Carla Godfrey knew she loved working with her hands. She often worked on her own car.
“I knew I didn’t want to work in an office. I wanted to work outside if I could. I liked working on things and taking apart things.” So she looked into a state jobs training program to repair business machines. But there was a 14-week wait so she applied to work in wastewater treatment instead.
“That was opening up the very next week and I never looked back,” reflected Godfrey.
Fast forward 38 years. In thinking about the significance of Women’s History Month, Godfrey knew her journey has played a part in the contributions women are making past, present and future. As a chief stationary engineer at the SFPUC, Godfrey has a critical role to play in the health and safety of those who live or work in the City and County of San Francisco. She has supervised teams of stationary engineers and senior stationary engineers. These essential workers operate and maintain the SFPUC’s four treatment plants and some 50 pump stations that run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Godfrey says, “I work with a team of extremely talented individuals to develop training programs that help ensure that the next generation of wastewater professionals are ready to take the helm as older generations retire.”
Over the years Godfey has seen the transition from in-person to technology-enabled training even for work in the field.
“This is something we worked on before COVID and it fell into place. Now we’re starting to convert more of our trainings into self-guided trainings that trainees can take on the computer, at their own time and pace.”
But even so, Godfrey says, “Not everything can be done on the computer. You need to be at the plant to learn the piping and pumps, and how to use the computer to make changes to processes. When you’re there in person, you can show trainees the actual pumps and how to ‘trace the lines’. This way you can make sure that in an emergency we know where everything is going and how to route re-route any treatments.”
The teams work tirelessly to ensure that everything is flowing properly and receive the appropriate treatment. They also ensure that pumps aren’t “running too hot or are vibrating” and look for any deterioration in the piping or equipment.
“They check that processes are running under the proper parameters, test the wastewater, check the results of those tests, and make adjustments to the process, according to those results. It’s a constant cycle where you’re checking something 24/7,” says Godfrey.
She says that being a woman engineer has been both, “challenging and special.” In reflection of Women’s History Month, Godfrey believes that representation in the workplace is important for women. “We have a lot to bring to the table and we all deserve a chance at a good-paying job. Fifty percent of the world population is female and they should be represented in important fields like engineering and wastewater.”