Growing up, Richard Thi never thought about a career in public service, let alone working at a wastewater treatment plant.
Raised in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point, Thi is an apprentice stationary engineer at the Southeast Treatment Plant for the SFPUC’s Wastewater Enterprise. He is currently going through his final year in the four-year apprenticeship program. As an Apprentice Stationary Engineer, Thi is learning how to run the daily operations of the Southeast Treatment Plant, which includes maintenance of equipment and machinery. When treatment plant staff are performing maintenance on the heavy equipment, such as the pump stations, his job is to ensure safety protocols are used to ensure employees can safely do what they need to do.
Thi reflected on his professional journey and desire to help the neighborhood he was raised in. “I started in the SFPUC’s 9916 pre-apprenticeship program. The program served the immediate community and neighborhood where the Southeast Treatment Plant is located, and was a stepping stone to prepare local interest towards an apprenticeship at the SFPUC and wastewater,” he shared. “I’ve seen that my city around me has changed, but the positive spirit has mostly remained. For the City that raised me to be who I am today, I wanted to be able to give back and promote the same qualities I grew up with along the way.”
Thi explained how his work has been rewarding during these last four years, from seeing the end result of the work put into plant operations, to the daily tests carried out by lab staff for each process product sampling, or having the chance to be studying for the apprenticeship coursework without stressing out about a process issue. “Just like in my days here, the issues at hand are not all going to be the same, so my approach needs to respect all possibilities. With that said, I’m not going to necessarily be the one with all of the solutions,” said Thi. “But while having an acceptance of differences or recognizing them in each of us, the work can feel lighter because it doesn’t take just one person. In fact, it is the experience of those before us and a collective amount of shared ideas from many walks of life and experiences that will help us find the solutions to the issues we are bound to face.”
Thi described the recent discriminatory and violent incidents against Asian Pacific American (APA) communities have brought a lot of pain. For APA heritage month, he noted that featuring and highlighting stories and experiences of the APA individuals can help in the fight against anti-Asian discrimination. “That way people will realize the people who are getting targeted are just like anyone else. I also plan to be more active in community based groups and events. I want to show I support the community that I live in and I want to be a part of it,” he shared. “I believe I can support the APA community by exposing myself to other cultures. I want to learn and grow as a person to become even more worldly.”
Thi shared he is proud to see more representation across the SFPUC, and that celebrating differences is a life-long journey. “It’s great that I can be amongst my coworkers and they will recognize me for who I am and not by my stereotypes,” he said. “It is one of the ways we see San Francisco’s positive spirit remain and come alive.”