Success on tap for Cuyamaca College water studies student
Born and raised in Tijuana, Natalia Blake moved to San Diego three years ago to explore new opportunities. At Cuyamaca College, she found the answer to what she wanted to do with her life.
Blake, who already has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the State University of Baja California, said that background melds perfectly with her plans to pursue a career in the water industry. She started at Cuyamaca College last spring and is working toward an associate degree in Water and Wastewater Treatment.
The honor student, who has a perfect 4.0 grade point average, was recently awarded the Otay Water District’s Watton Scholarship, a $500 award for top students in Cuyamaca’s Center for Water Studies program. She plans to use the money to pay for books and fees to apply for industry certifications from the California Water Environment Association.
“As a chemist, there are many fields that I can contribute to in society, but none makes more sense than helping my community by working in the water industry,” she said, adding that she sees a career in water treatment and distribution. “I finally found the branch of chemistry where I believe I am going to thrive and do what I love, which is helping others.”
With one-third of the water sector workforce reaching retirement age in the next 10 years, water utilities are currently facing challenges in recruiting and training employees, so students like Blake are imperative for the industry’s future, water professionals say.
Because of the pandemic, several of the hands-on pump and motor classes in the program have been put on hold until on-campus classes can reconvene, but Blake said instructors have taken steps to keep the coursework engaging.
“Professor Joe Young teaches with a camera to record calculations in water and Professor Mike Uhrhammer has had multiple water professionals give presentations through Zoom,” she said.
Blake noted that the college has been very responsive to student needs during a trying period, providing laptops and free wifi, and keeping them informed about available emergency funds.
“College departments have been very responsive as well,” she said. “I have reached out to financial aid and counseling. Student services, as well as staff have been very helpful on Zoom and the internet.”
A hardscrabble life in Mexico, where her father used to cross the border daily to work as a landscaper and gardener in La Jolla and her mother worked at a daycare center, is what’s behind Blake’s motivation of community service.
“I came to the United States to pursue a better life and to take advantage of the career and academic opportunities this country can provide me and to also help the community with my academic knowledge and experience,” she said.
Cuyamaca College’s diversity and its overall focus on sustainability immediately appealed to Blake.
“The first thing I noticed was its emphasis on the Native California culture, specifically the Kumeyaay community,” she said. “Looking through the programs offered at Cuyamaca, I knew that not only did the college welcome diversity, but it had majors and programs centered around important social issues and a focus on the conservation of natural resources.”
Blake has high praise for the water studies program, saying that students benefit from the knowledge and practical experience of instructors who work in the industry.
“The courses are rich in valuable information that prepare students to become exceptional water professionals,” she said.
Networking opportunities abound, she added, through conferences and treatment plant tours, as well as the existence of a student chapter of the American Water Works Association.
Asked what she likes most about Cuyamaca College, Blake pointed to its embrace of native California history, nature and culture.
“It is truly outstanding and I am very proud of being part of Cuyamaca College and the extraordinary example that it sets for our community,” she said.