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I am a Thinker

Since I was a kid, I've always been into electronics; fooling with remote controls, taking them apart-just curious about how things work.

Right out of high school, I was working for a construction company, building electrical substations. I'd see the electrical engineers on-site working with all sorts of wires, connections and knobs and it looked exciting. I went to my military recruiter and asked about electronics jobs. I took an aptitude test and scored high in electronics, so I joined the Navy as an electronics technician during Operation Desert Shield.

Jimmy and his family

When I left the military, I became a police officer in a small town, but I wanted to make a better life for my family. I wanted to be more than a technician and wanted to be part of the decision-making process. I also needed to refresh my skills. I decided to go back to school to become an engineer. Since I had a family to support, I was working two jobs while taking a lot of credits. I was working as a waiter, getting home at 10 o'clock and doing homework until 3am.

One day, my advisor told our class about the PES Scholarship. I was interested in the power field so I took it upon myself to "just go for it." I haven't looked back since. Financially, the scholarship allowed me to focus on my studies and get to bed at a decent time.

As part of the scholarship, I was also encouraged to participate in an internship. I was fortunate to secure a position with Black Hills Power, applying the engineering concepts I learned in the classroom to actual, real-world projects. I felt as though I was part of a system where I could help almost immediately.

Jimmy as a child

Working within the distribution arena, I was assigned a "sectionalizing" study. Sectionalizing is basically the coordination of components from the load to the source, so that, in the case of a fault, the outages are minimized and limited in time. As my supervisor said, it's more of an art than a science. Many factors have to be considered in order to properly coordinate these components and, sometimes, coordination is possible only if certain trade-offs are made.

I was also involved in a project to update Black Hills' voltage regulator control panels to standardize and make the distribution grid smarter. The company has many voltage regulators with control panels made by several different vendors. So I found myself retrofitting and programming the control panels.

In my time at Black Hills, I also made friends and contacts within the company and the industry. The internship confirmed for me that I want to work in distribution. It takes a certain mindset that I really like. And the scholarship encouraged me by letting me see that hard work really does pay off. That kind of feedback makes me stronger going forward.

I am...

Jimmy Higgins

Jimmy Higgins

PES Scholarship Plus Recipient, 2011-2012

South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
Class of 2013

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