Most 17 year-olds probably don’t think much about water meters.
“Honestly, I’d never seen a water meter before,” admits 17 year-old Erika Hosokawa.
Or about hose bib vacuum breakers.
“I didn’t think of them at all,” laughs Raymond Weinert. “This was not in my mind.”
Or pretty much anything having to do with a water utility.
“All I knew is that they take care of water,” says Jerrod Smith.
But Erika, Raymond and Jerrod aren’t typical teenagers anymore. They’ve spent the last two months getting hands-on training at Madison Water Utility through the Wanda Fullmore Youth Internship Program.
“I’ve been taking apart and putting back together repaired meters that are brought in from the field, like from apartments or houses. And then we test them on these water benches at different flow rates,” Erika explains. “We do a high, medium and low flow test, running water at different pressures and quantities to see how accurately they’re reading.”
Raymond and Jerrod have spent their summer learning about water quality and testing.
“We’ve been doing a lot of sampling at wells and distribution sites. And we’ve been doing hose connection and vacuum breaker surveys like we’re doing now,” says Jerrod as he walks down a quiet street in Madison's Tenney-Lapham neighborhood.
“We’re outside looking around people’s houses for hose bibs and checking to see if they have vacuum breakers on them,” Raymond adds.
Hose bib vacuum breakers keep dirty water or other liquids from being sucked back into a hose and into a home’s plumbing during a sudden change in pressure. For their summer internship, Raymond and Jerrod became part of a water quality team that inspects outdoor spigots and works to educate home owners about vacuum breakers.
“I’ve learned a lot about why we do this and how the vacuum breakers help and what they prevent,” says Jerrod. “It’s just a new experience.”
From intern to employee
Madison Water Utility has been bringing in Wanda Fullmore interns since the program started three years ago, after the retirement of long-time city employee Wanda Fullmore. The program gives high school students the chance to become involved in city government and get training and employment.
“The Wanda Fullmore Program exposes kids in our community to future career opportunities,” says Rick Marx, meter operations supervisor at the utility. “It’s a win-win both for our need to create a diverse workforce that represents our community and the need to have good-paying, family-supporting jobs so young people can find rewarding careers in their own home town.”
Marx hired Wanda Fullmore intern Vinh Tang as a permanent Madison Water Utility employee after Vinh’s internship ended in 2017.
“It was clear pretty quickly what his work ethic was. It made me feel like he would be a good employee for us to hire.”
For Erika, interning at Madison Water Utility meant learning about a lot more than water meters.
“This has been a good experience for showing how to be in an actual workplace,” she says “Before, I didn’t really know much about water distribution or how much effort goes into planning and working together across the different utility departments.”
“It feels rewarding,” says Raymond. “I guess it feels like I belong doing what I’m doing. And it feels really good.”