Muhaymina Plair, ’21, was working her way towards a business administration degree with a concentration in management at Southern when Amy Grotzke, assistant director of external relations at the SCSU School of Business, mentioned an internship opportunity at the Regional Water Authority (RWA). The New Haven-based public utility supplies close to 45 million gallons of water daily to approximately 430,000 people in South Central Connecticut.
After attending the internship info session Plair, who graduates this month, decided to change her concentration to Southern’s Public Utilities Management (PUM) Concentration, despite her unfamiliarity with the industry.
She was not thinking about the utilities themselves — pipes, machinery, water treatment plants, etc. — but rather the fact that nearly one-third of the PUM workforce are eligible to retire within five years. Simply, PUM is a field with an abundance of well-paying jobs and a soon-to-be-crucial deficit of managerial and technological staff.
“The industry needs new candidates for positions as a good majority of current employees are retiring,” Plair said. “Since the job market is very competitive, I joined the program as soon as I heard about it.”
Southern is one of just a few universities in the United States equipped to educate and train the next generation of PUM industry leadership, thanks to a specialized pathway in PUM within the Bachelor of Science degree program in business administration.
Scholarship money bolsters the opportunity: annually renewable scholarships of $4,000 per year are available for full-time students and $2,000 for part-time students, thanks to support from the RWA and Avangrid, a leading sustainable energy company.
PUM courses and internships are based on practical, real-time needs. A public utility management leadership advisory group comprised of top officials in the field has provided the vision, advocacy, and support for the program. The pathway itself was developed in close consultation with many of Connecticut’s utilities including the RWA, The Metropolitan District, United Illuminating, and Eversource.
Plair’s full-time, 40-hours-a-week rotational internship lasted six weeks over the summer and put her in three different departments of RWA for two weeks at a time.
“The three departments were communications, finance, and asset management,” she said. “In the communications department, I made graphics for the company’s social media accounts, wrote a draft for an article for the employee newsletter, was introduced to many people around the building, and got my initial tour of the offices.”
Her responsibilities in the finance and asset management departments were data-driven tasks such as organizing data on the quality of each of the lakes that supply RWA with the water it provides to customers. She said she gravitated towards the communication role most, as it tied into her graphic design minor.
Exposure to the different facets of the industry is exactly what PUM stakeholders had in mind when they implemented the Public Utilities Management (PUM) Concentration.
“The utilities offer a wide range of career opportunities,” Grotzke said. “There are professionals who specialize in accounting, marketing, finance, sustainability, IT, cybersecurity, customer service management, legal, operations, and even forestry and policing. Our students who had the opportunity to tour the RWA found the experience quite eye-opening. The rotational internship program offered by the RWA, allows students to see different areas of the organization and where their talents and interests align nicely.”
Connecticut Water soon will offer a similar internship opportunity.
“Southern takes the job of preparing Connecticut’s future workforce seriously, and these close connections with the community allow us to hear what employers need and want,” Grotzke added. “The Public Utilities Management program is an example of working side-by-side with our business partners, like RWA and Avangrid, to ensure our graduates can transition to the workforce with the right knowledge and skills.”
Plair plans to take some time off after graduation, but she is confident when she is ready to find employment, she won’t have to search for long, whether she stays in Connecticut or not.
“I followed the opportunity,” she said. “It met my goals.”
To learn more about Southern’s Public Utilities Management (PUM) Concentration, visit https://www.southernct.edu/academics/management/public-utilities. Students may also transfer to Southern’s program after earning a certificate or associate degree in public utilities management at nearby Gateway Community College.