grades of 4.7 each.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox