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I am a Catalyst

I realized that by studying power engineering, I could actually affect energy consumption in the U.S.

I wasn't your typical engineering student. I have a passion for languages and travel so I got a degree in linguistics, but I couldn't find any work in that field. I was working as a stage electrical technician, setting up lighting rigs for the circus and other shows. I liked helping put things together and seeing how things work. I also had an interest in environmental issues. When I saw just how much energy was being consumed putting on a show, I decided to change paths and do something that had a greater impact to society.

I studied for a semester at the Ecosa Institute for Sustainable Design and Building Practices in Prescott, Arizona. That lead me to a greater understanding of the challenges we face as a society given our huge demand for energy. I realized that by studying power engineering, I could actually affect energy consumption in the U.S.

Sarah Szewczyk

I pursued a degree in Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington, where I worked in the Wind Integration Research Lab, exploring the economics of large scale renewable resources and how incentives for renewable energy technology at the Federal, state and local level affect generation.

While working towards my degree, I learned about the PES scholarship. It provided more than just funding. It really connected me to the industry. I landed an internship with Tacoma Power which has turned into a full-time position. The job is great. I work in the system planning department, looking at all the different elements of the power system to ensure we're operating in a reliable and safe manner. I really like that it's a small utility but has a very diverse resource profile that gives me a good view of how the power system works. We function within the entire west coast operating system and so I'm helping ensure that we have more wind and solar integrated into the system in a way that's reliable.

Powerhouse

As a recent grad, it's hard to cold call companies to see if they're hiring or showcase yourself at a career fair if you don't have any experience. The scholarship gave me industry connections and promoted me to the industry. It also provided mentorship, which is so important – especially when you're just getting started. I've also joined the IEEE Power and Energy Society. It gives me a broad overview of what's going on in the industry and the ability to network with others in my region and in my particular area of focus.

Power switch

If you want to have an impact on society, power and energy is a great field. Not only am I helping others, but it's also really fun and challenging and I'm working with really high caliber people. It's an interesting time to get involved. The field has seen more change in the past five years than in the past 50 years. We need a lot of different people thinking about the various problems and coming up with innovative solutions.

I love what I'm doing but I still love linguistics and the way language allows me to connect with people of different cultures. Internationally, there is much work to be done to build and improve energy infrastructures. Engineers from diverse backgrounds will need to work together. I think my desire to study languages and understand other cultures helps provide me with a broad humanistic understanding of the role of technology in society, which will serve me well as an engineer.

I am...

Sarah Szewczyk

Sarah Szewczyk

PES Scholarship Plus Recipient, 2011

University of Washington
Class of 2012

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