Mentors: My Path to Becoming a Water Professional

Brian Oram, Licensed Professional Geologist
Featured Water Professional

The KnowYourH2O Team asked me to prepare an article about mentoring and share my experience as an Educator, Boy Scout Leader, Project Manager, Student Advisor, and Father, which has given me some insights into mentoring. 

The first step in writing this article was to look up the meaning of "Mentor." A mentor's classical definition is "someone who can support, advise, and guide you." They typically take the time to get to know you and the challenges you're facing and then use their understanding and personal experience to help you improve." When I think of a mentor, the following individuals come to mind: My Father (William Oram), My Grandfather (Fred "Huck" Metzger), Dr. Brian Redmond, and Dr. Micheal Case.   

My Father - William Oram

When my father was a young man, he had multiple jobs and turned over all his money to his Mother. At the end of each week, he had to clean the kitchen to earn 50 cents to go to the movies, stop at "Abe's Hot Dogs" for three hot dogs and a drink, and then meet his girlfriend, Donna (my future Mother) at the popcorn machine at the local theater. He would meet her there because he could not afford to buy her a ticket.

(Lesson Learned: He always worked hard, especially for his family.)

When he graduated high school his father gave him a choice: “Move out, get a job, or do something with your life, but you're not living here.” So like many men in the 1960s, he got married and joined the Air Force. 

While in the AirForce, he was trained as a Diesel Engine Mechanic. While serving, although he did not like the Air Force, he made many friends.  A little over a year later, I was born and I believe we were living in Wilkes-Barre, but then moved to California. His tour was extended because of the Cuban Missile Crisis, at which time he was transferred to a SAC Base in Labrador in northern Canada. 

After being honorably discharged from the Air Force and just after my sister (Lori-Ann) was born, he moved back to the Wilkes-Barre Area from California. His main reason for moving back was because Mom missed her family. The first job he took when he returned earned about $1.50 per hour, which in 1965 was not too bad, although he left a job in California making $5.00 per hour. 

My Parents on their wedding day.

(Lesson Learned: He returned home because family was important to my Mother, even though he did not have a close relationship with his family.)  

They bought their first home in 1972, just three months before the "Agnes Flood" inundated the house. Over the next few years, the house he purchased for about $15,000.00 put him in debt over $75,000.00, but he continued to move onward and upward. When he needed to learn how to fix something, he got himself a "How-To" book, read it, and then hired a licensed professional to look over his shoulder and check his work.

(Lesson Learned: Self-Reliance and the Importance of knowing your limits.)

When I got involved with the Boy Scouts, so did he; we went camping, hiking, backpacking, and on many canoeing trips. We also planned many events for the Penns Mountains Council. This was a great experience because it was an escape from living in an old mining town with red, discolored water that smelled, in addition to the odor of the weekly burning of sewage sludge, and there were no real forests.  

My father helped me with my merit badges and Eagle Scout project. He received the Silver Beaver Award and began training others in Wood Badge. Through Scouting, the Order of the Arrow, and time with my father, I learned the true meaning of the Brotherhood of Cheerful Service (Wimachtendienk Wingolauchsik Witahemui), the importance of knowing and using the group's resources, and the importance of helping others.

After my second year at Wilkes College, one of my advisors (Dr. Brian Redmond, see below) gave me a small consulting project for a local hotel. After I completed the job, the hotel mailed me a check. When my father got the mail, he opened the letter and wondered why the local hotel was sending me money. I told him that I had worked for about three days to solve a water issue related to washing the hotel towels and that the check was the payment for this work. The check was for over $700 or over $240 per day. At that time, my father was earning about $400 per week. His only response (knowing I was not handy at fixing anything, especially cars) was to keep doing this consulting work stuff - which I did!

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My Grandfather - Fred "Huck" Metzger

My Grandfather was a very large and stubborn man who was very set in his ways. He was of German descent, and his family had a small grocery store in Wilkes-Barre just outside the flooded area. Working with him at the store, I learned what an honest day's work was, how to buy and sell goods, how to negotiate, and the importance of standing your ground. He also introduced me to silver coins and coin collecting. In his youth, he played football, wrestled, boxed in the Navy, and participated in other team sports, and I believe he was on the Villanova Football Team. 

He never finished college but did go into the Navy and ultimately retired from his post in the Social Security Office in Philadelphia. He rented all his life, and his only real asset was a car he paid for in cash every few years.

His only financial advice was to get a pension and not count on social security because it would be bankrupt. 

When I graduated high school, my Grandfather purchased a rare coin for my collection. It was a 1909 S-VDB Penny in V. Fine condition. This penny probably cost him $600, which was shocking for a man that really did not trust banks, lenders, real estate, or the stock market. He did not live long enough to see me graduate college, but he did see me spar in a few martial arts tournaments. I wish I had asked him to teach me to box! 

(Lessons Learned: He taught me to believe in myself and to stand my ground, which is a critical lesson to be a good father, expert witness, and parent, (but it does not work so well when you're a husband). He was tough on Grandma! This man would help anyone and loved his family, which, at times, was a tough love.)

Grandfather Fred "Huck" Metzger and author Brian Oram in 1969
The future Professional Geologist and his Grandpa "Huck" circa 1969

My Advisor - Dr. Brian Redmond - Wilkes College

To put this very simply, Dr. Brian Redmond is a treasure. He is not only a wealth of knowledge and information; he has some of the best stories. His approach and passion for teaching and learning inspires his students to want to learn. When I attended Wilkes College as a student, Dr. Redmond was my advisor and professor for Earth Science, Geology, and Astronomy courses. Dr. Redmond had his own consulting company, Hydro Tech Ltd, which was well known in the region and well respected by the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection). Dr. Redmond provided me the opportunity to work on a wide range of his consulting projects, and the project I previously mentioned with the hotel was from his recommendation.  

After leaving Wilkes College, I first worked for an Environmental Consulting Company and then earned an MS Degree. I later returned to Wilkes University (Wilkes College had since become a University) when Dr. Redmond was the Chair of the Department to Manage the new Center for Environmental Quality. Under this guidance, I started the Nationwide Homeowner Outreach Program for Well Owners, took more classes in geology, obtained state certification for the water testing laboratory, became a licensed professional geologist, and started my own private consulting practice. I worked and taught at Wilkes University for nearly 21 Years. 

While at Wilkes College, I had also started an informational website that over the years would evolve into

(Lesson Learned: He helped me to develop critical thinking skills, patience, the importance of always making time for others, and the importance of doing solid work and being a fact-based professional. By watching him, I also learned how to best address the public.)  

If you look under the About Section of the KnowYourH2O site, you will see Dr. Redmond is still a very important mentor and advisor.

My First Professor at Wilkes College – Dr. James Michael Case

My first class at Wilkes College in the Earth and Environmental Science Department was Oceanography with Dr. Case. During this class, it became very clear that I had a learning disability, and it was diagnosed by the reading laboratory at Wilkes as dyslexia. Dr. Case encouraged me to get tutors, helped review my writing, and provided a critical review of my work that was tough but helpful. 

Over time, I gained full-time work and steady employment in his water quality laboratory, where I learned many skills that I use to this day.  One experience that was a key to getting me invited to The Pennsylvania State University Civil Engineering Department was a research project related to removing Giardia from drinking water using diatomaceous earth. The skill was the ability to identify and enumerate the presence of Giardia in water.  At that time, I was part of a small group of environmental professionals with that particular skill set. This project paid for my research assistantship at the University so I could earn a Master of Science Degree in the Environmental Pollution Control Program and prepare my thesis.

In addition to working in the water quality laboratory, I was able to work and participate in a wide range of "Technology Transfer Projects" and applied research and development. It was through this training and guidance that I learned about project management. Dr. Case instilled in me a strong interest in water quality, watershed management, and lake management. When I returned to work at Wilkes University, Dr. Case and his wife Alene were always big supporters of my work, were always willing to assist, and were very gracious when I needed professional advice. 

(Lesson Learned:  All I can say is Dr. Case taught me the true definition of the word mentor.)

I hope you found this article interesting. We hope to encourage others to tell the stories about their paths and the mentors who have impacted their lives.

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