Sponsored by the East County Business Education Alliance, the forum featured 10 panelists ranging from a 20-something junior engineer with Delta Diablo Sanitation District to a veteran Antioch police lieutenant. The panelists discussed their education, salaries and how they eventually came to work in jobs involving the environment.
The students, who were from Antioch, Freedom and Heritage high schools, were chosen because of their interest in environmental careers.
"Not only can you make a good living, but you can make a difference," said Iris Archuleta of the education alliance.
Antioch Police Lt. Rich Marchoke, who runs the department's professional standards bureau, said he didn't know what he wanted to do when he got out of high school.
He first thought he wanted to be a dentist. That soon fizzled and he considered becoming an airline pilot. Then he considered teaching, after that psychology and then sociology. While pursuing all these, he decided to join the Pittsburg police reserves to do something for his community. That eventually led to his career with Antioch where he now deals with bioterrorism, environmental terrorism and evidence technology.
"We're not here to say don't follow your vision, but that there may be many different opportunities to achieve it," said Mitch Schweikert, an LMC environmental sciences instructor, adding, "Don't wait until you get to college to take all the science and math classes."
"Recognize that if path A won't work, then there's path B. If you have a good educational background, you will have the abilities," said Darrell Cain, laboratory director for Delta Diablo Sanitation District, adding that sometimes jobs must be learned from the bottom up.
"I've done everything from washing dishes and cleaning cages." A laboratory technician at the district, according to Cain, needs only an associate of arts degree to start working at $62,000, he said.
James Arnold, managing partner of an environmental law firm, said environmental law focuses on safety - things like assuring that plastic bottles are disposed of safely, protecting consumers from harmful chemicals and potentially hazardous products.
Julie Haas-Wajdowicz, environmental resource coordinator for the city of Antioch, bailed out early on plans to be an accountant after realizing "I would be locked in a room 40 hours a week, crunching numbers."
She urged the students to give greater priority to their desires and less to simply making money. "Life is way too short to waste 40 hours a week," she said.
At the same time, said Archuleta, there is money to be made in environmental careers. "You've got to get wise now and talk to counselors who can guide you."
Dave Huey, water operations manager for Contra Costa Water District, who said he earned only an associates degree and runs three divisions at the district, emphasized the importance of job satisfaction. "I come home at night satisfied that 500,000 people will have safe drinking water."
A second conference was held March 14 for students interested in construction, manufacturing and process technology. A third forum set for May 15 will focus on health and medical careers.
Teachers and parents interested in attending the final forum can contact Archuleta at 755-9291.