News: Member Portrait

Debra Batten: Four Decades of Knowledge and Experience

Thursday, December 20, 2018  
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When Debra Batten accepted a position as Environmental Compliance Laboratory Manager/Pretreatment Coordinator at the Town of Holly Springs in July of this year, she was eager to draw from her 40 years of experience in the laboratory. “I am very much looking forward to using the knowledge I have gained over my career,” she notes, adding that, while her prior position at the City of Wilson was similar in nature, there were many industries in that well-established community. “With so much additional compliance coming into play, there was a need to split the positions, so I quickly found myself outside the industrial planning and compliance loop.” In her new position, she is going back to her roots.


 Her first foray into a laboratory was in the early 1980s when she joined Southern Testing & Research (STR) Laboratories under the direction of Bill Bridgers. Having identified an interest in sciences early on, she started as an analyst for Wilson’s tobacco industry. “It did not take me long to determine that three to four months of downtime was not for me,” says Batten. “I wanted a job that would keep me busy year-round.”


 It was Bridgers who would provide the young mother with the opportunity for a career path. At STR Labs, Batten moved from tobacco to working with foods and feed samples, analyzing everything from fishmeal for hog feed to soybeans and even earthworms – considered a delicacy in California at the time. “My first tray, they tried to escape the pan when I put them in the oven,” she recalls. “I quickly learned I had to kill them first, prior to drying and grinding them for analysis. No surprise – they were 98% protein.”


 Then one day, when Bridgers was looking for someone to take on a project for a paper mill, Batten was the only one to step forward. The passing of the Clean Water Act offered many new opportunities and her career in the water industry was soon well underway. By 1986, she was working as a Wastewater Laboratory Technician at the City of Wilson. Around that time, she also became involved with the North Carolina Professional Wastewater Operators Association, serving as secretary treasurer and then chair. In 1988, Batten returned to STR, now merged with Microbac Laboratories, as Water Quality Section Head. Over the next 12 years, as the Lab grew from 11 to 111 employees, she rose through the ranks, becoming Business Development Client Services Specialist and, eventually, Environmental Lab Manager prior to leaving the STR Division to rejoin the City of Wilson as their Chemist/Lab Pretreatment Supervisor in 2000.


 It was then that Batten became involved with the North Carolina Pretreatment Consortium (NC-PC). Having attended NC-PC conferences as a vendor and the workshops as a permit holder with STR Labs, she had come into contact with such influential professional peers as Mary Groome from Greensboro and Jo Ellen Gay, who, at the time, was with the City of Wilson as the Environmental Compliance Manager. “Part of my responsibilities when I returned to Wilson was to help supervise the Pretreatment Program for the city, so I continued my more active involvement with NC-PC,” recalls Batten.


 In fact, she participated in the first classes of the newly-formed Pretreatment Certification Program for the State of North Carolina and achieved all four levels of NC-PC Certification. “I was also honored by being asked to participate on the Pretreatment Certification Board,” notes Batten.


 The NC-PC was not the only organization seeking her talents. Batten was also asked to participate in the NC AWWA-WEA’s Young Professionals Committee. “Then I realized there was a Lab Analyst Committee and this is where I volunteered to help,” she explains. It was a natural transition. Until then, Batten had been involved in trying to ensure that lab analysts on the eastern side of the state (LabNet East Group) stayed up to date with what was going on with the LabNet Group and State Lab Certification updates and requirements.


 “The technical knowledge and professional contacts have been instrumental to my ability to excel in my chosen career path,” notes Batten. At the same time, she has pursued ongoing professional development, achieving her NC Pretreatment Certification – Grade IV, Biological Wastewater Operators Certification – Grade II, and Lab Analyst Certifications.


 Currently, she continues to serve on the NC-PC Certification Board as well as the NC AWWA-WEA’s Lab Analyst Committee. She is also assisting the NC Rural Water Association with their upcoming Lab Analyst Certification Workshops – all while starting a new job at Holly Springs.  

 “I am happy to be working with Seann Byrd, the Director of the Holly Springs Utley Water Reclamation Facility and others in the development of such a fast growing community,” says Batten, adding that the town, which less than 20 years ago had a population of less than 1,000, has grown to more than 35,000 people. “With strategic planning and business development, they will no doubt continue to grow. I am looking forward to learning and growing with them.”

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