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AWT Student Education and Enhancement Development (SEED) Program

A Day in the Life ...

James McDonald, PE, CWT

Chem-Aqua, Inc.

Q. What is your title?
A. Senior Corporate Engineer

Q. How long have you been in this position?
A. 2 1/2 years

Q. What services does Chem-Aqua provide?
A. We provide water management for boiler and cooling systems including service, chemistry, and equipment.

Q. What types of organizations do you serve?
A. Midsized and industrial clients.

Q. What water treatment activities are in your normal workday?
A. I work in the Technology & Marketing Department where I get to use my brain every day to:

  • Manage and develop cutting-edge technical tools to make our employees’ jobs easier and more efficient.
  • Provide technical support to water-related issues.
  • Communicate our message via articles, marketing materials, and social media.
  • Train.
  • Provide input on cutting edge water research and product development.
  • Manage a team to get this and more done.

Q. What "non-routine" activities are included in your job?
A. One never knows what new challenge a day may hold, and given my passion for the water-treatment industry, I’m a kid in a candy shop with so many possibilities to stay busy and impactful. Working with the Association of Water Technologies is certainly a non-routine aspect.

Q. What is the extent of travel for your job?
A. I travel occasionally to tradeshows and provide training/support to various areas of the company.

Q. How did you learn about the water treatment field?
A. My Masters of Engineering thesis was on wastewater treatment, but I had never really thought beyond that. I first learned about the field when I applied for a job with local water-treatment company. I really had no idea how complex and interesting water could be. This really isn’t covered as a career option at most universities, but it should be. I’ve had no regrets getting into the water treatment field. I get to learn every single day. I like seeing a variety of industries and how products are made. I like working with a range of engineers, scientists, programmers, and other professionals.

Q. How did you get your first job in water treatment?
A. My first job out of college was for an environmental company, and when that office was closing down, I happened to apply for a job at a local water-treatment company via an ad in the newspaper.

Q. What barriers, if any, have you had to overcome in your work?
A. There is a lot to learn in the water treatment field. Like in most any career field, you can either specialize in one particular subcategory or try to learn the industry as a whole. Being a "total solutions" provider, my first water-treatment employer required me to be knowledgeable in the water treatment industry as a whole. That can be a daunting task at times, but you soon learn there are some great resources and wonderful people out there to help you on your journey.

Q. Degree:
A. Bachelor of Science, Engineering Science, Chemical Engineering, University of Louisville
Masters of Engineering, Chemical Engineering, University of Louisville

Q. Job training:
A. I've gotten on-the-job training, company-provided classroom training, external classroom training, self-directed training, and AWT professional training.

Q. Mentoring opportunities:
A. My mentors have ranged from managers, colleagues, AWT "Legends", and anyone else open to sharing knowledge with those who knew a little (or a lot) less at the time. You will find LOTS of people willing to share all they know about water at the AWT. I certainly have.

Q. What other jobs/skills can translate into a water treatment career?
A. There is a wide array of job opportunities in water treatment, whether it be account management, sales, equipment design, troubleshooting, project management, equipment assembly, installation, company management, marketing, IT, accounting, etc. This includes chemical engineers, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, chemists, biologists, accountants, business majors, marketing and communications majors, etc. There are also several positions that don’t require a college degree, such as field technicians, production, assistants and more.

Q. What is the job outlook?
A. No job is recession proof, but I’ve always thought of the water treatment industry to largely be recession "insulated." If companies are to keep their doors open, they will need our water treatment services. Water is the "life blood" that flows through the veins of industry. Without proper water treatment and management, most industry and companies will not be able to operate efficiently or at all for long.

Q. Advice for students:
A. Use the myriad of resources out there to learn more about the field. Look around you for all the water that is used in industry, institutions, and businesses. Water is the key to life and industry. We will always have a need for it. We can eventually do without oil, coal, and natural gas, but we will never design a substitute for water. People who can help companies and communities properly manage this valuable resource will always be in demand. Join AWT SEED program and eventually work for a water treatment company that is a member. The AWT is exceptionally welcoming of members with the passion and time to contribute. I had no idea during my very first AWT Convention that I would one day have the privilege of chairing the Pretreatment Subcommittee, helping write the Certified Water Technologist exam, presenting on various topics, and being chosen as the Ray Baum Memorial Water Technologist of the Year Award. Water treatment has been an exceptionally rewarding career for me and can be for you too.