Meet the Influential Women Advancing the Power Industry

In early 2013, a group of industry women, dubbed the Women in Power committee, assembled in Orlando, Fla., to figure out how to honor women who have dedicated their careers to the power industry. The industry is male dominated with men making up more than 75 percent of the workforce, according to some estimates. The Women in Power committee believed that it was time to give recognition to the pioneering women who have worked to advance the power industry in the hope that the women selected as finalists will serve as inspiration to young women to embark on careers in energy. To do this, the committee decided to allow anyone in the industry to nominate a woman for a Woman of the Year Award, which would be given out during Power Generation Week. To judge the nominees, the committee came up with three focus areas. 2015 is the third year for this award.

The first and most important accomplishment that the committee believed a potential Power-Gen Woman of the Year should have made is advancing the power industry. In addition, the committee judged nominees by her leadership abilities, as well as her ability to collaborate with, influence and mentor others. Finally, the committee believed that a potential Power-Gen Woman of the Year should affect her community through industry associations and other organizations. After two months of collecting nominations, the 11-member committee voted on the nominees and decided upon three finalists, who are described below.

One of these women will be named the Power-Gen 2015 Woman of the Year at the annual awards banquet on Monday, Dec. 7, which takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada. The banquet is part of the POWER-GEN International Conference and Exhibition and the collocated NUCLEAR POWER International Conference and Exhibition, Renewable Energy World Conference & Exhibition, Coal-Gen and GenForum.

The 2015 Power-Gen Woman of the Year finalist will then take part in a panel discussion during the Women in Power Luncheon on Tuesday, Dec. 8 also as part of the collocated conferences. Here’s a look at the finalists:

Kim Greene – “While some say the utility industry today faces an abundance of challenges, I see an abundance of opportunities to shape the future.”

Kim Greene is a 24-year veteran of the power industry, beginning her career as an engineer with Southern Company in 1991 and ascending to leadership roles at Southern Company, Mirant and Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), before returning to Southern Company in 2013. As chief operating officer, Kim Greene is responsible for overseeing the Southern Company system’s operations, which includes generation, transmission, engineering and construction services, system planning, and research and environmental affairs, as well as the company’s competitive wholesale generation businesses. Professionally, she credits a variety of mentors over the years who have provided great examples in how they approach personnel or business issues, along with delivering constructive feedback and effective coaching. And her greatest mentor is her father. “I know most people feel parents profoundly impact their lives. My father not only helped guide and shape my moral and ethical standards, work ethic and outlook on life, but it’s because of him I attended engineering school.” Kim has a bachelor’s degree in engineering science and mechanics from the University of Tennessee (UT), Knoxville, a master’s degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and a master’s degree in business administration from Samford University. In 2011, she completed the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School.

Kim feels that being a woman can be great for your career, but she encourages women seeking careers in engineering to make the conversation about their merits instead of their gender. “The most important attribute is to consistently deliver quality work. Supervisors and colleagues want to work with people who are capable, engaged and produce great results. Everyone brings a unique way of thinking and this adds value to the culture-at-large. As females in a male-dominated industry, many of us have experienced times when others might not know what to expect from us, especially in the engineering field. I simply made it a point to perform to the best of my ability without letting anything distract me. I think that made me stand out and surprised a few people along the way.”

One of the best lessons she has learned involved making the decision to change her career path. “In 2007, I accepted an opportunity that moved me from Southern Company to TVA. I built my career and professional identity with Southern Company, so the decision to leave was incredibly difficult but it was also the right fit for me personally. The change allowed me to bring new ideas and a different perspective to TVA, which helped me to grow and bring value to many projects. Being at TVA offered a new environment, and I learned a great deal from the change. Then, when I returned to Southern Company in 2013, I brought an even broader, stronger perspective.”

She has most enjoyed working on complex projects that are changing the way we produce energy. “In the past year alone, we have made significant progress developing our first of its kind 21st century clean coal technology at the Kemper County energy facility in Mississippi and two new nuclear units at Plant Vogtle in Georgia. In addition, we are always planning for the energy needs of the Southern Company system’s more than 4.5 million customers who rely on us to provide them clean, safe, reliable and affordable power every day. We are embarking on a time of change in the industry, and I feel fortunate to be in a position that helps shape solutions for customers’ future energy needs.”

While she has served as a leader for several industry, community and education organizations, including the Electric Power Research Institute, her passion lies in directly impacting the next generation of utility industry employees. Kim is on the advisory boards for colleges of engineering at UAB and UT. Further proving her commitment to building the workforce of the future, she funds an engineering scholarship for women at UT.

She often encourages the women she works with to accept positions outside of their comfort zone. “The best way to stand out is to take on new roles and opportunities. We might let offers pass by because we feel we aren’t ready or the timing isn’t just right. It’s important to remember that people present opportunities to us because they know we’re capable, and with respect to timing, it’s never perfect.”

Terry Jester – “I am really looking forward to renewable energy being recognized as part of the foundation of building an energy future.”

A 35-year veteran of the solar industry with extensive leadership experience in the manufacturing and engineering of photovoltaic (PV) technologies, Theresa (Terry) Jester was one of the first female engineers in the solar industry. Throughout her career, Terry has managed large solar operations and held various engineering positions for organizations like Arco, Siemens, Shell and SunPower. Today, Ms. Jester serves as the CEO and chairman of Silicor Materials – a producer of low-cost, environmentally friendly solar silicon. With its proprietary solar-grade silicon product, Silicor enables cell and module manufacturers to, for the first time, improve their costs without impacting the performance of their products. The Silicor process is simple and efficient, requiring up to two-thirds less energy than traditional techniques and producing no harmful byproducts.

From her beginnings in mechanical engineering at Cal State Northridge University, Terry has dedicated her life’s work to advancing the global solar industry. One of her favorite projects is the recent planning for construction of a factory in Grundartangi, Iceland. “Deploying the technology on a large scale is very exciting, but also the geography and the energy pedigree in Iceland is unlike anything we have ever worked with before. The mix of geothermal and hydroelectric energy being used to create solar power will result in many times its original kilowatt-hour production in the world. The body of the solar modules will take the hydroelectric and geothermal energy and turn it into 30 or 40 times its amount in their lifetime. This latest project is not only helping to lower the cost and advance the development of solar, it is also sparking an energy breeder of sorts due to its geography.” The facility will create approximately 450 jobs in the Icelandic community; all construction and equipment for the plant will be locally sourced.

When Terry started her career, the solar industry was incredibly new. She says, “The field didn’t have any true structure or ground rules so I was treated as an equal. When I went into engineering, it never really crossed my mind that it was a minority field for women. I always liked science and math and it felt very natural for me to use the subjects I liked and turn them into my career. I’ve been in the field for over 35 years now and I think that the women engineers that I’ve met stand out because they just work so much harder. I think there is a standard that a lot of us feel we need to meet. It isn’t necessarily a discussion of men vs. women; I believe that we women all think that in order to be able to be recognized and get assigned the good projects, we must be very dedicated and willing to work hard.” Terry has utilized her communication skills at all levels of her career. “Engineers are notoriously bad communicators and I’ve been able to use that to my advantage. It is often considered a woman’s trait and I have used it in my many years of experience in running projects, managing large groups, building factories and running research and development groups.”

Terry has served as a torchbearer for women in science technology engineering mathematics (STEM) careers. She served as a board member for her local Girls Incorporated, a national after-school program that provides young women with mentorship to help them achieve their dreams. She is also active on the Cal State Northridge University College of Engineering and Computer Science Industrial Advisory Board, the B20 advisory group to the G20 on Small and Medium Enterprise Growth, , and the Metals and Mining in a Sustainable World Committee of the World Economic Forum.

As for the rest of her career, Terry is looking outward, not inward. “What I am looking forward to most isn’t an accomplishment for myself, but rather an accomplishment for the renewable energy space overall. I am really looking forward to renewable energy being recognized as part of the foundation of building an energy future. I think it is getting there, and solar has made huge strides in the right direction. As consumers begin to recognize how deployable it is and as costs continue to come down, solar will be able to compete well in many geographies against the other choices you can make in electricity and energy production. Renewable energy is still somewhat discussed as something that is emerging, but I look forward to the next 20 years where I believe it will be firmly in the middle of the mainstream.”

Roxann Laird – “I am looking forward to the opportunity to mentor others and share my lessons learned with the next generation of engineers in the power industry.”

As a child, Roxann Laird was interested in understanding how things worked and liked experimenting with whatever she had at her disposal. Heavily influenced by her father and his strong military background, she earned her degree in chemical engineering from Auburn University. After 20 years at Southern Company, she is currently the director of the National Carbon Capture Center (NCCC), located in Wilsonville, Alabama, which serves a pivotal role in developing advanced technologies for generation facilities. Her current responsibilities include finding economical and viable carbon capture technologies to continue America’s utilization of fossil fuels in power generation. Her career has focused on safety, environmental compliance, project execution, team building and strategic research and development. Most importantly, under her leadership at the NCCC the facility has not experienced a lost-time accident in over 20 years.

Of her mentors, Roxann says, “I have been blessed with several great mentors who helped me develop not only technical expertise but leadership skills. All of my mentors encouraged me when I faced challenges, provided candid feedback when I needed direction and were sources of guidance, advice and inspiration. Their support was critical in my becoming the person I am today, and my success would not have been possible without the investment of their time and knowledge. So I realize the importance and value in mentoring young women who are making a start in engineering today.” Her interest in engineering began at a young age. “When my sister was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia at age 15, I began to focus a lot on the disease and what caused it, including environmental factors. These influences led me to chemical engineering, and ultimately, to an emphasis in environmental engineering.”

During her time at Southern Company, Roxann has been recognized for her accomplishments and expertise in relationship building, external affairs, organizational efficiency, plant operations and management, labor relations, technology testing and development, and process engineering. She has personally mentored many young engineers joining Southern Company at the NCCC, including several woman who are choosing the power industry for their career.

A highlight of her career is her current work with the NCCC, which Southern Company manages and operates for the U.S. Department of Energy. “As a focal point of national efforts to develop advanced technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal- and natural gas-based power generation, the National Carbon Capture Center is a unique site where we test new, low-cost carbon capture technologies that can make potentially huge impacts on the future of energy generation. It’s exciting to host visitors, scientists and technology developers from all over the world and to be able to offer our support for the most promising new projects. I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction from being part of a team that overcomes the substantial hurdles that go along with development of industry-leading, first-of-a-kind processes.”

While engineering remains a male-dominated field, she thinks many of the challenges and what it takes to succeed are similar regardless of gender. “A successful engineer has to have a solid technical foundation, a strong work ethic, a drive to continually develop and the ability to build successful relationships. While many women, especially when they are younger, face the additional challenges of balancing career and family, they also bring unique advantages to the table. For example, women often have different leadership styles than men, and those very attributes can make us very effective. I also believe the diversity women bring to the power industry makes it stronger.”

Her best advice to the next generation of engineers: communication skills. “Effective communication is a key ingredient to success. Taking the time and effort to develop technical writing and presentation skills yields a tremendous payoff.” She relays this lesson during her many interactions with young people who are interested in pursuing engineering. She is a member of the Auburn University Samuel Ginn College of Engineering’s 100 Women Strong organization, which supports female engineers through scholarships, mentoring and campus events. She also enjoys attending high school events to promote females pursuing engineering and hosts an Engineering Day at the NCCC. “It’s my goal to help young girls and women understand the different fields of engineering and what engineers actually do on a day-to-day basis, and to provide them with direction and encouragement in using their talents and knowledge to contribute to society in a positive way.”

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Robynn Andracsek, PE, is an air permitting engineer from Burns & McDonnell in Kansas City, MO. She has a BS in mechanical engineering and a MS in environmental engineering, both from the University of Kansas. She has 16 years of experience in air permitting with emphasis on the utility industry. She is a contributing editor to Power Engineering magazine where she writes a monthly column.

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