Rocio.jpg

Kathy Nelson

Principal

West Monroe Partners

And - Podcast Host

,,

Be yourself. There is only one you - your voice, your opinions, your input is needed in this world to make it a better place.

,,

WHAT DO YOU DO?

I share stories of women in STEM through my podcast Ordinarily Extraordinary – conversations with women in STEM. All of us have a story to tell. It’s what makes us uniquely us. My podcast provides a platform for women in all STEM fields at different points in their careers from students to retirees, entry level to CEOs, company founders to employees at large organizations from different walks of life and from different countries to share their stories.

 

When I started my podcast a little over a year ago, I knew that I had amazing friends STEM fields and that our stories never got told. In the past year, I have shared over 50 stories of women that inspire me and others in ways I never imagined. We discuss what they do for jobs – as an electrical engineering student 30 years ago, I didn’t even know what an engineer did! I want to educate others on what we do for jobs in STEM fields. We discuss passion, inspiration, joys, challenges, successes, and the importance of lifting each other up and building community for women in STEM.

 

I am so honored so many women let me share their stories and are so authentic and vulnerable in our conversations. It is truly one of the most amazing things I’ve been able to do in my life!

In my day job, I’m a telecommunications engineer in the utility industry. I currently work at West Monroe Partners, a consulting firm in the Energy & Utilities practice. I help utilities define their telecommunications strategy, build business cases, and implement solutions. Prior to consulting at West Monroe, I spent 25 years working at an electric utility, followed by two years at a wireless manufacturer start up.

 

I was the first Chairwoman of an Industry Trade Association, Utilities Technology Council, a 70 year old trade association where I served on the board of directors for nearly 10 years prior to becoming Chairwoman and got into things like public policy and advocacy. As part of this role, I traveled internationally and met people from many different countries and realized we all have many of the same issues and challenges both as utilities, but also as humans. This was also an amazing experience in my career.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

I always loved math and science. Particularly calculus and physics. However, I actually wanted to be an architect from the time I was in third grade thanks to an amazing camp my second grade teacher suggested I attend where I shadowed an architect - in second grade!! It was a great experience.

 

I had amazing math teachers throughout my life that made math interesting and fun and I took as many math classes as I could during high school. I entered college as an architecture major, but soon realized that architecture was a lot of art (which was not a strength of mine!!) and not very much math and science.

 

I knew engineering used a lot of math and science, and my dad was a professor of engineering technology and really wanted one of his daughters (there were three of us, I was the youngest) to be an engineer. He had always been very encouraging about engineering. I also had a brother-in-law that was an electrical engineer. My brother-in-law was in the Air Force and I was visiting when he made captain so I went to his Captain's Ceremony. This was when I was trying to decide what to do and the first time I went to an office of engineers. They had donuts at his Captain's Ceremony and the combination of donuts at work and a job with math and science sold me on engineering!

 

While this seems like a haphazard way to decide on a career, I never regretted it. I love being an engineer and have had a great career. However, my haphazard career decision is one of the reasons I want to share what women do for jobs on my podcast. I think it's extremely important to know what jobs are out there so others don't make decisions based on donuts (I do still love donuts!)

HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?

I had a lot of support from my family and great math teachers. It was a little challenging being the first female out in the field at my utility. Most of the men in the field, technicians and line workers, had never seen a woman in the field. It wasn't really an obstacle or a challenge, it was just an interesting experience that I hadn't expected.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"

When I started my job at the utility, I definitely felt unique and different and out of place. I tried to be "one of the guys" and down played my more femine traits. This was something I did. Not anything that anyone expected of me, it was all internal, but as I have become older, something I have grown to regret. I should have been confident in myself to celebrate being an engineer and a girl!

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?

My job has been different every day. I do different things, solve different problems. I get to define technology strategy and look at the big picture of the communications networks that underpin utilities' power grids. Technology has always changed rapidly and now with the energy and utility industry changing rapidly, it's an incredbly exciting industry to work in.

 

I have been able to meet amazing people from all over the country and all over the world through my trade association involvement. My colleagues are not just colleagues, but my friends.

 

Through my podcast, I have met the most amazing women. They are inspiring, smart, fun, passionate, generous and want to lift up other women.

 

There is not another career I would want to do. I have loved my career and wouldn't change a thing!

BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?

Understand what the actual jobs are (as much as possible) before deciding on a major and career. Shadow professionals so you can get an idea of what people actually do for their jobs. As a student, do an intership or coop so you can further refine what you want to do (or don't want to do). Ask a lot of questions - and don't be afraid to ask questions.

 

Use your voice. Your voice and opinions matter. Don't be shy and older colleagues can learn from you as well. Nobody knows everything.

 

Find a mentor or two. They are invaluable. Have mentors throughout your career. They may change, but they are always important.

 

Be yourself. There is only one you - your voice, your opinions, your input is needed in this world to make it a better place. If someone doesn't want to accept you as you for some reason, find a place that does.

INSPIRATION

Do something everyday that scares you.