With the goal to enhance his network in mind, energy PhD student Edgar Virguez became interested in participating in “36 Hours at Duke,” an event that promotes rapid connection-building among a small cohort of current Duke students and a diverse group of accomplished alumni. Read his reflective blog post for The Graduate School of Duke University.
Duke alumna Lisa (Huber) Ganderson, Senior Associate for Investments with GE Energy, was recently named to the prestigious Forbes “30 Under 30 in Energy” list. Lisa, who will hold an energy mentoring conversation with students on Feb. 24, graduated from Duke’s MBA/Master of Environmental Management joint degree program in 2014. The Center for Energy, Development and the Global Environment asked her to share her thoughts on energy technologies, entrepreneurship and her career in this Q&A.
What's it like to be a woman working in an energy sector? Are there special challenges to getting started or advancing in a particular field? What are the best areas to study, and where will the next generation of jobs be found?
Seven energy industry professionals shared their experiences and answers to these and other questions with Duke students at the Energy Initiative’s first Women in Energy panel discussion. The group discussed specific issues faced by women in energy careers, and also shed light on working in their specific business sectors such as oil and gas, policy-making, utilities, and energy marketing.
Several of the panelists said gender has had little impact on their efforts to advance. “My experience is that women in oil and gas are well-treated,” said Elizabeth Pratson, a geologist whose career included stints with Schlumberger Geoquest and Sohio Petroleum before she joined Elon University’s Department of Physics.
Maria Kingery, co-founder and CEO of Southern Energy Management, advised students to be open to learning from every turn their career takes, intentional or not.
"You never know who you’re going to meet and where it’s going to take you," she said. "It might be where you should be, whether or not it’s where you think you need to be."
After relating stories and taking questions in a live office hours format, the panelists split into small groups to share lunch and more detailed information about their business sectors with students.
In addition to Kingery and Pratson, the panel included Betsy McCorkle, director of government affairs for the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association; Emily Felt, Business Development Manager, Duke Energy; Rebecca Stamps, Senior Product Manager, GE Industrial Solutions; Brittany Goff, Product Marketing, GE Industrial Solutions; and Kiersten Williams, Vice President, G&S Business Communications.
The panel was moderated by three Duke students: April Christensen and Marina Yakhnis, both Master of Environmental Management candidates focusing on Energy and the Environment at the Nicholas School; and Diana Rowe, also an MEM candidate and an MBA student at the Fuqua School of Business.
Since its inception in 2011, the Energy Initiative has supplemented Duke’s formal catalog of energy-related courses with unofficial educational opportunities for students on and off campus. Power Trips offer students tours of innovative energy facilities across North Carolina. Power Lunches have attracted industry luminaries such as Jim Rogers and Amory Lovins for informal talks on the evolving energy landscape.
Now the Energy Initiative has inaugurated a new series that connects current students with Duke alumni who have moved into energy careers: Energy Mentoring Conversations. The program focuses on career pathways and draws its mentors from the rich vein of Duke alumni working in the field.
"Our students are getting tremendous training in their degree programs and they have a lot of ambition," said Steve Hicks, the Energy Initiative’s associate director for energy education. "Turning that ambition into reality is always a challenge. There’s so much experience and expertise in the Duke network, and a great willingness to share — it just makes sense to tap into that to help our students navigate the job market and plan their careers."
Alison Taylor (T ’83), vice president for sustainability-Americas at Siemens Corporation, kicked off the series on Dec. 3, joining 10 students via teleconference from her office in Washington, D.C.
A member of the Nicholas School of the Environment’s Board of Visitors, Taylor (pictured at right) started by telling her professional story, following a path from undergraduate studies in biology to environmental law practice in Colorado to Capitol Hill, where she provided legislative counsel to committees in the House and Senate. In her current role, she has led Siemens to repeated recognition as the most sustainable capital goods company in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index.
Taylor offered guidance about self-marketing and the “soft” skills of successful professionals, fielded questions about the future labor requirements of the energy industry, and discussed the differences between working in the public and private sectors.
"She had a number of valuable insights," said Lauren Shum, a sophomore majoring in electrical and computer engineering, and sustainability chair of the Duke Smart Home. "She did a very good job of painting a holistic picture of her niche in the industry and how one might get there."
The Energy Initiative is working with additional Duke graduates in other sectors of the energy industry to produce more mentoring events for Spring 2015.
College professors are known for inviting students over to their homes for dinner once in a while, but this was a little different: a four-hour restaurant dinner discussing, arguing and laughing with their teacher, the former CEO of the nation's largest energy utility, who then picked up the tab. Jim Rogers, who retired as Duke Energy's CEO in 2013, is spending the year at Duke as a visiting fellow. He's co-teaching a graduate-level class on renewable energy sources for the developing world with Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, and working on a book on the same topic.