Environmental Remediation Program Empowers 12 New Graduates

By on February 28, 2019
Environmental Remediation Program Empowers 12 New Graduates

Darren Tooles worked as a security guard at a hotel when a man sitting out front shouted for his attention. After running over, the man asked Tooles how much he made, and asked if he’d like to make up to $35 an hour. “I thought he was pulling my leg,” Tooles said. “I’d never heard of someone making $35 an hour.”

After he pulled up the website and received contact information from the man at the hotel, Tooles began the application for St. Louis Community College and Saint Louis University’s combined effort: Environmental Remediation Training program. Several months later, Tooles and 11 other students graduated from the program.

As the students all sat awaiting their walk to get certificate of completion, Dr. Chris King, director of the Center for Environmental Education and Training at Saint Louis University, shared the program’s background with friends and family who came to support the graduates. The program started in 2000 when the EPA considered the impact recent regulations had on development. Properties from years ago became negative drains on nearby neighborhoods from issues such as contaminated ground water or vandalism. What became known as the Brownfield program trained students in environmental remediation to help address the development concerns. “Through the years there’ve been some 500 or so people trained,” King said, referring to the joint STLCC-SLU program. “Most [graduates] find sustainable-wage jobs in environmental mediation.”

For many students, the six-week job training program provides more than just an opportunity for work, but a greater purpose or connection. Brothers Deshaun Cothrin and Darryl Lewis hope to work on sites together now that they’re both certified through the program.

Cothrin continuously encouraged his brother Lewis to apply for the program, but it wasn’t until Cothrin helped with cleanup after Puerto Rican Hurricane Maria that he realized how impactful his work could be. “He told me about the experience he had there and the money he made,” Lewis said. The opportunity to complete the work anywhere was appealing to Lewis.

The built-in support system helped the duo the most. “He didn’t think he could complete the course,” Cothrin said about his brother Lewis. Because they were in it together, Lewis decided he couldn’t give up, he had to look good for his older brother.

Lewis’ confidence grew along with his portfolio and credentials. “It was intense,” he said. “I made better grades here than throughout my whole life. Once I saw that I could do it, I had a lot more confidence.”

Both brothers agree that the program was something everyone should apply to. The 20 credentials earned and the safety taught is useful for various jobs and could be transferred across the country or even around the world. Classmate Darren Tooles agreed. “I didn’t even complete my courses before I realized the benefit of it,” he said. “I’m posting stuff on Facebook and when people say ‘oh good for you’ I’m like ‘this could be you, too!’”

Dr. King relays to students that the information is useful in any field. Over the years King watched many students pursue employment in the environmental remediation field yet he emphasizes that even if students don’t, they can apply the knowledge elsewhere. “You know a lot about occupational safety and health. Regardless of where you work, all of that is applicable,” King said.

After several projects in environmental remediation, Stephanie Mickles eventually let her licenses expire. After acceptance into STLCC’s environmental remediation program however, she felt excited to continue her work. “I enjoy the field and care about my environment and neighborhood a lot,” she said. “I bought an old house in north city and didn’t realize all the hazards I was exposing myself to while I was working on it.”

Mickles is passionate about the environment and learning how to be aware of radiation and asbestos, noting that even exit signs have radiation in them. She’s serious about the field and said that if you can take what you like and make a living from it — great. “It pays to be knowledgeable about what you’re dealing with,” she said.

The job training program is truly something special for Mickles. She hopes to spend several years gaining experience and training herself further in the areas that interest her, and eventually she could see herself starting a company. In her previous environmental remediation training she began to see the difference job training can make in someone’s life. “If I can put myself in a position to be able to help others while I’m doing my stuff too, it’d be best for me to start a business and facilitate that,” she said.

Former student Cory Mayo stood at graduation as evidence that the Environmental Remediation Job Program works. After moving in with his mother without a car or job, he tried to pay child support while working at Papa John’s. After an uphill battle he saved enough money for a car and realized he wanted to do more. Mayo graduated from the program three years ago. “As a person who was once in your shoes, I know what you’re going through,” Mayo told the graduates in his speech.

After completing the job program it was a couple weeks before he found work, and he was thankful to be cleaning up a basement. Mayo explained that with the help of this program, the graduates have everything they need to succeed in the environmental remediation field. Mayo now works for a company in St. Louis and worked his way into a labor union. With full benefits, he told the graduates, “It’s some grimy work, but if I can do it, you can do it.”

Program Manager Rene Dulle brought Mayo on a trip to conference in Washington, D.C. as proof that the program, funded by the EPA, changes lives. “It’s in my best interest to find the folks I believe in, can stand behind and those who I think it’s a good fit for,” she said.

All of the students who graduated felt pride and relief upon completing the course. Most of them think this is the first step toward gaining sustainable-wage employment. The whole class believes that the passion of Dulle and the instructors really help. “The thing about Rene is she’s so excellent, just how involved she is, that’s what really helped my process,” Deshaun Cothrin said. “She really is passionate. You can tell she wants to help, she’s not doing it to fill the positions.”

Supporting graduates’ next step toward employment, Dulle invited Aerotek, which specializes in engineering and environmental job placements, to discuss immediate opportunities with graduates. A number of those students have already traveled to other U.S. states for environmental work in the short time since graduating, actively building their experience and resumes for ongoing opportunities.

Applications are currently being accepted for STLCC’s next Environmental Remediation Technician cohort, which begins April 11, 2019. Grant-funded and offered at no cost to eligible participants, this upcoming class meets Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. for six weeks. Learn more and begin your application at stlcc.edu/EnviroTech.

About Laura Davis

Laura Davis is a Marketing Communications Coordinator at St. Louis Community College’s Workforce Solution Group, which delivers non-credit continuing education opportunities, corporate training and community services to the St. Louis region.

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