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Power your future forward with a career in energy.
Impacting all of our lives, energy is a sector of undeniable importance. Energy is the spark that lights and warms our lives. It’s one of the most needed industries, and one that offers a plethora of career opportunities for engineers.
It’s also one undergoing change, especially as the industry navigates new areas such as renewable sources. It’s in need of fresh perspectives as the old vanguard imparts its power, and the new vanguard shines new light on ways to embrace the future and devise new solutions.
The individuals working in energy, gas, and utilities here share what sparked their careers in energy and why you should join them in the ever-growing light of this evolving sector.
Columbia Gas’ Tyrell Epitomizes & Employs Adaptability
Lee Ann Tyrell feels limitless in her career. She began with earning both a Bachelor of Science in chemistry and chemical engineering. And during her two years as an associate field engineer I with Columbus, OH-headquartered Columbia Gas of Ohio, a subsidiary of Merrillville, IN-based NiSource, Tyrell has worn a great many “hats.”
In abbreviated terms, Tyrell’s three main job duties are to design/manage pipe installation projects, support field operations personnel with daily maintenance tasks, and assist in emergency response to help ensure safe resolutions to unexpected incidents.
“In order to accomplish these things, I wear different ‘hats’ every day to solve problems,” she points out.
Her adaptability to shift gears at a moment’s notice has been key to her success. In fact, for those interested in pursuing a career similar to hers, she emphasizes the need for willingness to adapt at a moment’s notice.
“Things are always changing in this industry. New technology, amended laws or results of a failure analysis can suddenly require a complete project redesign,” she explains.
To that she adds the need to prioritize, noting that she’s typically called upon to handle 20-plus projects, in different stages of design and construction, at any given time. “Knowing what to work on when can definitely be a challenge,” she remarks.
This is particularly important when working for the largest provider of natural gas in Ohio - and one of seven energy delivery companies providing natural gas and electricity to nearly 4 million customers.
“People look to our company to deliver a safe, reliable product every day,” she notes. “As engineers, we serve as the go-between for massive amounts of data and people who work in the field who install and maintain the systems.”
Reflecting on the success she currently enjoys, Tyrell credits personal preparation. Early on she made it a point to attend networking events and conferences.
“This allowed me to gain crucial professional relationships, as well as afforded me the opportunity to interact in the corporate world prior to working in it,” she comments, adding, however, it isn’t only about who you know, it’s also about who knows you.
Tyrell further credits her career path success to the Mathematics, Science, and Engineering Academy (MSEA) high school summer camp where she took courses from college professors and visited different companies in the energy industry throughout the U.S.
MSEA serves as a pipeline to the Cooperative Developmental Energy Program (CDEP), a dual-degree college scholarship program created in 1983, sponsored largely by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), to help respond to the need for more minorities and women in the energy sector.
In fact, notes Tyrell, “it was at the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) where I initially became aware of NiSource, and was ultimately selected for an interview.”
Stressing the importance of loving what you do, Tyrell acknowledges occasionally getting caught up in her work but always brings it back to the customer.
“Realizing what I do has a real impact on people’s lives is what keeps me coming to work each day. At the end of a project, knowing that the facilities I helped design and install will likely be in service for many decades is immensely satisfying. Helping real people be more comfortable fulfills my sense of purpose. It’s the best part of my job,” she states.
Her entire energy career experience thus far has certainly led to her feeling that her career knows no bounds as it evolves. And it leads her to give this parting advice that she’s employed herself: “Don’t let anyone limit you, including yourself.”
For more information about Columbia Gas and NiSource, go to nisource.com/careers, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn.
Harvey’s Inquisitive Nature Helps Her Take the Lead at Consumers Energy
As Michigan’s largest electric and natural gas provider, Jackson, MI-based Consumers Energy is home to 7,500 employees - among them Vangie Harvey, principal engineer lead who’s been with the company for 18 years.
With a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering, Harvey credits her parents with nurturing her inquisitive nature.
“They never gave me answers to my questions. Instead I had to research, figure things out and then report my findings back, leading to my understanding that anything is possible if you work toward it - great training for an engineer,” she relates.
Early on she also discovered her desire to work in a diverse group setting rather than as a sole individual. This, too, helped refine her abilities as an engineer by being able to cultivate her network and generate a complete buy-in from others.
For Harvey, it was the rotational program that prompted her to choose Consumers Energy. “This program enabled me to see and participate in different aspects of the industry, including a growing involvement in clean energy. I fell in love with the sector, its future possibilities and its impact on every aspect of life,” she states.
Today Harvey’s responsibilities, among others, include managing and providing engineering resources for building new substations, replacing substation equipment, and overseeing the review and modification of processes. The skills for success she cites as most needed are problem-solving, good communication, open-mindedness and continuous self-improvement.
When asked to define her take on energy as a career, Harvey is positive. “There will continue to be significant job opportunities,” she asserts.
“As the industry expands both in the renewable arena and in the use of additional data collection, this combination will provide meaningful information that will help energy companies operate more effectively and help customers use their resources more efficiently. Additionally, the focus on safety, compliance, and innovation to ensure safe and reliable energy will lead to new job opportunities for engineers, as well as a better understanding of customer needs.”
For Harvey, enjoyment at her job is two-fold. First is chairing Consumer Energy’s engineering entry program, which explores new talent and introduces participants to the corporate world and provides a strong foundation.
Second is the excitement of working in a department undergoing constructive changes in substation design, processes, and documenting decisions, including parameters and assumptions for making changes.
“This will help ensure future engineers can understand our methodology and expand upon them, shaping the future of Michigan’s electric utility,” states Harvey, an active member of several community and professional organizations who additionally notes with pride that a total of six female Consumers Energy colleagues have received awards at the national 2019 Women of Color STEM Conference in October.
For more information about Consumers Energy, visit careers.consumersenergy.com, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Dominion Energy’s Broadnax Fuses Technical & Non-Technical Skills in Her HR Leadership Role
Operating in 18 states - from Connecticut to Georgia to California - Richmond, VA-headquartered Dominion Energy provides clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy to nearly 7.5 million customers, with more than 85% of its energy generation coming from clean energy sources or natural gas. Alyssa Broadnax leverages her technical and non-technical expertise as a senior HR specialist with the 20,000-employee company where she’s been employed for the past 14 years.
A mechanical engineering graduate, Broadnax made known her technical know-how as she stepped into engineering roles that included designing electric distribution facilities and coordinating the company’s strategic underground program that places outage-prone overhead lines and equipment underground.
She was recognized for her ability to perform in those technical roles. And that recognition allowed her to transfer her technical expertise and apply her ability to perform to various HR roles, such as working on staff development and becoming an ambassador for the staffing team before assuming her current role leading the learning and development team.
“Having both technical and field experience is extremely helpful for connecting with people when providing real-life applications,” she says. It’s this dual experience she frequently draws upon when delivering presentations and engaging in other communication-related situations.
Broadnax was initially drawn to Dominion Energy because she was enamored with having a job that enabled her to get out of the office and work in the field. The many roles she’s had with the company - including her current one - have fulfilled that work desire.
“The learning and development field is particularly important as it offers professional opportunities to facilitate the growth of employees and leaders across the company,” she says.
Responsible for overseeing the performance management process, she develops strategies, implements changes, and supports leaders and other HR colleagues.
With Dominion Energy’s notable push toward innovation, she further cites existing and future opportunities for engineers, especially those skilled in problem-solving, communication, project management, computer skills and the ability to code.
Having always had a passion for the people-side of business, Broadnax enjoys interacting with diverse people across the company.
“It’s rewarding to ensure that resources, tools, and training are available to assist people in achieving their career and development goals,” she states.
For those hoping to pursue careers outside of their educational background or field, she recommends finding ways to own their professional journey. “Identify opportunities to gain relevant experience that will enable you to develop the skills you need for the transition,” she recommends.
For more information about Dominion Energy, go to careers.dominionenergy.com, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Athippozhy Enjoys Making the World Greener via Her Work at CenterPoint Energy
As an energy-delivery company with regulated utility businesses in eight states, and a competitive energy business footprint in nearly 40 states, Houston, TX-headquartered CenterPoint Energy, and its predecessor companies, have been in the energy business for more than 150 years.
One of now approximately 14,000 employees, Rachel Athippozhy, substation automation engineer II, joined Evansville, IN-headquartered Vectren, a CenterPoint Energy company, five years ago. She holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering, with an emphasis in electrical engineering, and an MBA.
“During my undergraduate work I had the opportunity to co-op in the electrical engineering department at Vectren, now CenterPoint Energy,” notes Athippozhy.
She also worked in distribution engineering, substation and transmission engineering, and transmission planning, experiences that allowed her to familiarize herself with the company.
“The knowledge I garnered by engaging in co-ops allowed me to leverage my experience into a full-time position with the company directly out of college,” she explains.
Athippozhy has always been enamored with the energy sector’s constant change, and new and greener technology. In fact, it jibes with one of her core values, both personally and professionally, which is “to live more environmentally friendly and help make the planet a cleaner place to live for generations.”
Through her role at CenterPoint Energy, she lives up to her core value, and focuses on cleaner energy, higher efficiency, and new technology.
“Engineering is a field with persistent changes and improvements, making it an exciting time to be part of this sector,” she says, noting that more discoveries regarding new ways to become more sustainable will be forthcoming and allow us to use renewable resources to better advantage.
Athippozhy’s current job is focused on supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA). One of her main duties includes maintaining and advancing how substation electric systems are monitored using remote terminal units (RTUs), which transmit useful information back to system operators.
“This allows operators to see real-time information, and have real-time control and automation of substation equipment,” she explains, adding that the other piece of this monitoring system is to design and maintain the communication path required to receive such information.
With the substation automation/SCADA systems areas of engineering fluctuating, Athippozhy sees this as a good time to be involved in new technology and information systems.
“Companies are consistently finding ways to gather more data and information to help with predictions, automation, and customer satisfaction,” she states.
To succeed in this area and in energy in general, she cites abilities in organization, communication, risk migration preparedness and project timeline focus as attributes most necessary. She also offers sage advice for individuals pursuing a similar career path.
“Work hard, refine skills that set you apart, hone in on continuous improvement and consider ways to make yourself marketable,” she states.
As for what she enjoys most about her job, Athippozhy responds: “Being able to plan, see projects from start to finish and work with a great group of friendly, supportive engineers.”
For more information about CenterPoint Energy, go to centerpointenergy.com/en-us/corporate/careers, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Jones Shifts Gears to Manage Pipelines at Nicor Gas
A mechanical engineering graduate, Stan Jones began his engineering career at a major aluminum company. After three years, however, he switched industries in favor of the gas and electric sector. He was able to make the switch because of his engineering degree.
“Mechanical engineering is a very broad discipline that allowed me this opportunity,” says Jones, who’s now into his four-year tenure with Naperville, IL-headquartered Nicor Gas, one of four national gas distribution companies of Southern Company Gas, a wholly owned subsidiary of Atlanta, GA-headquartered Southern Company.
“It was the mobility available within the energy sector that ultimately led me to the energy industry. I wanted flexibility in choosing where I wanted to live,” explains Jones, who serves as a senior division engineer, as well as a manager of large pipelines.
After working at another energy company for seven years, Jones’ transition to Nicor Gas was smooth. “I brought with me a wealth of experience and expertise, as well as multiple best practices and knowledge. From the moment I walked through the front door, I was prepared to make an impact,” shares Jones.
Company consensus is, he did just that, as evidenced by his rise at Nicor Gas. Jones is now manages six entry-level engineers. He credits his previous work experience with helping him prepare for this role. Having worked on hundreds of projects throughout his career, Jones further credits his years of developing creative solutions for helping to succeed. He feels that there’s truly no substitute for experience, which is what got him to where he is now.
Currently Jones and his group create engineering designs to improve and maintain more than 34,000 miles of natural gas pipeline.
“The goal is to provide clean, safe, reliable, affordable natural gas to 2.2 million customers,” he says, noting his team aids these efforts by efficiently designing improvements and replacements to Nicor Gas systems.
According to Jones, the utility industry is vital to the operation of the U.S. and the world. Case in point, he recalls his own experience when a water main problem left his home without water for two days.
“Those two days made me realize just how critical water is to my daily life. Living in a suburb of Chicago, IL, I couldn’t even imagine braving a cold Chicago winter without natural gas to keep my home and family warm,” he remarks.
As one of the top fields of study as the world continues to develop, engineering will continue to play a vital role, believes Jones, and, as a result, engineers will be in demand for years to come as they’ll continue to be called upon to solve problems that come in many shapes, sizes, and forms.
“Engineering requires utilizing past experiences along with ingenuity to solve new problems,” he notes.
Jones’ advice for aspiring engineers is to job-shadow and intern. “Internships afford actual work experience and provide opportunities to identify particular areas of interest,” he states.
What he most enjoys about his job is that no two days are alike. “There’s a new opportunity to creatively solve problems every day,” says Jones, who also enjoys creating efficient methods to complete common tasks.
For more information about Nicor Gas, Southern Company Gas, and Southern Company, go to nicorgas.com/about-us/careers, southerncompany.jobs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+ and YouTube.
U.S. Energy Spending Spikes
The share of the U.S. economy dedicated to energy spending is increasing, after a years-long decline, according to the Houston Chronicle.
In an August 2019 article, it cited the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), which noted the country’s energy spending in 2017 amounted to 5.8% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) - up from 5.6% the previous year.
“These increases are primarily a result of increased average U.S. energy prices, up almost 9% nationally from 2016 to 2017,” says the August 2019 EIA report.
“Average U.S. prices for petroleum and natural gas increased by 14% and 13%, respectively, and electricity prices increased by 2%.”
The increase in energy spending relative to the U.S. GDP was the first since 2014.
Sources: U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the Houston Chronicle
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