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Industries form partnerships with water education program.

International Paper Co., the Aluminum Company of America, Little Rock Municipal Water Works, and FTN Associates, Ltd., have teamed up with government agencies, environmental groups, and schools to provide water education for Arkansas students.

Partnerships among these groups are initiated by the Arkansas Water Education Team (WET) program, coordinated by the Arkansas Department of Pollution Control and Ecology.

The combined efforts of government agencies, foundations, environmental groups and businesses provide the funding and local technical support necessary to ensure a successful hands-on learning experience. Funds for the program provide computers, modems, testing equipment, and supplies for the schools involved. Beginning its third year, the managed-growth program has 30 schools and more than 500 students participating.

Economic Benefits for Business

WET program partnerships provide many benefits for everyone involved. Opportunities for students encompass education, practical experience, and college/career preparation. For businesses and other groups sponsoring the program, a variety of economic benefits have emerged.

Hugh Durham, timberlands wildlife biologist at International Paper Co., said he finds the program beneficial for companies trying to meet economic imperatives. "The informational resources of WET are useful in creating adaptive management plans and other strategies necessary for a company's growth and survival," he said.

The company sponsors Arkadelphia and Camden Fairview high schools in WET by providing manpower and technical expertise. Durham said as students gain understanding about water quality and issues and pass that information along to classmates, relatives and friends, more people will understand environmental issues that arise.

"Anything that broadens their [the students and public's] knowledge in ecology is going to benefit us in the long run," he said. Furthermore, businesses can look forward to and benefit from having well-trained and educated potential employees to recruit, while students in the program gain a head start on career planning.

Educating, Investing in Future Leaders

The latter benefit greatly appeals to Kent Thornton, principal of FTN Associates, Ltd., an environmental consulting firm specializing in water resources problems. The firm has donated $1,000 this year to help sponsor Joe T. Robinson High School in Little Rock.

"We strongly believe in educating our future leaders about water-related issues and the importance of water in every facet of the society and the environment," he said.

Gregg Patterson, coordinator of WET, said most students participating are interested in an environmentally related career, and the program helps them target a specific area.

For instance, Don Butler, a sophomore at North Little Rock High School, wants to be a fisheries biologist, while David Frazier, a junior at Joe T. Robinson High School, wants to pursue a career in forestry. Both students worked as WET interns this summer at the 4-H Center in Ferndale.

Steve Sheldon, a senior at Mills High School, plans to pursue a career in the medical field. He worked as a WET intern this summer at the Little Rock Municipal Water Works' Jack H. Wilson Water Treatment Plant. His experience primarily took place in the wet chemistry laboratory, where he was responsible for determining the levels of pH, color, alkalinity, hardness, fluoride, chlorine residual, and chloride in water samples taken from the treatment plant. Sheldon said the chemistry and lab experience has helped prepare him for lab work at the medical school.

"I learned how to run tests on water," Sheldon said, "how much work it takes for water to be treated for drinking, and how to handle the responsibility of a full-time job."

While Sheldon had the opportunity to become accustomed to the day-to-day lab environment, the facility benefited from the additional manpower.

"The main way it helped us is that if freed our laboratory technicians up to do other things," said Gary Hum, water quality supervisor at the plant.

Networking and Training Opportunities

Patterson, WET director, said WET is a network created by a variety of groups where everyone works toward a common goal -- environmental education. Once the partnerships are formed between schools and lead sponsors, participants attend WET training sessions.

The training includes a one-day session for lead sponsors and a two-day session for teachers, students, and lead sponsors. This year, the Train-the-Trainers sessions took place July 27 at Gunner Pool on North Sylamore Creek. After attending the training session, Durham of International Paper Co. said the program is not as basic or elementary as he thought it would be.

"I had some preconceived notions, but they were quickly eroded. It was an awakening for me," he said. He added that the hands-on characteristics of the program, such as the kicknet (used to collect bug samples), testing equipment, and chemical analysis, provide a rock-solid experience that will give the students an edge over those schooled in a traditional classroom setting.

"That's education," Durham said. "The program presents a model partnership, and the real value is that everyone involved is giving and receiving. It's a win-win situation for everyone. Companies would be well served by allocating resources to this program."

For more information about the Arkansas WET program, contact Patterson at 562-7444.

Tina G. Wade works for the Arkansas Department of Pollution Control and Ecology.
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Title Annotation:Special Supplement; Arkansas Water Education Team program
Author:Wade, Tina G.
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Oct 24, 1994
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