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***Editor's Note: The "I Became An Engineer" blog runs every friday. To share your story email sarah.goncalves@advantagemedia.com***

This week’s story is brought to us by reader Wanda Reder.

Growing up on a ranch in Western South Dakota, the thought of becoming an engineer was unimaginable because I didn’t have any knowledge about the profession. That all changed when my high school rodeo coach and freshman algebra teacher approached me in the hallway after class and shared that when she was going to college, she had pursued math not knowing that engineering was an option. She advised me that, “with your math skills, you should strongly consider engineering,” and because I had a lot of confidence in her advice, I decided engineering was for me.   

A summer internship before my last college semester at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association in Washington DC started my engineering career path. It was here that I gained more insight into opportunities for females in the workforce. My interest in the power industry peaked, and I gained the confidence to work and live in an urban environment. This paved the way for my first full time job at Northern States Power (NSP), an investor-owned utility headquartered in Minneapolis. At NSP, I had the good fortune to pursue a wide range of engineering and leadership responsibilities, developing a technical foundation that has proven valuable throughout my career. In fact, I’m continuing to build on that knowledge base in my current position at S&C Electric Company in Chicago. 

My involvement with IEEE has also played a key role in my career, starting in 1997 when I led an unregulated subsidiary of NSP to do predictive cable testing for utilities in the U.S. and Canada. By participating, I was able to influence the outcome, helping grow my business to the point it was acquired.  

In 2001, I became a vice president at Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), the electric utility serving Chicago and neighboring areas. It was here that I saw a pending human resource challenge due to significant attrition and an under-developed pipeline of technical talent. Through research, I learned it was more widespread than imagined. This issue motivated me to run for president of the IEEE Power & Energy Society in 2008 and 2009. My election provided visibility and a means to focus the influence of the organization on this systemic industry workforce problem. 

Shortly thereafter, a group of like-minded individuals came together to form the IEEE PES Scholarship Plus Initiative. IEEE PES teamed with the IEEE Foundation in philanthropic efforts to raise $10 million. Since the launch in 2011, we've given 942 scholarships in the U.S. and Canada, raised $6.5 million, and increased the throughput of undergraduates taking power engineering to 180 percent of what it was in 2006.        

My experience in the IEEE Power & Energy Society has given me motivation and inspiration to pay it forward for the electrical engineering profession. In retrospect, we all can find opportunities to reach-out to the incoming generation to share our career stories and offer sound guidance and advise. For me, it came from my rodeo coach, and her insight put me in the saddle for a long and rewarding career ride in the electric power industry for which I’m very thankful.

 

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