Students get real-world experience saving the environment while working with companies to save them money through the Partners in Pollution Prevention Program.
Partners in Pollution Prevention is a program through the University of Nebraska Extension that gives engineering majors a chance to get internship experience all over Nebraska. The program teaches students how to look at a business and find cracks where they can save energy and money. It then pairs students with a business where they spend the summer problem solving.
“It gives the student an opportunity to problem solve not in a textbook,” said Bruce Dvorak, a professor in Civil and Biological Systems Engineering.
Every year, 17 to 19 interns are trained to survey business, but mainly, they are taught to start asking "why?" Why are they doing that and how could they do it differently? They find problems no one saw and suggest solutions. Solutions that reduce energy could be reducing waste water discharge, energy use from air compression systems, or waste through improved maintenance.
Over time, the program has served 770 business clients and saved them about $27 million. Its environmental impact has been enormous, diverting 313 million pounds of waste from the landfill and saving 2,320 million gallons of water.
Dvorak came up with the internship program with several other faculty back in 1997 when the state wanted a way to both educate students with practical experience and assist businesses. He then got grant money to work with small businesses and the word quickly spread. Now, 20 years later, the program works with many types of clients like wastewater utilities, food processors and larger manufacturers. They served 48 businesses in 2017 alone.
Brittlin Hoge was part of the waste water team and worked with five rural waste water plants last summer. She said the interns are helping to contribute to a real culture of sustainability. The companies become more conscious of what they’re using and how they can use it better.
“If they implement the recommendation or if they don’t, I think they are more aware just by the process,” she said.
Dvorak believes the program has a big impact not only on the businesses, but on the students. They gain skills in problem solving and in communications.
“Ultimately, it’s a combination of experience that gives students background so when they go to work, they are in a much better place to be an advocate and to lead the charge to improve sustainability,” he said.
For the future, Dvorak hopes the program can continue to increase the number of companies they work with and help them to successfully build on their corporate sustainability policies.
Partners in Pollution Prevention is currently looking for interns for summer 2018. For more information or to apply, please visit https://engineering.unl.edu/research/p3-partners-pollution-prevention/ or look for an advertisement on Husker Hire link in December and January.