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Energy to Innovate
Power players in energy, gas and utilities feel energized, pushing innovation in an evolving sector and lighting the way for the next generation of engineers to follow.
Whether the power comes from solar, natural gas, oil or electricity, energy is necessary. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a national trade group for the solar industry, reports solar is booming. In 2018, 242,000 Americans worked in the solar industry.
And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates the utilities industry, which includes electric power generation and distribution, and natural gas exploration and distribution, had 5,541,000 employees in January 2019. Earlier, BLS’ Occupational Employment Statistics listed 8,920 petroleum engineers and 19,580 electrical engineers being employed in 2017.
Energy’s evolution continues via emerging new tech and renewables, revitalizing the online and offline infrastructure, combatting climate change, meeting changing policies and regulations, and leveraging diversity of thought to produce innovative solutions. As a result, opportunities and long-term job growth clearly exist for engineers seeking an energetic energy career.
Just ask the five engineers featured. They detail how they became power players in energy, and light the way for those following in their footsteps.
Brooks Drives Planned Transmission Projects at Duke Energy
Rhonda R. Brooks, PE, PMP is manager, project development and estimating (PD&E) at Duke Energy, whose headquarters is in Charlotte, NC. Brooks first came to Carolina Power & Light (CP&L) 27 years ago. The company was later known as Progress Energy, and it merged with Duke Energy in 2012.
“I worked technical summer internships since completing my freshman year of college,” she remembers, adding that they were all in engineering, not in the utility sector. They did, however, acclimate her to the professional work environment, and it provided her with an understanding of deadlines, working on a team, and understanding company directions. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.
Brooks, who’s from South Carolina, saw an ad in a local newspaper for a shift technical advisor for the CP&L Robinson Nuclear Plant in Hartsville, SC. The successful candidate would work seven straight days and then have five days off. Brooks applied for the position and was hired after successfully passing a test in CP&L’s testing facility, and then having an on-site interview.
“Once I started work, I was brought into the design engineering group and became a component engineer where my primary responsibility was the health of major [power] generation components,” says Brooks.
“I’ve had numerous promotions and positions since then. I’ve worked as an engineer at power stations, project manager in power delivery, people manager in a field environment, as well as a people manager in the office environment.”
In her current position as manager, PD&E, Brooks is responsible for driving the scoping, scheduling and cost-estimating activities for planned projects in the transmission department. The PD&E group is responsible for on-boarding all work requiring engineering- and construction-type resources.
As a manager and leader, Brooks is a member of many of the various employee resource groups (ERGs) at Duke Energy, one of the largest electric power holding companies in the U.S. It’s with her team and in the ERGs that she can pay forward the mentorship she’s received in her career. In fact, she notes how she’s always had mentors, and has been a mentor herself during her career, discussing career opportunities and receiving or giving career advice through the years.
Outside of Duke Energy, she’s affiliated with the Project Management Institute (PMI), an organization dedicated to enhancing the field of project management by offering professional development courses, networking opportunities, resources, and tools to its members. Brooks has also earned a Master of Engineering.
Change and the management of change are challenges for Brooks, who takes the time to understand the stakeholders involved in that change and give them “an opportunity to weigh in on matters that impact them.”
Find information about the company at duke-energy.com, and career opportunities at duke-energy.com/our-company/careers. Connect on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram.
Tran Ensures the Flow & Safety of Anadarko’s Wells
Samantha Tran, who has bachelor’s degrees in both petroleum engineering and supply chain, first became interested in a career in the energy industry through a friend - a petroleum engineering student.
“[That friend] encouraged me to learn more about the oil and natural gas industry,” Tran shares.
So she did, and interned as a field engineer, then with Anadarko as a reservoir engineer. “My Anadarko internship gave me a broad sense of our overall operations, including reservoir engineering, completions and production,” she details.
Both experiences gave Tran a “well-rounded perspective” that helps her in her current role as a field production engineer at Anadarko, based out of the company’s Platteville, CO office. Headquartered in The Woodlands, TX, the company is one of the world’s largest independent explorers and producers of oil and natural gas.
As a full-time employee, Tran joined Anadarko’s workover team, which, she says, “focuses mainly on retiring wells and safety-prepping Anadarko’s vintage vertical wells for nearby horizontal development.”
The experience she gained in that position “was a critical building block” that enabled her to grow into her current role as a field production engineer for Anadarko’s new horizontal well development.
“Once the wells are hydraulically fractured, they’re handed over to my team to ensure they’re moving toward a steady, productive state, which includes everything from managing the flow rate to overall safety,” she explains.
Tran cites the supervisors and peers who’ve been resources from whom she could learn. She’s been able to rely on this support system since her days as an intern.
“I enjoy being challenged and developing new skills, and appreciate how Anadarko’s supervisors ensure you’re continuously developing, and they encourage me so I can be successful in various positions, as long as I’m willing to put in the effort.”
Tran is active in Anadarko’s Advocate & Ambassador program, where employees are encouraged to engage in conversations about the oil and natural gas industry with friends, legislators, community leaders and others to educate them about the industry. Program members often give presentations to civic and government groups about the basics of the oil and gas industry, and how it works.
She’s also involved with several charities with which Anadarko partners, including United Way, Junior Achievement and Habitat for Humanity.
Log onto anadarko.com for more information about the company, and anadarko.com/careers to learn about open positions. Connect on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.
Ali’s Keen Green Interest Sparks Her Ascent at First Solar
Mubeen Ali joined First Solar in 2006 as an entry-level development engineering technician. “My job was to assist a research scientist in the development of a new measurement method and with processing solar cells at laboratory level,” she notes.
Since then, Ali, who has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from a university in India, has progressively been given more responsibilities. “I’ve been promoted several times, reaching a full-engineering position in 2009, then becoming a group leader, and then a manager in 2014,” she details.
Ali had relocated to Toledo, OH, after graduation, and posted her resume on several job websites. She was contacted by a recruiter on behalf of First Solar, and then interviewed with First Solar’s research department for the entry-level position, development engineering technician. She knew that First Solar, headquartered in Tempe, AZ, had a significant footprint in a Toledo suburb, and was one of the leaders in the thin film photovoltaic (solar panels) industry.
“Besides having a chance to be involved in the green industry with First Solar, I also had the opportunity for growth and learning in an entrepreneurial environment, which includes research and high-volume manufacturing,” she points out.
Today Ali is a global manufacturing engineering integration manager who’s responsible for leading a global team identifying paths for increasing factory yield and variation reduction in wattage with a focus on risk management, quality, and reliability of product while sustaining and aligning product performance, and globally employing Six Sigma methodologies. Cross-functional alignment and working closely with research, operations, and other manufacturing engineering teams are a significant part of her job, too.
She’s also a member of First Solar’s women’s networking group where she shares her own experiences as she’s grown in her career, and mentors junior engineers.
First Solar is clearly focused on professional development of its employees for the next phase of their career within company, according to Ali. “It offers technical training, including Six Sigma, significant on-the-job training, critical understanding of process development and implementation on high-volume manufacturing.”
To assure success in her current position, “in addition to technical training, I was broadly mentored in the cross-functional alignment of strategy and team-planning to make projects efficiently successful,” she adds.
Go to firstsolar.com to find out more about First Solar, Inc., and to firstsolar.com/careers to find open positions. Connect on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.
An Electrical Substation Visit Sparks Fard’s ComEd Career
Sepideh Fard is a distribution capacity planning regional manager at ComEd, one of Exelon Corporation’s utility companies in Illinois. In fact, ComEd, which stands for Commonwealth Edison, is the largest electrical utility in Illinois.
But before her tenure at the Chicago, IL-headquartered utility, Fard enrolled in a master’s program in the same discipline in the U.S., 10 years after receiving her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in Tehran, Iran. It was then her interest was piqued, sparking a career shift to energy, and specifically to ComEd.
“In my third semester, I signed up for a power class, and the professor took us on a field trip to one of ComEd’s substations,” she remembers. “Coming back from that trip I had a clear vision of wanting to work for ComEd. I changed my required courses to power concept classes to learn about relay operation and transmission line designs.”
A year after she earned her master’s degree, a position as a transmission and substation work planner opened up at ComEd, and Fard was hired.
“At ComEd any new employee goes through an onboarding program. Engineering employees are assigned to a six-month rotation schedule, rotating through a minimum of six departments. They’re assigned a primary mentor, and a second mentor is assigned to them for the duration of time they spend at each department. After six months they receive their permanent assignment at one of the departments based on their selection,” she outlines.
In addition to the onboarding program for all new employees, both ComEd and its parent, Exelon, provide a wide range of courses about leadership development, as well as a variety of engineering tech topics. Additionally, each department has its specific training classes.
From that first position, Fard moved to distribution capacity planning for several areas in Chicago. Then, in 2018, she was promoted to Chicago region manager.
In her current position as one of ComEd’s regional managers in distribution capacity planning for the Chicago region, her team performs electrical analysis of the distribution system to maintain acceptable voltage levels. Her and her team also perform short-term and long-term load forecasting to ensure adequate capacity for the future system growth, do contingency analysis to support operation of the system, and review the system and perform analysis to connect distributed energy resources to the system.
One of her challenges, which Fard says she shares with everyone else working in the distribution world, is that the traditional requirements for distribution planning are changing, with more renewable energy resources getting connected to the distribution system.
“The traditional methods are either not efficient or not thrall enough for the high level of analysis that’s required to maintain a healthy system,” she explains. “We’re actively engaging our internal and external experts, educating our workforce, and pursuing new software to help us overcome the gaps.”
Outside of ComEd, Fard is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), which develops global standards for, among others, the power and energy industry, and Electrical Utility Consultants, Inc. (EUCI), which holds conferences for professionals in the energy field.
Find information about Exelon at exeloncorp.com and exeloncorp.com/careers. For information about ComEd, go to comed.com and comed.com/aboutus/pages/careers.aspx. Connect on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest and Flickr.
Ekweribe Helps Women Advance at Hess Just as She Has
When asked what drew her to Hess as an employer, Kehinde Ekweribe responds: “I looked for four major qualities while evaluating potential employers: career growth opportunities, domestic and international footprint, social responsibility and a diverse and inclusive work environment.”
With an energy internship under her belt, plus a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, a master’s degree in petroleum engineering, and multiple job offers, Ekweribe chose Hess because the company embodied all of the qualities she’d been seeking.
Hess, a global energy company that has headquarters in New York, NY and Houston, TX, is engaged in the exploration and production of crude oil and natural gas.
Ekweribe’s first position with Hess was as an entry-level foundation engineer, where she worked on projects spanning artificial lift evaluation and plant turn-around planning for assets in Hess’ Seminole, TX business development, portfolio management in New York City, and major capital project maturation in Houston.
Subsequently, “I’ve been promoted into roles of increasing responsibility and scope, including reserves evaluation and onshore production system optimization projects in North Dakota, and offshore well performance management for asset wells in the Gulf of Mexico,” she notes.
When she first joined the company, Ekweribe says, she went through Hess’ Foundation Development Program, a structured program combining instructor-led classes on various technical and business topics, and experiential learning via assignments about diverse project teams in the company.
“This helped build my overall understanding of the oil and gas business, Hess’ business priorities, and how my work helps impact the company’s bottom line,” she says.
Today Ekweribe is a senior production engineer working in the Gulf of Mexico, where her key responsibilities include surveillance and data acquisition, production system constraints analysis, well optimization and operating envelope development, and operations readiness program management.
While her immediate goal is to grow her technical depth and exposure to company operations, Ekweribe believes that all Hess employees, including female engineers, can climb the management career ladder at Hess. The company offers various leadership development resources to help groom them to be effective leaders.
Ekweribe recently completed the Embedded Lean Leader certification program, which has given her the chance to work on process-improvement projects to standardize and optimize workflows across functional and asset teams. It’s also given her exposure to senior leadership.
She’s also served as secretary and committee chair on Hess’ Women Inspiring Success and Excellence (WISE) group. The group’s goal is to help promote and cultivate leadership skills, business practices, career opportunities and personal contacts for women. And she served multiple years on the board of the Society of Petroleum Engineers Young Professionals (Gulf Coast Chapter), and participated in women’s leadership conferences to network with inspiring women leaders in the industry.
“I’m passionate about opportunities for women to reach the highest levels based on their career aspirations. In order to do this, networking with other women (and men) is critical as that encourages relationship-building across functions and assets. Networking also provides exposure and an avenue to provide potential solutions to challenges that are faced in a diversity of roles across the company,” she shares.
She further indicates that the company recruits at select engineering and geosciences schools to fill technical roles each fall and spring.
For more information about Hess, go to hess.com. Open positions are posted on hess.com/careers. Connect on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.
5,541,000 employees work in utilities as of January 2019, 242,000 Americans work in solar as of 2018, and 8,920 petroleum engineers and 19,580 electrical engineers are employed as of 2017.
Sources: Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
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