Eleven graduates of the Power Plant Fundamentals School have become the most recent hires at the Navajo Generating Station (NGS).
The seven-week long school is equivalent to a two-year, 21-credit college course, and has garned the nickname the “Do or Die School” for its selective acceptance and the intensive commitment it requires to graduate. About half of the interviewed applicants are invited to participate, and on average only half of those successfully finish. Course work involves 10 hours a day of classroom lecture and fieldwork followed by at least two hours per night of additional study. Only after successful completion may a student get a regular, full-time position at NGS.
“It was intense for me, personally,” said Wilson Laughter, 45, of Naschitti, New Mexico. “It was stressful because I have a family back home. But I’m looking forward to starting a new career. I worked for Navajo EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] for 13 years. Just like [course instructor] Tom Hull said, I want a little piece of the American dream for me and my family.”
The Fundamentals School instructs new NGS employee candidates in every phase of the power plant’s technical operation, procedures, history and safety. The course covers the power plant’s parts, equipment, procedures and operations; from electron theory to the railroad that delivers coal, from physics to the properties of superheated steam, from the Federal Reclamation Act of 1902 to the history of why NGS was built where it is on the Navajo Nation.
Students additionally learn how the power plant reduces its emissions with “scrubbers,” which remove 95 percent of the sulfur dioxide, and the plant’s new $45 million low-NOx burners, which reduce nitrogen oxide by 40 percent. NGS Plant Manager Robert Talbot also stressed the importance of working safely to graduates, explaining that their first year on the job generally sets the bar for working safely throughout their careers.
NGS conducts the Fundamentals School about twice a year. New courses are advertised throughout the Navajo Nation, Phoenix and Flagstaff.
Currently, 451—or 84 percent—of NGS’s 536 employees are Navajo.