MATC graduate Nate Tillis is a scientist, administrator, husband, father, supervisor and – somewhat surprisingly – a philosopher.
He spends a considerable amount of time thinking about water. As wastewater operations and maintenance supervisor for the City of Beloit, that probably comes with the territory.
But his interest goes well beyond the technical and practical aspects of taking care of the city's water supply.
Tillis is fascinated by philosophical teachings about water. "I see water as a metaphor for life," he said. "I try to be like water. Water is soft and yields, yet it really is a strong force. It represents clarity. Running water never grows stale."
A voracious reader, Tillis became interested in philosophy as a teenager. "I read a ton of books when I was growing up," he said. Among them were the Koran and the Tao Te Ching (The Book of Way), writings on Taoist philosophy of life thought to have been written by Lao Tzu. "The Tao Te Ching was hands down the best book I ever read," Tills said.
He also became interested in the martial arts, and studied the philosophy of actor/martial arts expert Bruce Lee. Both Lee and Lao Tzu wrote extensively about the life lessons that could be learned by studying the properties of water and about the power of nature. Tillis explained: "Although water is soft and weak, it has the capacity to erode even solid stone, such as it did in the Grand Canyon. It can move mountains and cause landslides."
Nate Tillis, wastewater operations and maintenance supervisor for the City of Beloit.
Preserving Purity of Water, Soil, Air and Food
Tillis enrolled at MATC in 1999, a year after graduating from Wauwatosa East High School. He credits working in the fast food industry as a teenager with developing an interest in pursuing a career as a food inspector/sanitarian. "I was interested in all of it - the purity of soil, air, food and water," he said. When he investigated furthering his education, he learned that MATC was the only college in the area that offered training in this field. Tillis enrolled in what is now called the environmental health and water quality technology associate degree program, which focuses on training individuals to identify, evaluate, protect and mitigate risks to air, water and food.
During his second year of study at MATC, Tillis had an internship as a wastewater operator at SK Williams and was responsible for removing trace metals used to coat or plate machined parts from water. That was when he decided to focus on water quality. "The MATC program launched my career," he said. "It provided me with tools and skills which I converted into something that could give me meaningful lifelong employment."
Tillis said he was very pleased with MATC's program. He has served on the program's advisory committee nearly every year since he graduated. "I love being able to bring my field expertise to the program," he said. "We are able to help keep the courses current with what's going on in the industry and give our feedback on proposed program changes. Many committee members are also able to offer internships for the students."
Nate Tillis is a 2001 MATC graduate of MATC's environmental health and water quality technology associate degree program.
Encouraging Others to Investigate Technical College Offerings
Tillis encourages individuals to investigate technical colleges when preparing for their futures. "I graduated with a useful degree and quickly got a job as a wastewater operator for the City of Waukesha. The hands-on education gave me the confidence to walk into a lab, know I could use the equipment, be quickly shown the methods of a test, and then be able to run those tests myself."
He began his job with the City of Beloit in January 2012. The Beloit facility faces unusual challenges because it is located near the site of a proposed casino development. Encouraging the casino to choose that location necessitates an extra emphasis on odor control. Tillis' department also has utilized a technique for inflow and infiltration of water that saves energy and wear on the equipment. "We've earned high marks from the state for its effectiveness," he said. "We're very concerned with sustainability."
"I graduated with a useful degree and quickly got a job as a wastewater operator for the City of Waukesha.
The hands-on education gave me the confidence to walk into a lab, know I could use the equipment,
be quickly shown the methods of a test, and then be able to run those tests myself."
-- Nate Tillis
In addition to his full-time job, Tillis is now enrolled in the sustainable management bachelor's degree program at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. The articulation agreement between MATC and the UW System allowed him to transfer many MATC credits to the UW-Parkside program.
As the father of two young boys, Tillis said he is especially concerned with sustainability and motivated to protect the earth's resources as much as possible for future generations. "We must always be good stewards of the environment," he said. "We need to leave the planet at least as well off as it was when we inherited it."
For more information on MATC's environmental health and water quality technology associate degree program, visit:
Photos by Joe Valerius