With a career in water that spans 35 years, Jim Grassiano is undoubtedly well-suited to be WPI’s newest chair. Jim reigns from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), where he has worked for 25 years. ADEM has been a longtime regulatory member of WPI, and Jim became the liaison between the two organizations back when he became more involved with operator certification. Almost two decades later, his relationship with WPI has grown strong and will continue to do so as he takes on the role of chair.
At work, Jim holds a unique, dual-sided position. He serves as the Chief of both ADEM’s Compliance Assistance Program and its Operator Certification Program. For the former, he troubleshoots issues at water and wastewater treatment plants. “I get to really dig in, put my feet on the ground at the plant, and work closely with operators to assess what we need to do,” he states. For the latter, he deals with the day-to-day operations of Alabama’s numerous certification programs. “I’m a really lucky guy because I love my job,” Jim says, in spite of his packed work schedule. “There’s no better way to have fun in your professional career than to enjoy what you do and stay as busy as you can.”
Jim was voted WPI’s Chair Elect during a time of trial for the organization: the Innovation in Certification (IiC) Conference 2021. This was WPI’s first completely virtual IiC Conference. “It took a lot of preparation by everybody,” Jim recalls. “We really grabbed the bull by the horns.” Most of the other organizations he had been involved with were forced to either postpone or cancel their conferences. To this day, Jim feels honored to have been a part of this incredible effort by WPI: “We had to pivot out of the blue to pull off a fully virtual technical conference that was not only informative but also engaging and fun.” The following year, WPI was able to host a hybrid conference that was partially remote and partially in person, which Jim says was the perfect transition back to in-person conferences.
The height of COVID was a learning opportunity for everyone involved with certification. Exams, which Jim refers to as “the lifeblood of certification,” were shut down at ADEM from the start. WPI and its contractor, PSI, worked hard to develop and implement accessible online training. “The more you learn about how exams are developed, the more respect you have for the process of establishing validating exams,” Jim states. He is happy to now be back in “full force” at WPI and ADEM but will always appreciate how these organizations supported each other in continuing to make certification possible during such a challenging time.
Jim has many hopes about his role within WPI in the future. As a continuing volunteer, he wants WPI to help the operator workforce find opportunities for growth and improvement worldwide. Jim also wants to enact positive change for areas of the world that urgently need reliable sewage and drinking water systems, hopefully alongside Valerie Jenkinson (Operators Without Borders). Jim has a lot to look forward to as chair as well, given the organization’s recent rebrand and the growth that comes with it. Jim is optimistic about evaluating the revised plant-point rating system and he hopes to help broaden WPI’s certification exam base. “It’s going to be a great year,” he enthuses. “There’s no greater time than right now to be involved with WPI.”