STEM Career Interviews: Up Close And Personal....For You! - Environmental Engineering

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RE@L brings you a series of blogs and interviews on STEM Careers. Why? Well, there are milions of K12 school kids out there who need to know if a STEM career is right for them. Girls and boys. If a STEM job piques your interest, now’s the time to get more information and start taking the right classes in school.


Our first blog in the series is a STEM interview by our colleague, Don Rawitsch.

Don Rawitsch is responsible for designing and building RE@L’s STEM Investigations software product line. Our RE@L mission is to introduce students to the wide variety of STEM careers.

Well-trained STEM workers are critical to the growth of our national economy! And these jobs pay well, too.

So, let’s find out more about a STEM career, as Don interviews an acquaintance who works in the STEM world.



  • Don: Meet Phil Pagoria. Phil is a Registered Professional Engineer who specializes in environmental engineering. Phil, what does it mean to engineer the environment?

 EEPhil: Environmental engineers work to ensure that the industrial processes we implement to produce goods and services don’t adversely affect our natural surroundings.

•  Don: Is there a specific example?

                               Phil: One critical aspect of this effort is protecting our sources of freshwater from possible pollution. The focus of my career has been wastewater treatment in the paper products industry.

  •  Don: What does this involve?

 WastewaterPhil: A good example is factories and plants manufacturing products.   They often use water in their processes.

  •  Don: What role does the engineer play?

Phil: My main concerns are:

 First, to be sure that water discharged at the end of the process it is not carrying pollutants back to the local water supply.

 Second, to discover if we can recover valuable materials from that water for reuse. For example, in the manufacture of paper from trees, you want to use the wood fibers but dissolve the material that holds them together. This process can produce a side effect: the creation of microscopic organic material that consumes oxygen. If you discharge that material into a lake or stream, the fish there could die due to lack of the oxygen they need.

 Third, part of my job is to inspect the processes of paper factories to ensure pollution is not happening.

  •  Don: What makes this work a STEM career?

WaterEEPhil: The purpose of the jobs in this career is to solve problems that are important to the economy and our society.

 I find myself at the intersection of all four STEM areas, including several of the sciences:

   1.  Science is involved; Environmental Engineers use biology to understand the impact of certain industrial discharges on plant and animal life. Chemistry provides us with tests to measure levels of oxygen, acids, phosphorus, and nitrates in water.

2.  Technology gives us probe devices and the ability to connect them to laptops and tablets to get instant readings on the content of water samples.

3. Engineering is used to design plants and factories in ways that reduce polluting the environment while allowing the manufacture of useful products.

4.  Mathematics is involved with calculation, measurement, and the building of models for computers that help us predict the effects of certain processes before they are actually put into operation

  •  Don: When did you begin to see that this kind of career was of interest to you?

 STEMfuturePhil:  In school I developed an interest in science, maybe because I like to understand how things work. I also have always enjoyed exploring the outdoors.

 A cousin of mind owned a science kit and showed me how to do some experiments. It all came together on the first Earth Day celebration, held April 22, 1970. I could now see that science was not only a subject, but a cause. My final decision to become an environmental engineer combined all of these interests.

  •  Don: What advice do you have for today’s students who might have a similar interest?

Phil: First, find mentors, adults who can share their experience with you and direct you to other helpful resources aligned with your interests.

Second, read all about your interests. Search the Internet for information. Visit museums with exhibits on STEM related topics.


Third, get involved with activities. Many projects are sponsored by schools and professional organizations (such as engineering societies).


Finally, think how you can help your community by using your interests. For example, some cities and towns have “citizen science” projects in which volunteers help collect data to protect the environment.


  • Don:  Thanks, Phil, for this very useful career information!


Let us know if you have any questions or comments for Don:

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Tom King & Dale LaFrenz

Dr. Tom King has served for over 40 years as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Saint Thomas in the School of Education. The Saturn School of Tomorrow, formerly a St. Paul Public School, and his visionary response to educational reform, was a lighthouse on the frontier of school change. Tom was an experienced high school teacher of mathematics, a school administrator, and Director of Technology for the St. Paul MN Public Schools. He is also a member of the RE@L Team. Dr. Dale LaFrenz is Chairman of RE@L and one of the founders of MECC Software who brought “Oregon Trail” to millions of K12 kids everywhere. He has written extensively on the history and evolution of Ed Tech. His work in forging new paths for MECC’S “edutainment" software was instrumental in connecting school-markets, kids, teachers and consumer-markets/kids/parents, and now serves as the new launching pad for RE@L apps and software.