COLUMBUS — Jackson Kumpf isn’t spending his summer break lounging by the pool or hanging out at a lake.
Far from it.
The 2016 Scotus Central Catholic graduate is a summer intern at the Columbus wastewater treatment plant, where he’s working in the laboratory to ensure the facility is properly handling all the things local residents and businesses send down their sinks, showers, toilets and drains.
Clearly, he’s not a germaphobe.
“I don’t think you can be here,” said Kumpf, who just completed his first year of studies at Creighton University in Omaha.
The 20-year-old hasn’t declared a major yet — although he’s on a pre-dental track to follow in the footsteps of his father Rex, who has a dental practice in Columbus.
Kumpf said he took the wastewater plant gig “on a whim” after his father saw an ad in the newspaper. The day-to-day duties utilize the science he’ll need to know moving forward.
“This job is perfect for my resume and what I’m looking to do,” said Kumpf, who has the opportunity to hone his skills in the lab while learning new things about chemistry and biology.
And it’s a pretty important role.
Working alongside laboratory technician Annette Griffith, Kumpf is tasked with collecting samples of the wastewater entering the plant along South 14th Avenue and monitoring it throughout the treatment process. The lab workers ensure the biological organisms in the water are doing their part to break down waste and the effluent water leaving the plant at the end of the process is safe before it enters the Loup River.
Their testing results are sent to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for review.
“I think this is a really underrated job,” said Kumpf, adding that most people don’t think about happens to wastewater after it leaves their home or business.
“As long as their toilet flushes and it goes down, they don’t care after that point,” she said. “It’s a lot more complicated than people realize.”
Kumpf, who started his internship in early May, has grown to appreciate the work done by the six full-time employees at the wastewater treatment plant during his short time there.
“It takes a special breed to come and work with waste every day,” he said. “You have to have a great disposition and a great sense of humor, and these guys have it.”
While lightheartedness is a good attribute for the city employees, they definitely take their jobs seriously and display a level of pride in their work.
The water leaving the treatment plant is so clean that some people have went as far as taking a swig to demonstrate its quality.
“We always say that’s why Fremont has such good-tasting water,” said Griffith, noting that the Dodge County city pulls its water from wells near the Platte River downstream from Columbus.
In addition to being a good learning experience for Kumpf, the summer internship is a good-paying job for a college student. The position attracts several applicants each year, with just one selected.
Griffith is hoping these few months at the wastewater treatment plant entice students to consider a career in the field.
“We need to keep people interested in wanting to keep our water clean,” she said. “It’s an industry that’s not going to be going away anytime soon.”