OSU hosts national groundwater conference for the first time

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Media Contact: Mack Burke | Editorial coordinator | 405-744-5540 | news@okstate.edu

For many, running water is taken for granted. If you turn on the tap, it’s there.

But, the pool of professionals responsible for ensuring that clean water continues to flow is drastically diminishing. According to the American Geoscience Institute, there are currently more than 135,000 open positions in the industry.

Oklahoma State University is taking action to address this need as it has partnered with the National Groundwater Association (NGWA) to create educational opportunities that will provide crucial training for these positions.

Through OSU’s partnership with NGWA, the university hosted the Oklahoma Groundwater Association Annual conference and trade show Wednesday and Thursday at the Wes Watkins Center. The annual event, which has taken place almost every January since 2003, has arrived in Stillwater for the first time after many years in Norman, Oklahoma.

“These types of partnerships are really win-win,” said Dr. Glen Krutz, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) at OSU. “This is where people in the industry learn things that will help them be more efficient, more profitable for business, more effective for society, better stewards and users of the resource. Academically, it gives students the opportunity to learn the trade through experiential learning. So it’s a huge win-win, and we’re really proud to partner with the National Groundwater Association and proud to host this conference.

Supplier demonstrates new groundwater pump technology at the Wes Watkins Center.

One of the main talking points of the event was the news NGWA University powered by OSU – who developed a training course called Drilling Basics Online that can be used for certification as well as college credit – as well as Awesome Aquifer 360, a tool for K-12 students to learn about careers in groundwater.

The partnership is the result of a meeting in 2018 between Dr Caitlin Barnes and Dr Todd Halihan of OSU and Robert Keyes, founder of Associated Environmental Industries and member of the board of NGWA.

Keyes had noticed that many people entering the industry lacked training, even those who had been in the industry for decades like him. He realized that there had to be a way to provide more education to all professionals in the groundwater industry.

“I contacted OSU, and it was the only university that, like me and my committee doing research, was the only one that we felt was able to focus on groundwater and pass it on to the next generation, ”Keyes said.

Barnes, Assistant Director of Outreach for CAS and Assistant Professor in OSU Boone Pickens School of Geology said the timing of the meeting was fortuitous. By the time the world was in shock at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, OSU and NGWA were already working on online education opportunities, so they were ahead of the curve.

“Pre-pandemic, [Keyes] I thought we needed fast, accessible online training for our workforce right now, ”said Barnes. “So he drew our attention to the fact that we have a major problem and a major gap in the workforce. We need more people who are interested and willing to join us. So we plan to take training and do with it what customers need and what participants want.

NGWA’s choice of OSU was also due to the fact that the university had put in place people like Halihan who could help create the online drilling basics course and not only enable it to meet national certifications. , but also to be a course to provide university credits.

“We had to set up an infrastructure on the OSU side to create content like this,” said Halihan. “But it was very, very helpful that we had a doctorate. in hydrogeology in Extension. A doctorate in hydrogeology in the safety program and a doctorate. in hydrogeology rather than geology. We could really cover these topics in a way that we couldn’t have before.

Drilling Basics Online includes five eight-hour courses in general occupational safety, geology and groundwater, hydrogeology and fluid mechanics, types of drilling rigs and well design, as well as operator safety. drilling rigs.

“They will have the context of what they’re trying to do on the whole, what geology and hydrogeology is,” said Halihan. “They have this context so that when they stand behind the platform, they don’t just pull on levers, they understand what they are doing and what they need to worry about, for their own safety, the safety of others, then for the safety of the water supply. Because if you don’t install it properly you end up with contaminated water and that’s no good. “

Two of the five courses were launched in December, with the remaining three starting within the next six months. Barnes said the selling point of the program is that it can be done anywhere and at the pace of the students.

OSU’s acting vice-president Dr Chris Francisco said there are even scholarship opportunities for the program, which could help attract even more skilled workers to the field.

“We are really excited to be able to use it as a pilot project and hopefully to be able to expand it a bit more in this area,” Francisco said. “We believe this is one of the most vital areas we need to address here in Oklahoma.”

Drilling rigs and special equipment presented on the show floor at the OGWA conference.

Barnes said that when it comes to using the program to earn college credit, students must be enrolled, but don’t necessarily have to be in the degree field. However, as each course stacks up on top of each other, the hope is that this becomes an area that students want to go to, as they will have already eliminated a significant portion of the credits if they complete the program.

“The student can stack things as they wish. So they can take special skills courses that will help them in the workplace, ”Krutz said. “But we set them up so that they can go straight into a program if they want to do a full degree with us.”

Josh McClintock, Executive Director of OGWA, said he was blown away by what OSU is doing for groundwater education, as well as the organization of the conference, as it is the first in-person event since 2020 for the OGWA.

“People like to come and hear these things in person, see things in person and take hands-on training,” McClintock said. “And that’s why I think we can do it here much better than anywhere else we’ve ever hosted this conference. So I think the feeling of the board, and certainly from my point of view, is that we are going to come back every year, because it has been a very good experience so far.

Krutz said that OSU making a foray into the groundwater industry by providing NGWA University, as well as a hopeful new home for the OGWA conference, is a testament to OSU’s commitment to serve the ‘State of Oklahoma.

“The fact that we have, as you mentioned, groundwater operations in all states, that really fits the notion of OSU as a land allotment university serving the whole. state, ”Krutz said. The representation of people from across the state and region here today is a very good example of that. “

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