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Inspiring the next generation of water experts

Two Denver Water pros take their knowledge into the classroom to teach conservation, water quality management.

In the words of Alice Cooper, “no more pencils, no more books.” It’s summer in the Mile High City, a good time for students — and teachers — to reflect on all that was learned this last school year. In that spirit, we thought we’d give a nod to some of the Denver Water teachers who are passing along their knowledge to create the water experts of the future.

Chris Crumley, Denver Water valve operations technician, teaches courses at Red Rocks Community College. Crumley believes the best part about teaching is when students tell him math has become their favorite subject thanks to his classes.

Chris Crumley, a Denver Water valve operations technician for 17 years, has been teaching at Red Rocks Community College in the water quality management program since 2009. Mark Cassalia, Denver Water senior conservation specialist, has taught a global water concerns course at Metropolitan State University of Denver for three years.

Crumley teaches operational and theoretical math and lab analysis courses — classes that seem daunting based on the course titles alone.

“Many of my students are working adults looking for a career change. Most have never worked in the water industry and haven’t taken an algebra class in eons,” said Crumley. “Math can be particularly intimidating for these students, so my most important role is to help allay these fears and build confidence along with competence.”

He is proud to see many of his former students working for water utilities across the state — even some at Denver Water.

“It’s really rewarding to see my students working successfully in the water industry and even better when they tell me that math is now one of their strengths,” he said.

Nick Riney joined Denver Water four years ago, after losing his construction job in the recession. He is taking courses in water quality management while working as a water quality technician.

With no water industry experience under his belt, Riney went back to school and enrolled in Crumley’s hydraulics course. He was worried at first. “Math has never been one of my favorite subjects, but Chris did a great job explaining the material and making it easier to understand,” he said.

Chance Coe felt a similar skepticism when he enrolled in a specific calculations course after a 10-year hiatus from math. “Thanks to Chris’s patience and relatable teaching approach, I got an ‘A’ in a math class — which was a first for me. He helped me understand complex concepts that I use every day working in Denver Water’s water quality lab,” Coe said.

Another Denver Water employee, Shana Colcleasure, water treatment lead at Denver Water’s Recycling Plant, also benefited from Crumley’s focus on student success.

“Hydraulics was known as the hardest course in the water quality management program at the time. Our final grade was based on a math problem that spanned four pages. Chris was extremely patient and worked hard to make sure every student understood the material to work through the problem,” Colcleasure said.

Crumley said teaching is also a learning experience for him.

“My students’ inquisitive questions often keep me on my toes,” Crumley said. “Whether it’s staying up-to-date on changing regulations to uncovering creative ways to help them understand and relate to class topics, I find myself learning something new all the time.”

Like Crumley, Mark Cassalia finds inspiration in helping students develop an enthusiasm for water. In his global water concerns course, Cassalia delves into local, state and national water issues.

Mark Casssalia, Denver Water senior conservation specialist, teaches students at Metropolitan State University of Denver to think about water from a global perspective.

His students span the gamut in terms of age, career path and experience, which Cassalia believes enriches the classroom discussion.

“It’s a great venue to share knowledge and create the future problem-solvers of our industry,” Cassalia said. “We will face water challenges in the future, and it’s motivating to know I’m helping students appreciate not only the importance of water, but also helping them develop the tools needed for critical thinking, innovation and problem-solving.”

One such innovator is Audra Jones, who began working in Denver Water’s water quality lab last year. Jones worked as a Denver Water summer water saver while attending courses at MSU Denver toward a degree in environmental science. It was in a global water concerns class where she first met Cassalia.

“He helped me really understand water systems and apply that to real world scenarios. I was challenged to think about water globally and understand how actions in one part of the world can impact resources in another,” Jones said.

Cassalia’s class sparked an interest in Jones, as she focused her research on pharmaceuticals in water supplies. “I really wouldn’t have understood the topic as well without Mark’s course,” she said.

“He taught me to separate my scientific and environmentalist minds to examine issues, which helps me look at topics from a broader perspective. Sometimes you have to break down the logistics of a big issue to understand why it is happening before you can try to solve it.”

For Cassalia, balancing a full-time job at Denver Water, a family and his teaching responsibilities can be overwhelming, but in the end he believes it’s worth it.

“To be able to have a part — even a small part — in helping to create critical thinkers who will lead the future of water in not just Colorado, but in the world, is truly an honor.”