Dam Safety Inspector, Project Technical Lead | Chattanooga, Tenn.
Eric Edwards clips a winch cable to his safety harness and descends into a black abyss more than 100 feet below the surface of the Tennessee River. The ladder swings like a lifeline dangled below a rescue helicopter; the eerie hum of the neighboring units is deafening.
Rung by rung, the dam inspector knows he’s getting closer. The sound of the loan drain-pipe spills into the pool at the bottom of the draft tube like a manmade waterfall. Edwards stops and looks up at the light illuminating the giant turbine blades hovering above him. The fixture looks like a polished prop of a cargo ship.
No cracks. Check.
Edwards continues to the depths of the dam until his boots are on stable ground. He feels the water vacuum seal his chest waders to his body as he drifts deeper and deeper into the darkness and across the submerged concrete that is slimed with algae and littered with trapped catfish and alligator gar—each waiting to be released to the river’s tailwaters by the opening of the steel draft gates in front of him.
No leaks. Check.
Eric Edwards is a TVA civil engineer whose journey at TVA began with the CADNet School-to-Work program that allowed him to intern as a high school draftsman. Each weekday morning of his senior year, he worked four hours at TVA’s satellite office at Lakeview Fort Oglethorpe High School, converting old hand-drawn prints into digital CAD drawings.
The experience allowed him to continue interning for TVA while pursuing his bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga. Upon graduation, he accepted a full-time position where he continues to serve in a dual role as a TVA Dam Safety inspector and project technical lead.
“The engineering degree gave me the background knowledge, but when it comes to inspections the hands-on expertise came from the mentorship of a lot of folks here at TVA who took the time to share their years of experience with me,” Edwards said. “That’s what has taught me to do this job, and I’m so grateful for the people who were willing to take extra time and invest in me. Instead of treating me like just an extra set of boots on the ground, they made a point to show me why we do what we do.”
As a civil dam inspector, Edwards travels to all parts of TVA dams and looks for cracking patterns on concrete structures, and erosion or seepage paths on earthen embankment dams or other water barriers.
“I love what I do, and I truly enjoy working alongside my team.”
In addition to the dam inspections, Edwards supports dredging and intake debris removal efforts and various size dam maintenance projects.
For the past 25 years, TVA’s CADNet School-to-Work Program has helped more than 1,750 high school and college students find STEM-related career paths. Edwards is one of at least 30 program participants who have found full-time employment at TVA.
The School-to-Work program started in 1995 at Gibbs High School in Knoxville with three students, and later expanded to the Chattanooga area in 2004. Today, CADNet partners with 42 schools, community colleges and universities through 12 labs that are based in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.
“I was fortunate to have the opportunity and I tried my best not to squander it,” Edwards said. “A lot of people made a point to teach me and help me, and I’ve tried my best to do something with that.”
Edwards began his fifth year with TVA as an annual employee in January. He is engaged and plans to marry his fiancé, Madison, on March 28. While the COVID-19 outbreak has caused them to have to limit attendees to their wedding and to cancel their honeymoon to Canada, there’s still a lot of optimism.
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