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 Positive Career Currents

 
Follow the positive currents to a fulfilling career in electrical engineering.
 
Wherever electrical current flows, an electrical engineer can go. Given that electrical current flow pert near everywhere, electrical engineers are needed pert near everywhere.
It’s also vital work, for they keep our assembly lines humming, as well as our cities and smartphones lighted.
Here are some woman electrical engineers getting a charge out of their work at Intel, AECOM, Emerson, KBR, NRG Energy and AEP.
 
Intel’s Bordain Is a Trailblazer
Yemaya Bordain, Ph.D., is an innovation and pathfinding program manager, public sector at Intel, headquartered in Santa Clara, CA, which means she’s able to blaze a trail to new solutions after immersing herself in each new subject she’s tasked with learning. In fact, she is paid to learn and problem-solve.
“I get to solve fascinating problems. I’m a tech nerd and have an insatiable appetite to learn,” she proudly points out.
More specifically, in her role in the Internet of Things group at Intel specializing in finding solutions to a vast array of challenging problems, Bordain works in the military, aerospace and government sectors. She enables breakthrough technologies for national defense and supports the development of safety-critical aircraft electronic systems.
And as a problem-solving innovator and trailblazer, her range of her work is jaw-dropping. “Every day, I’m confronted with new problems to solve or old problems to solve in new ways. Even though I’m not working directly in the field that I earned my doctorate in, I feel the many years of rigorous engineering education have developed me into a problem-solving Jedi master (well, perhaps somewhere between a Padawan and Knight), and I’m thrilled to use those skills in different ways,” Bordain elaborates.
For instance, four months ago, she was “neck-deep in flight controls systems architectures, learning about the triple-triple redundant Boeing 777 fly-by-wire system and how the flight control computers ensure that pilot inputs produce precise movement of the aircraft flight control surfaces,” she shares.
And two months ago, she “took a full-day tutorial on spacecraft avionics systems.” Most recently, she’s been taking a deep dive into computer vision and machine learning for edge computing applications.
“Note that my doctorate was in nanotechnology, and no technical subject gives me the warm fuzzies like atomic force microscopy and tiny forces acting on surfaces,” she notes about this most recent work topic.
So how did Bordain land such a sweet, expansive gig?
“I typically advise students to pursue advanced degrees, particularly a doctorate. I tend to believe that the undergraduate curriculum is often too broad and fast-paced for students to develop expertise,” says Bordain.
“Students survey courses with the hope that they’ll find their calling. That’s because engineering is extremely broad and interdisciplinary - there are so many subfields one can pursue! The magic happens when you go deeper in your studies.”
However, it’s not all magic, the engineer maintains. “Graduate school was the most grueling professional experience I’ve ever had, but also the most rewarding. I would’ve entered the real world not ever knowing my true potential if not for graduate school.”
The challenge squeezed many tears from Bordain, but she had the backbone to persevere, buttressed by those who believed in her as she blazed another trail.
“When I started graduate school, I was the only woman of African descent in the program. I was pregnant with my first child at the time, and would be the only mother in my graduate program. It was very frightening and lonely. I had earned my undergraduate degree and master’s from Clark Atlanta University, a historically black institution that was nurturing,” she remembers.
“Transitioning to Illinois was a struggle as there were two black professors in the department of 100-plus faculty at the time. I cried often for the first two years, but my advisor from Clark Atlanta kept me going. He taught me quantum mechanics over the phone while I was taking an advanced semiconductor device physics course.”
Her former advisor had earned a doctorate in chemical physics from MIT and was convinced that Bordain was no less smart than any of her peers.
“He would scream through phone, as I sobbed, ‘You can do this! You will do this! You will succeed!’” she shares.
As a result of the support and her hard work, she became the first person in her research group to pass the qualifying examination for Ph.D. candidacy on her very first attempt.
What also helped Bordain was constructing her own network, a legacy that lives on. “Given how isolating my experience was, I co-founded a student organization to foster diversity and inclusion among graduate students in the Illinois College of Engineering,” she notes.
“Though I became the first African-American female to earn a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the student organization will ensure that the three black women who joined after me complete the program as Ph.D.s.”
Browse careers at Intel at jobs.intel.com and learn more about Intel at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and Glassdoor.
 
Josey Inspires Loyalty in Her Teams at AECOM
AECOM, headquartered in New York, NY, builds in every sector, from government to industrial to hospitality to transportation to power to oil, gas and chemicals. Crystal Josey is an air quality program manager at AECOM, and even though she’s been there a dozen years, she’s still wowed by AECOM’s breadth and depth.
“I’m consistently surprised by the breadth of services AECOM provides to our clients worldwide. I’m always learning about new projects with which AECOM is involved,” says Josey.
AECOM’s range of expertise and projects means there’s equal opportunity and growth potential for its employees. Josey embodies that range of change.
“I’ve loved the flexibility and opportunity to choose my own adventure. I started out as a junior engineer, performing on-site compliance assessments. After about a year of this, I remember being out on site, covered in cobwebs and dirt and grease, and looking at my 20th boiler of the day. I found myself thinking, I have an electrical engineering degree,” she shares.
“Granted, I might not be utilizing those exact skills in this current position, but nevertheless, I have that degree, and I want to be using more of my engineering background!”
Josey went to her manager and explained that she was ready to do more. Within a few months, he had hired a new employee to support with the on-site compliance assessments, which freed her up to learn new technical roles and responsibilities.
“I worked with my manager over the years to hone my skills, and was promoted to project manager with a staff of eight,” she notes.
Today, Josey has a team of 16 engineers, scientists and specialists, as she manages projects that provide technical engineering analysis and air quality compliance support for various clients.
Whatever the size of Josey’s teams, they tender touching loyalty to her. A few years ago Josey was managing a team of 12 providing air quality compliance support. For the first time a long-term client put its annual contract on the auction block. Josey’s team was underbid and she feared her team might be lured away by competitors. The phones began ringing with job offers, but none left.
“Each of them confessed they were willing to brave the uncertainty with me, because they trusted and believed in me. They believed in our team. I was buoyed by their belief and I doubled down on my effort to get us through that difficult transition,” she recalls.
“I implemented strategic project management ideas, the staff marketed themselves within AECOM, and then we ended up getting a phone call from an old client who was looking for air quality experts to provide technical engineering and compliance support. We were back in business! I learned so much from that experience, and so did my staff, who are still with me to this day.”
They’re not only still together, but they’re also enjoying the challenges. “They’re an incredibly talented and highly educated group of people who make our work fun and exciting,” Josey proudly points out.
Scan job openings at aecom.com/careers and explore AECOM via Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube.
 
KBR’s Farkhani Seizes Opportunities & Tackles Challenges Head On
Farnoos Farkhani, principal technical professional, electrical engineering at KBR, Inc., with headquarters in Houston, TX, was tested in her first engineering job.
“When I started my first job at a manufacturing company, I was the only female engineer, and it was not that easy. I remember shop workers couldn’t look me in the eye or even speak to me directly, but would instead ask their questions of my male colleagues,” Farkhani remembers.
So she jumped out of the frying pan into the fire, and it worked. “I was hired as an office-based design engineer, so I asked my manager if I could split my time between the office and shop. The outcome was great. I built great connections with the team,” she relates.
However, the culture at KBR has been distinctly different, points out Farkhani, who really loves the company’s friendly and cooperative atmosphere.
“When I started my career here, I got assigned to a very knowledgeable mentor who guided me through projects and helped me build relationships with the team and other disciplines,” she details.
“Another important thing is that I never felt any discrimination because of my gender. Some may think engineering is a male-dominated environment, but I never felt it at KBR. My manager never excluded me from any project or site assignments because of my gender. When an opportunity for an offshore project came up, he just called me and asked me if I was interested, and I said, ‘yes!’”
In stepping up to a new challenge, Farkhani applies the words of her father: “My dad always told me never be afraid to speak up and always have your ideas heard. This helped me in my personal and professional life.”
And Farkhani encourages engineering students to not wait to step up to the plate.
“It really benefits students if they can get an internship and mix their theoretical knowledge with practical experience while still at school. This helps broaden their knowledge, get familiar with the engineering work environment, and make connections for their future career,” she maintains.
Check out job openings at kbr.com/careers and explore KBR through LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
 
A College Co-Op for Stiegler Leads to Long-Term Career Fulfillment at Emerson
Today, Melissa Stiegler is director, global wireless product management for Emerson Automation Solutions, but she was once an electrical engineering student still being tempered in the hot forge of academia. It was an internship at Emerson that eased her way.
“There’s no way to get around the fact that electrical engineering is a really hard program. There were times in college where I didn’t know if I would graduate, and it was hard to imagine a life as an electrical engineer,” Stiegler remembers.
“What really turned things around for me was getting a co-op job at Emerson and getting hands-on experience. It showed me that I could do the real life work of an electrical engineer, even if I didn’t love the coursework.”
That internship also rightfully expanded her perception of what an engineer does.
“I also learned during those co-op rotations that there’s a lot more to engineering than just the work that our design engineers do. We need engineers to design, but also to test, work with suppliers and even work with our customers to make sure we’re meeting their needs. Without that experience, I wouldn’t have known what was possible with an engineering degree,” she contends.
Today, Stiegler has her hand on the tiller arm, steering other engineers in the right direction. “I’m in charge of making sure our engineers are working on the right projects to solve our customers’ toughest challenges.”
Stiegler enjoys the collaborative and vital work. “I love working with our teams to solve problems. I believe the work we’re doing is really changing the industry, and, at the end of the day, making our customers safer. Being a part of this innovation makes me very happy to come to work every day.”
And Stiegler now leads, having learned from her colleagues. “I love the people that I work with. I have been working with several of our engineers since I was a co-op in college. They taught me a lot of the things that I know today, and I know that I wouldn’t be where I am without their support.”
Stiegler also loves that her work schedule has a fair amount of flexibility.
“The most surprising thing to me is the amount of flexibility that I am given. As a mom, it’s important for me to be as involved as possible in all of their activities. Emerson gives me the ability to do great at work and do great at home. The flexibility makes me better at both.”
Emerson, headquartered in St. Louis, MO, has been a tailored fit for Stiegler, and she encourages graduating woman engineers to find an equally fine fit.
“I think that the most important things that college graduates can do is look for a company that feels right,” she advises.
See what jobs are available at emerson.com/en-us/careers and research Emerson via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.
 
Watter’s Pluck & Expertise Take Her Up the Rungs at AEP
Jennifer Watters, project manager for American Electric Power (AEP), headquartered in Columbus, OH, leveraged her electrical engineering background into a managerial position.
“I recently became a project manager in internal audits where I’m part of an audit team that evaluates and improves AEP’s effectiveness in risk management, governance and control processes,” details Watters.
“For the past 13 years, I was a project manager in generation, responsible for overseeing major capital projects - ranging from boiler component replacement to building new solar power plants - from the start of the project through engineering, construction, start-up and turnover to the plant for operations.”
Watters has enjoyed her myriad roles. “My position affords me the opportunity to learn more about different parts of the company and how each business unit contributes to the success of the company.”
She also enjoys providing an essential service. “I love that I work for a company that provides one of the basic necessities of modern life, and strives to improve the quality of life by being environmentally responsible.”
Becoming ever greener is driven by a corporate culture of innovation.
“Utilities can have a reputation of being slow and steady, however AEP is embracing change and encouraging employees to be adaptive to change and seeking new ideas to remain innovative. AEP has done some wonderful work being first of a kind, and I love that we’re continuing to pursue new and innovative products for our customers.”
Managing for a forerunner of innovation, Watters had to meet and beat an academic challenge.
“Academically, my junior year was quite tough as I had some classes that focused on programming, which is a challenging subject for me. I knew I had to pass the class to obtain my degree, so I learned who I could study with and worked alongside them through the quarter to ensure I understood the material,” she shares.
To manage well today, Watters still leverages collaboration. “As you progress through your career, you’ll meet people with different strengths that may complement your weaknesses. You never know when you may need to lean on that person based on their expertise,” she notes.
“I’ve found that establishing a wide network has allowed me to manage some tough situations, and I can call on others for help with problems I’m facing.”
See what AEP needs at aep.com/careers and see what AEP is all about through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
 
NRG’s Winstead Pivots from Specialist to Generalist
When Ramya R. Winstead, CEM, PMP, development engineering manager at NRG Energy, Inc., was a student, she imagined a career as a specialist.
But rather than taking a straight and narrow path to a particular place, she veered here and there, developing power system solutions for back-up generation systems and moving into engineering research, product development, system integration and project management.
Learning a good bit about many things has enabled her to lead. And now her work keeps her on the move.
“I travel quite a bit, based out of Minneapolis, MN,” says Winstead. “I’m on site quite a bit, managing the logistics of installation and construction. It’s a good mix of sitting behind the desk and being on site. It’s a lot of technical due diligence and working with the contractors. I make sure people are not just doing their individual pieces, but also what they’re doing makes sense for the project.”
She never projected that overseeing projects would be her passion and profession.
“When I first graduated, I had a supervisor who saw me as a generalist, someone who can bring pieces together. I told her that a generalist wasn’t who I wanted to be, but she was spot on,” Winstead admits.
“I like to bring different people with different perspectives together. I like working with cross-disciplinary teams to create something where everyone looks at it and sees they got what they wanted and need[ed]. We’re working across engineering, the economic piece, policy, regulation and so on. I find that challenging and exciting. What are the hand-off points? Who should be playing a key role? I really love bringing teams together.”
So how does Winstead coordinate disparate disciplines?
“It all comes to level-setting, making sure everyone is on the same page. That’s attained through conversations. PowerPoint [presentations] help, too, for they set the stage,” she explains.
“Everyone comes into a project with their idea of what it is and what the barriers are likely to be. Thinking through that and developing the enablers engender success. It happens over time. You build trust gradually.”
Winstead can parlay dissent into strength, too. “People want their concerns addressed. I might say, ‘I thought you were hesitant. Can you walk me through your concerns?’ You have to be aware of how people are reacting or not reacting. That’s how you build trust,” she elaborates.
“Someone in the room might have experienced a less-than-desired outcome from a particular approach and articulate that. My response is, ‘Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.’ Past experiences [like] that drive their point of view, and I like to leverage those experiences.”
Winstead believes you’re more likely to be heard at the big table if you bring something to it.
“The best advice I ever received was from a past mentor who said to always bring something to the table. It doesn’t matter if it’s a new idea or you see a problem in a current project, but if it’s the latter, have some suggestions for improvement. How can you make the project easier for people? Contribute. Don’t just come with a want or need list,” she says.
Collaboration is facilitated by NRG’s corporate culture, as well. “NRG is a true matrix organization. We have a flat organizational structure. We work across functions and disciplines, as well as geography. Every aspect of the company gets involved in our projects and works across lines.”
NRG has headquarters in Princeton, NJ and Houston, TX, but wherever you work, you can grow into ever more responsibility.
“NRG is one of those companies that provide flexibility to define my career,” Winstead concludes.
Kickstart your NRG career at nrg.com/company/careers/ and learn more about NRG via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram and stories.nrg.com.
 
Sidebar 1 (57 words): (see p. 10, 19 and 23)
Starting Salaries for Electrical Engineers
Major Degree Mean 25th Percentile Median 75th Percentile
Electrical, Electronics & Communications Engineering Bachelor’s $68,187 $64,342 $68,023 $70,763
Electrical, Electronics & Communications Engineering Master’s $87,802 $78,038 $97,251 $97,251
Electrical, Electronics & Communications Engineering Doctoral $115,058 $102,500 $108,421 $119,286
Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Fall 2017 Salary Survey
 
Sidebar 2 (57 words): https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/electrical-and-electronics-engineers.htm
Job Outlook for Electrical & Electronics Engineers
Overall employment of electrical and electronics engineers is projected to grow 7 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The change in employment is expected to be tempered by slow growth or decline in most manufacturing industries in which electrical and electronics engineers are employed.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook
 
BAR GRAPH (as seen here, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/electrical-and-electronics-engineers.htm#tab-6, to go with Sidebar 2) (44 words):
Percent Change in Employment, Projected 2016-26
Electrical engineers 9%
Engineers 8%
Total, All Occupations 7%
Electrical & Electronics Engineers 7%
Electronics Engineers, Except Computer 4%
Note: All occupations include all occupations in the U.S. economy.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program
 
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