Geared Up At MissionSolar

Utility Professionals: Meet Your Future Power Systems Workforce!

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In just three years, GEARED engineering students and faculty have become part of the DistribuTECH community. Once again, Teresa Hansen, editor in chief, PennWell, welcomed GEARED students and faculty at DistribuTECH 2018 and invited conference attendees to meet their future workforce. This year, 45 GEARED students from 27 universities displayed their research in a poster exhibit at the two-day conference in San Antonio, TX. (GEARED stands for Grid Engineering for Accelerated Renewable Energy Deployment).

Teresa Hansen, Powergrid International editor-in-chief and DTECH 2018 program chair, welcomes GEARED to the conference.

DistribuTECH, the annual utility professional’s conference, is two days of technical sessions on today’s most vexing power systems issues, like microgrids, renewable energy generation, storage, along with hundreds of exhibitors displaying their wares in a cavernous exhibition hall. GEARED is preparing academia, government and industry for the current and next generation of power systems professionals for the modern electric grid. An initiative of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (previously SunShot), IREC serves as GEARED’s national network administrator.

“Conferences like DistribuTECH are an ideal match for GEARED engineering students. Where else would you get unfettered access to your future employer,” said Joe Sarubbi, GEARED project manager.

Caroline Kamm, University of Central Florida, discusses her research on bid-auction strategy: how to satisfy demand while incentivizing participants to invest in renewable energy generation through the competitive peer-to-peer energy network market.

GEARED student posters featured research on relevant and timely renewable energy issues like generation and integration, storage and microgrids. For two days, students shared their work with conference attendees, made the rounds in the exhibition hall, collected business cards and passed out resumes.

“When they weren’t connecting with each other to learn about similar research at other schools, they were meeting with and talking to utility professionals about their research and potential employment opportunities,” said Mary Lawrence, assistant GEARED project manager for IREC.

“One of the best things I learned from talking to companies at DistribuTECHthat is that it’s okay not to know everything,” said Anne Clarke, graduate research assistant at Portland State pursuing a master’s degree in electrical engineering with a focus in power engineering. “They don’t need to know which formulas you have memorized or which IEEE sections you can recite. It’s all about intention and commitment to engineering. Employers want to see your passion for your work and your drive.”

While GEARED students are highly trained in their studies, what happens after graduation?

To help prepare students for life after academia, conference organizers invited three new power engineering professionals to share their experiences moving from academia to the power systems workforce.

GEARED students hear from new power engineering professionals about life after academia.

Panel highlights

“I started at Lincoln Electric Coop as a co-operative student from the University of Nebraska and stayed on as an intern. It was a motivating environment. Don’t overlook internships.”  Keaton Koehler, underground distribution engineer, Lincoln Electric Coop, Eureka MT

“With the utility infrastructure changing so quickly, industry has to accommodate. It’s exciting to be part of that change and help direct the next phase. There’s lots of potential to learn, grow and make an impact.” Justin Kramer, Orlando Utilities Commission, renewable energy project manager

“Internships are so valuable. You can’t learn all you need to know in class. It’s an exciting time to be in the utility industry. I’m never bored.” Abigail Bertrand, Xcel Energy

“I see now how starting slow and working your way up is the way. Practical experience is so helpful.” Noopur Shah, CPS Energy

According to Sarubbi, what makes DistribuTECH so invaluable for current power engineering students is a combination of academic and interpersonal intelligence. “Can you explain your research to a conference attendee in 30 seconds,” he asked students. “When talking with exhibitors, can you see how your research might be applicable?”

Industry conferences like DistribuTECH offer GEARED engineering students unique opportunities to tout their academic strengths and hone interpersonal and communication skills, both of which make for good, well-rounded employees.

Taking advantage of Mission Solar, a solar PV manufacturing facility in San Antonio, conference organizers arranged a tour for the GEARED students. Dave Lewenz, regional sales manager, introduced the students to Mission Solar with a short 15-minute presentation on the company and manufacturing process, followed by a 30-minute tour of the plant.

All dressed up and ready to tour Mission Solar in San Antonio.

“Learning about how solar panels are manufactured and how to read their specifications – this is directly applicable to my senior design project,” said Caroline Kamm.

“One of the best things I learned from talking to companies at DistribuTECHthat is that it’s okay not to know everything,” said Anne Clarke, graduate research assistant at Portland State pursuing a master’s degree in electrical engineering with a focus in power engineering. “They don’t need to know which formulas you have memorized or which IEEE sections you can recite. It’s all about intention and commitment to engineering. Employers want to see your passion for your work and your drive.”

Not surprisingly, post-DistribuTECH student surveys unequivocally gave the conference high marks.

Neil Cammardella, graduate research assistant and Ph.D. candidate in electrical and computer engineering, University of Florida at Gainesville, said DistribuTECH gave him the opportunity to practice both presentation and networking skills, which paid off. Neil accepted an internship from a company he met while working the exhibition floor.

“I know of no other conference where students have the chance to network with 500+ utility sector companies at one time,” said Sarubbi. “It’s a distinct experience and ideal opportunity for them.”

Plans are already underway for GEARED to head to New Orleans for DTECH 2019.