Jackie Welles, an Environmental Sciences major focusing on engineering with a minor in Sustainable Materials and Technology, spent her summer at PCS Phosphate, a mining and manufacturing company. Her unique background in engineering, sustainability and environmental issues helped her gain valuable hands-on experience though a groundwater project where she helped design and implement a system to alleviate nitrate levels in a waste water treatment plant. A Stephen H. Conger Memorial Scholarship recipient, NC State Sailing team leader, and Biological and Agricultural Engineering club member, Welles also keeps busy throughout the semester.
Tell us about your internship experiences. At PCS Phosphate, I am given the opportunity to take an inside look at the environmental regulations, permits, and practices that are set upon and required of a large mining and manufacturing company, the engineering behind meeting such regulations, as well as taking part in a couple environmental projects that I am to present at the end of the internship.
The primary project I was assigned surrounds the issue of nitrate in groundwater coming from the site’s wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). PCS Phosphate is located directly on the Pamlico River in Aurora, N.C. and water quality is the focus of many local activists and groups, as well as a main environmental focus for the company itself; high nitrate levels wreak havoc for aquatic life, causing algal blooms and massive fish kills. To alleviate some of the nitrate that still reaches the groundwater after treatment at the WWTP, I designed and planned the installation of a permeable reactive barrier. I participated in the project all the way from surveying, sampling, and digging through years of data from the monitoring wells located on the WWTP site to gain understanding of the geophysical characteristics of the water table (intended to determine groundwater flow direction) to designing the barrier on AutoCAD to communicating with and getting price estimates from outside contractors.
In addition to this project, I have traveled and met with environmental specialists at East Carolina University, helped conduct a smoke-stack emissions test required by the EPA, and gained invaluable experience in the “real world,” which looks quite different from a classroom!
Working with the environmental department here is important to me because I know I am making a difference and I am following a path that I am genuinely passionate about. I can see the results of work that I have done and how it has/will benefit the environment. I have a sense of fulfilling what I have set out to accomplish and this internship gave me a really good idea of what I might want—and might not want—to be doing in the future.
What have you enjoyed most about your internship and would you recommend it to other students? So far, I have enjoyed being treated as a true professional and getting to see such a cool operation. PCS Phosphate is almost its own city, especially in such a small town like Aurora, and the things they can do here is incredible. The amount of machinery, brainpower and engineering ability that resides within this company and keeps it going is truly an experience to see in its own.
Yes, I would certainly recommend this internship to students. Though it might take a while to adjust to living in such a small area if you have never experienced one, this internship is so enriching in many, many ways and the people here are crazy nice and welcoming. It’s a really cool feeling to be trusted, your opinion valued, and to be given real responsibilities. It’s also scary as all get out, but really cool. If a student is looking to gain industry experience and is majoring in or has a passion for engineering, this internship is a great option to strongly consider.
Why would you recommend your major to incoming students? I recommend my major to incoming students who are passionate about the beauty of this planet and who want to make a real, worthwhile difference in this world. There is an overwhelming array of majors one can pursue, but I feel that many of those, at least for me, would feel a little superfluous. Pursuing a major in the environmental field and dedicating your career toward a better, cleaner planet allows one to go home and night and know they’re doing something good and purposeful.
Any advice for incoming students? The one thing I strongly recommend is GO TO CLASS. It will make the rest of your college career so so much easier! I think it’s also important to “shop around” when it comes to deciding on a major. If you know you want to do something in the environmental field, explore all your options within that sector. You truly never know what your “calling” might be until you feel it. If you have no idea at all what field you want to study (like me as a freshman), do not get discouraged and just keep looking, reading, and seek out intellectual conversions with friends, family, strangers and professors. It took me a little longer than normal to finally land on a major I love, but I am finally here!
What are your plans after graduation? I plan to go to graduate school for Biological and Agricultural Engineering. Once I have completed that, I might end up back at NC State! I know that this internship helped significantly in guiding me where I might want to end up. I’ve realized that I enjoy the industry side of environmental affairs versus the community-based side, and prior to working here I felt the opposite.
How do you feel CNR has prepared you for life after graduation? CNR is such an “arms-wide-open” type of community that has definitely prepared me for life in general. I think that’s a really important “vibe” to give off. Being passionate and enthusiastic will open doors and opportunities, as employers look for this in their potential employees, especially within a growing and innovative field like Environmental Sciences. CNR has shown me that it is way more beneficial to be friendly, open, inquisitive and excited instead of fearful when taking on new challenges.