Across the energy sector, women make up less than 30% of the workforce, but that is changing as more young women enter the sector and as the industry makes a concentrated effort to increase gender diversity. What's it like to be a woman working in energy? What can both male and female executives do to encourage more diversity in the sector? And what skills make any young professional well prepared for a career in energy?
In coordination with Duke Women's Weekend, the Duke University Energy Initiative and the Center for Energy, Development, and the Global Environment (EDGE) at Duke's Fuqua School of Business invited four alumnae to share their thoughts on these questions with energy students at Duke.
Thanks so much to these panelists for sharing their time and expertise with young men and women preparing to enter the energy industry:
- Jessica Allen (E '15), Project Engineer, Duke Energy
- Chelsea Barnes (MEM '08), Director of Policy Services, EQ Research
- Mirka della Cava (T '85), Senior Program Manager and Team Lead, Colorado Energy Office
- Marina Yakhnis (MEM '15), Renewable Energy Specialist, RTI International
Ask Leah Louis-Prescott (MEM'18) why she's in graduate school and you'll get a straightforward answer: "I want my career to make a direct impact on climate change."
“My bachelor’s degrees in geology and environmental science exposed me to how the United States lags behind when it comes to renewable energy,” said Louis-Prescott, who worked for the Bureau of Land Management after graduating from the University of Michigan. “I decided to go to grad school because I needed to better understand the nuances of how the energy system functions, why progress has been slow, and how we can advance renewables through policy.”
“The interdisciplinary overview of energy systems I encountered during my first year at the Nicholas School of the Environment helped me to realize that I may be able to make the most impact at the center of the Venn diagram—where technology meets policy meets culture meets business factors,” explained Louis-Prescott, whose 2016-2017 graduate assistantship at the Energy Initiative included research on transportation efficiency and energy data analytics. “That could take the form of renewable project development, although I’m considering other directions, too.”
This summer, a Rudd Mayer Fellowship from the national Women in Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE) organization helped Louis-Prescott explore the possibilities by attending WindPower, the annual conference of the American Wind Industry Association. During the four-day event last month, Louis-Prescott visited industry booths and attended talks on everything from energy prices at high wind levels to regulation promoting the zero-carbon attributes of wind.
“The big takeaway for me was that the wind industry is growing and will continue to grow—even after the federal wind tax credit goes away,” Louis-Prescott notes. “I also gained exposure to the breadth of the industry, all the different actors who are moving wind power forward—whether they work for development firms, utilities, manufacturers of turbine parts, or even ExxonMobil, which provides the oil that greases the turbines.”
“Being able to interact with these professionals, talk with them about how they got where they are, seek advice, and network is so helpful as I consider what to do when I graduate,” Louis-Prescott said. She is grateful that the Rudd Mayer Fellowship also includes access to the nationwide WRISE network of female professionals in renewable energy.
Louis-Prescott was encouraged to apply by Duke alumna April Christensen (MEM’16), now a business development associate at Invenergy. “I was a Rudd Mayer Fellow last year," says Christensen, "and those networking opportunities have been invaluable in launching my career—as has the Energy Initiative.”
While Louis-Prescott is increasingly intrigued by renewable project development (and the wind industry in particular), she continues to explore a range of options, maximizing opportunities across Duke University.
Last fall, for example, Louis-Prescott was co-organizer of the Nicholas School Energy Club's Denver Career Trek, which enabled graduate students from the Nicholas School, Fuqua School of Business, and Pratt School of Engineering to spend fall break visiting Denver-area energy companies and organizations.
Louis-Prescott also took part in an interdisciplinary Bass Connections in Energy research team on best management practices for offshore wind development in the United States. “That project had a lot to do with my decision to apply for the Rudd Mayer Fellowship,” Louis-Prescott explained. “And—since our Bass Connections team looked at big trends in both onshore and offshore wind—I was knowledgeable enough to be able to ask interesting questions and have productive conversations with the industry pros I met.”
This summer, Duke’s Stanback Internship program is supporting Louis-Prescott as an intern at the Rocky Mountain Institute in Boulder, Colorado, which she first visited as part of the Denver Career Trek. She is working on an RMI study of when, where, and how residential customers can save money and reduce carbon emissions by switching from fossil fuel-powered household devices to electric devices.
In the fall, she is looking forward to energy coursework offered by the Fuqua School of Business and Duke Law School—along with participating in a Bass Connections in Energy project addressing the regulation of autonomous vehicles. Louis-Prescott will also serve as co-president of the Nicholas School Energy Club.
“The great thing about studying energy at Duke—in addition to the high caliber of professors and comprehensive curriculum—is the variety of out-of-classroom opportunities the school offers, including significant industry exposure,” remarks Louis-Prescott. “I am confident that my education and experiences at Duke are preparing me to make a true impact in the energy sector after I graduate.”
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