Paying Tribute to Female Trailblazers in Waterpower
By Marla Barnes, Senior Director of Industry Collaboration, NHA
March is Women’s History Month. In a Proclamation commemorating the month, President Joe Biden calls on us to “pay tribute to the trailblazers … for building … endless possibilities for … women and girls.”
It got me thinking … who are the female trailblazers in waterpower … both past and present? And, what’s happening today in the energy space to help encourage women to work and thrive in this industry?
The Deep Dive – Introducing Two Trailblazers
My research to answer these questions first led me to Edith Clarke. According to energy-related service provider Burton Energy Group’s “The Energy Trail,” Edith Clarke (1883-1959) was the “first professionally employed female electrical engineer. She made major contributions to the electrical power systems industry by inventing the Clarke calculator, a tool used to solve equations relating to electric current, voltage, and impedance in power transmission lines. She also took the first step towards today’s concept of ‘smart grid’ technology by analyzing data to better maintain the electric grid and designed concepts central to modern dam building by helping build the turbines that generate the Hoover Dam’s hydropower plant.”
Edith Clarke was definitely a waterpower trailblazer.
Fast forward 75 years.
Meet Lindsay Dubbs, PhD, who was honored in late 2020 by the U.S. Department of Energy with a U.S. Clean Energy Education & Empowerment Initiative (C3E) Award. Dr. Dubbs is the associate director of the Coastal Studies Institute’s North Carolina Renewable Ocean Energy Program at East Carolina University, and a research associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
A recent video interview with Dr. Dubbs gives insight into this modern-day trailblazer. As you watch the interview, her passion for learning, discovery, and research shines through. As a bio-geo-chemist and an ecologist, she is focused, among other things, on studying the environmental implications of using the Gulf Stream to generate electricity using marine energy technologies. She clearly feels strongly about being responsible stewards of the environment when harnessing the energy potential of the Gulf.
She also is open about her “human-ness” and the struggle of finding balance between work and personal life with her husband and 5-year-old son. “Balance is very elusive,” she admits.
Dr. Dubbs’ advice: “Find your community of mentors who you enjoy working with and learning from.”
Why Mentoring, Showcasing, and Empowering Matters
Speaking of mentors, I found three programs/organizations who are doing important work to provide mentoring opportunities, raise visibility of women in energy, and get young girls excited about engineering.
Women in Hydropower Mentorship Program
This program, originated and maintained by a volunteer steering committee, exists to provide an opportunity for women to connect, generate new friendships and networks, and share experiences in a supportive environment that highlights the powerful contributions women from around the world make in the hydropower industry.
A major element of the program is to “match” mentees with mentors. The goal is to create a meaningful connection where the mentor and mentee become collaborators in each other’s success. The mentor brings her life experience and a willingness to listen, give counsel, and provide network connections that support the mentee. The mentee brings her growth and development goals, opportunities, and challenges with a willingness to openly discuss them. This program is open to all women from around the world involved in the hydro industry, including agency, stakeholder and tribal representatives.
Now in its fourth year, the program received 90 applications from 26 different countries and created 51 pairs for the 2020-2021 mentorship cycle. The volunteer steering committee matches the applicants into traditional or reciprocal mentorship pairs. Each mentorship pair is unique and adapts to a relationship style and meeting format that works best for them, meeting once a month for eight months, October to May.
“The feedback about women’s experiences in this mentorship program has been overwhelmingly positive and illustrates how critical women to women mentorship is.” says Nora Rosemore, Minnesota Power, who serves as the Chair of the Women in Hydropower Mentorship Program Steering Committee.
The Program and the connections its facilitated will be featured at NHA’s Clean Currents event in Atlanta in October.
United States Energy Association (USEA)
Every month, as part of its “Women in Energy” series, USEA features a woman in the energy sector who has shown exemplary leadership. For example, NHA member Dominion Energy’s Katheryn B. “Kathy” Curtis was featured in October 2020. Kathy is the senior vice president– Generation, Dominion Energy Virginia. Her team oversees the operation of Dominion Energy Virginia’s power generating fleet of hydro, gas, solar, biomass, coal and oil-fueled power stations in Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia.
February 25 was declared “Girl Day” by Discover E, the organization behind National Engineers Week. The objective of Girl Day was to engage girls in engineering. Key findings from DiscoverE’s new report, “Despite the Odds,” found that by providing role models, facilitating engineering activities, and educating girls about how engineers change the world will help young females develop an interest in engineering, build their confidence in their problem-solving skills, and create a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) identity.
I’ve worked in the hydro industry for more than 30 years. Over that time, I have seen the number of women working in all sectors of this industry gradually grow.
That growth, typically without much fanfare or recognition, is due to individuals … both men and women … who intentionally mentored, showcased, and empowered females.
I am especially pleased to announce that the “From the Boardroom” closing plenary session at the upcoming Waterpower Week will be exclusively made up of women … female utility executives sharing their views of how generation asset owners think about hydro policy.
Edith Clarke would be proud!