Pathways to progress
Fresno State's Water, Energy and Technology (WET) Center provides industry support, student career pathways
Career opportunities for Fresno State students in the water technology industry are steadily growing along with the success of members of the Water and Energy Technology (WET) Center located on the university campus.
The WET Center was founded in 2007 to provide connections, resources and business support for high-potential water and energy companies new to the central San Joaquin Valley – especially those with a focus on agriculture, reported WET Center Director Helle Petersen.
“The center provides an entryway for entrepreneurs, innovators and businesses at all stages to accelerate commercialization, product launch and development of new technologies,” Petersen said. “We want to create new businesses, help them grow, and with this growth, create jobs for the central San Joaquin Valley.”
And that is exactly what happened for former Fresno State student Bardia Dehghan Manshadi, who earned his Masters in Plant Science last year and was subsequently offered a startup position by one of the WET Center’s member companies, mOasis.
(At left, Bardia Dehghan Manshadi oversees a CO2 and irrigation study on tomatoes while in Fresno State's Plant Science Graduate Program.)
Based in Union City, California, mOasis produces and sells Bountigel, a polymer-based aquamer product designed to enhance water use efficiency in agriculture. When injected into soil, the aquamer molecules absorb water rapidly and then release it slowly, essentially enhancing soil water-holding capacity. The benefits, according to mOasis, are reduced water use and better plant health, as the plants receive water on a more continuous basis.
As a member of the WET Center, mOasis was able to utilize a section of Fresno State’s University Agricultural Laboratory (UAL) as a testing site for their product in 2013. And that’s when the student-industry connection occurred.
Bardia also was conducting a research study – for his master’s thesis – evaluating the growth and yield rates of tomatoes undergoing treatments of CO2 gas under different irrigation regimes. The results were positive and attracted considerable attention from both the research community and industry.
“I knew about mOasis since I was a student,” Bardia said. “They had an experimental plot next to mine so I would talk to the other researchers and they also got to know me. Then, in March 2014 one of their representatives called and told me of a position opening and they asked me for a resume. I applied and got the position as product development representative and agronomist.”
According to Petersen, the successful launch of mOasis, including their hiring a Fresno State student, provides the perfect example of the kind of success story envisioned by the founders of the WET Center, which included Fresno State’s Center for Irrigation Technology (CIT).
In photo at right, Bardia represents mOasis in the exhibit hall of a recent water technology conference. Below, in company vehicle heading for a field consultation.
“The WET Center at Fresno State was this company’s first connection point to the agricultural industry,” Petersen said. “CIT provided them with good industry insight and knowledge in its early stages, including a plot area for conducting research.”
mOasis has subsequently moved its headquarters to Union City in the Bay Area, but it has a number of employees who serve the central San Joaquin Valley and use the WET Center as a team meeting facility, Petersen noted.
The WET Center currently has more than two dozen members. Qualifying new members are provided temporary office space at the facility during their start-up period. Many of the “graduate” member companies have expanded their services and products to highly-successful levels and have opened their own offices and production facilities throughout central California. Some are hiring new employees, including Fresno State students. Internship positions also may be available.
For more information on the WET Center, including a complete listing of member companies, and/or how to apply for membership, visit the center website or contact Petersen at firstname.lastname@example.org.