In the span of three months in early 2019, Nick Galloway lost his livelihood and his father.
“I was looking for a new career after working for the family business since I was 6,” remembers Nick, who was 38 at the time. “It was abrupt, but I have two children. I had a family to support.”
Having worked for his family’s commercial nursery and the family farm, Nick already knew how to do a lot of things with his hands. He had built buildings from the ground up, doing everything himself except for the roofs. He was a certified welder. He had spent his whole life outside – and knew he didn’t want to be stuck in an office.
While pursuing a career as a plumber, Nick found out about Pellissippi State’s Water Quality Technology program, which was starting in fall 2019.
“It seemed like the perfect blend of math and sciences and doing things with your hands,” Nick explains. “And it’s a job that will always be there because clean water is federally mandated.”
Nick is Pellissippi State’s first Water Quality Technology student to be hired full time and to pass the rigorous Grade III certification exam for wastewater treatment, which is four hours long.
Nick’s choice to go to work at the Maryville Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant while still in school was a strategic one for the father of two teenagers. He knew that he had to work for a plant that was a Grade III or higher for at least a year before he could take the exam, which is only offered in May and November, and he knew his earning potential would be tied to that certification.
“It was an adventure the semester that I took 13 hours (of classes) and worked full time on third shift,” laughs Nick, who never dropped below a 3.15 grade point average. “But now I goad the kids, ‘Don’t tell me you can’t do something. If you want to do something bad enough, you’ll find a way to do it!’”
Nick started working at the Grade IV plant, which treats an average of 9.5 million gallons per day of wastewater from over 22,000 customers, in March 2020. That qualified him to take the Grade III certification exam when it was offered in May 2021.
Of 41 wastewater plant operators who attempted the test, only six of them passed, a scant 14.6 percent.
“This is why this program is important,” stresses Nick, who graduated from Pellissippi State on Dec. 10, 2021.
Nick plans on taking the Grade IV test when eligible as he works toward his goal of becoming a head operator or plant superintendent. In the meantime, he’ll keep telling other operators about Pellissippi State and the Tennessee Reconnect program that can help adults complete their college degrees tuition-free.
“This is a very important program for the industry and it’s a good choice for kids who like working with their hands and need a career,” Nick says. “I never thought I’d end up in wastewater treatment, but if you don’t try it, you won’t know if you like it!”