Women in Power: Sandra Ellis

WIP2014My name is Sandra Ellis. I am a power engineer. I am the youngest of three siblings and the first one in my family to attend college. My parents were proud of me for graduating with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering computer science from University of California at Berkeley. They were shocked and very proud that I obtained my master’s degree (Electric Utility Management Program) from New Mexico State University at Las Cruces, and finally my doctorate from Berkeley both in electrical engineering. I did not have a continuous journey from my undergraduate to graduate studies. Each transition to academia required that I leave industry and each time it was more challenging but the reward was greater. My journey to date embraces my passion for power and energy.

Why engineering? Why not power engineering?

While growing up in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to participate in several programs promoting Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) related careers: Expanding Your Horizons, Math Engineering Science Achievement (MESA), and Professional Development Program. I was exposed to the opportunities that a STEM career could offer me. Mathematics was my favorite subject in school. I did consider becoming a mathematician but never an engineer. Although I met a few people of color and women role models, it was enough to encourage me to pursue engineering and not just any engineering but power engineering. Now, I encourage anyone to pursue a STEM career, especially related to the power and energy industry. The need for talented individuals to design and develop the next generation infrastructure (e.g. smart grid technologies, electric grid resiliency) is enormous. Each day I am reminded how critical electricity is in our daily lives. More importantly, there is a continued need for electrification in developing countries. During my travels, I am still fascinated by high voltage transmission design and construction. So, why not power engineering.

Just a power engineer…

Regardless of the positions that I have held throughout my career, my power engineering expertise is my foundation. I worked as an application engineer for General Electric Company (GE) in Schenectady, New York. My assignments varied greatly and provided invaluable opportunities to learn about electrical manufacturing. I completed system studies including power flow, risk assessment, and stability analysis to support GE business units (e.g., gas turbines, series capacitors), provided strategic solutions for transmission system upgrades and generation plant locations using probabilistic methods, and performed impact analysis for demand side management (energy efficiency) for GE Lighting.

However, I started my career as a power systems engineer with Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) in San Francisco, California. My father retired from PG&E after 30 years as a gas service supervisor. He provided me with my first exposure to utility operations. He worked with many engineers (very few female or people of color.) He told me that I was bright enough to be an engineer. My parents were never sure about requirements or prerequisites to become an engineer but they were 100% confident that I could do it. They encouraged me to participate in enrichment and mentoring programs such as Expanding Your Horizons, MESA, and PDP. Thankfully, my parents were 100% right!

I am passionate for all aspects of power system operation: distribution, transmission, and generation. While working for PG&E, I have had the opportunity to work in the transmission control center, 24×7 real-time operations. I led and coached a team responsible for providing real-time control technologies and supporting control center personnel. Each technology must ensure safe and reliable power system operation. It is also an operational technology and information technology (OT/IT) convergence that all power engineers will encounter in their careers. This OT/IT balancing act ensures that power engineering is dynamic and evolving profession. This may be surprising to some but not to others involved the latest technologies and innovations (e.g. wide-area implementation of synchrophasor technology.)

Most recently with PG&E, I am a principal in the asset management organization. My role is to ensure that technology project deployed in electric operations deliver operational benefits based on a realization process. Essentially, I need to ensure that specific technology projects are vetted with all stakeholders so that benefits are identifiable and measurable in the proposed business case. Fundamentally, any new technology implemented must support safe, reliable, and economical delivery of energy. A concept that all power engineers are trained to understand. I am challenged with transitioning from execution and operations mindset to strategic planning. Throughout my career, I have viewed challenges as opportunities to grow and develop, and I welcome all opportunities to do so. I strongly encourage all engineers to embrace exploring opportunities outside of their comfort zone. During my career with PG&E, I have held leadership roles. What I have learned as leader is that it is important to master leveraging soft skills with technical skills. Being a leader requires the ability to ensure clear and concise communicate with and between all team members to achieve the best outcomes.

Never ending journey…

My journey to date has been challenging and rewarding. I am proud of what I have accomplished to date. My professional experiences allowed me to become a registered professional engineer in the state of California and a senior member in IEEE. My academic experiences provided me with an inquisitive skill set and an appreciation for lifelong learning. I am proud to be an engineer in the power and energy industry. Currently, I am also my father’s care giver. I am proud to serve in this role. Now, during my father’s time of need, I realized that he and my mother have been powerful and supportive influence with my decision to become a power engineer. I am grateful to them.

IEEE PES Women in Power

As an IEEE PES senior member, I am engaged with the latest technologies and innovations through local PES chapter activities, webinars, conferences, and publications. In addition to the many colleagues that I met through my employers, it has been my involvement with IEEE and PES that has been provided technical mentors and valuable relationships. And thanks to my IEEE PES activities, I have polished my soft skills and enhanced my leadership skills as the former chair of the San Francisco Section and the IEEE PES Awards and Recognition Committee.

Now, I am pleased and honored to support the mission for IEEE PES Women in Power initiative as a Regional Representative:

“The IEEE PES Women in Power initiative promotes diversity of leadership in the power and energy industry by providing leadership opportunities, professional skills, and networking opportunities.”

It is my goal as a Regional Representative to ensure that I share what I consider essential elements in my professional and personal authenticity:

  • Be a leader
  • Act with integrity
  • Be a builder
  • Share and seek wisdom
  • Act with warmth

As the Region 6 Representative, I will continue to coach, mentor, and support others, especially women, to become active in IEEE PES, and pursue a career in the power and energy industry.

I hope that my story will inspire others.

I am Dr. Sandra Ellis, P.E., and I am a power engineer.