Meet Abigail Bertrand, Distribution Grid Management Engineer at Xcel Energy. Abigail graduated in May 2017 with a degree in electrical engineering, minor in physics, and emphasis in power from the University of St. Thomas, MN. Abigal was the recipient of a prestigious Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Power and Energy Scholarship (IEEE PES) John W Etsey Outstanding Award for Region 4, which consists of Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, and Wisconsin. She was one of seven recipients across the country!
Staff from the Wisconsin K-12 Energy Education Program (KEEP) interviewed Abigail about her career with Xcel Energy.
KEEP Staff (KS): How long have you been with Xcel Energy?
Abigail Bertrand (AB): I began working for Xcel as an Electric Distribution Engineering Intern in the summer of 2014. I worked full time for three summers and part-time during the school year until I was hired full time after graduation.
KS: How did you learn about the Internship opportunity at Xcel? What inspired you to apply?
AB: My dad has been a lineman at Xcel for over 25 years. In high school, he encouraged me to shadow some of the engineers at Xcel. After I completed my first year at college my dad informed me of an internship opportunity so I applied. I was uncertain about my career path at the time, and an internship seemed like a great opportunity to confirm whether or not I was on the right path. I was VERY glad I applied for the position because through my internship I was able to find my calling and passion for power engineering!
KS: Were you the only Electric Distribution Engineering Intern?
AB: I was not the only Electric Distribution Engineering intern- there are lots of engineering groups that fall under Electric Distribution Engineering; however, I was the only WI Distribution Planning and Strategy Engineering Intern.
KS: As an intern, what was your schedule like and what did you do as the Electric Distribution Engineering Intern?
AB: I had a unique internship because I was able to do projects for different groups. Since I began my internship freshman year of college, each summer I was able to transition to a different group of engineering: System Planning and Strategy, Distribution Area Engineering, and Substation field engineering. I was not always at my desk- there were plenty of opportunities for me to get out in the field and talk with other groups.
KS: Where did you go to high school/what city are you from?
AB: I went to high school at McDonell Central Catholic High School in Chippewa Falls WI.
KS: Were there any classes you took or skills that you obtained from school that helped you get this position?
AB: Since I challenged myself in high school and had enough credit coming into college (through AP classes), my advisor encouraged me to take upper level engineering courses my freshman year which helped me get my internship so early in my career. I also was able to take graduate level courses starting sophomore year- such as Power Electronics and Power Systems. This was really beneficial because during my senior year, I could focus on working and finding a job rather than stress about the challenging classes normal seniors are taking at that time.
KS: Did you see yourself working in a utility/energy company when you were in high school? If not, what did you think you would do for a career and why?
AB: My dad worked as a lineman for my entire life, but I honestly never pictured myself as an engineer at a utility until after I began my internship. Initially, I was torn between computer science and electrical engineering. I ended up choosing electrical engineering because once I started taking the classes and working at my internship, I realized my strengths and passions really aligned with electrical engineering rather than computer science.
KS: What is your favorite part of the position?
AB: Energy is essential to society. The work I do impacts everyone, so it is really fun coming up with cost-effective solutions that bring reliable power to people.
KS: What is your least favorite part?
AB: My least favorite part is when I’m working intensely on a project and I forget to get up from my chair and go talk to people. Conversations are so essential to any career and the discussions you have with your fellow employees will only benefit you and the project you are working.
KS: What is the most challenging part?
AB: There is always something new to learn- which excites and challenges me. I never will get bored because there is always going to be a project, webinar, conference, or new technology to learn from.
KS: Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
AB: In 5-10 years I see myself working within the energy industry with a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering & Professional Engineering License. Hopefully I’ll be mentoring new interns fresh out of high school!
KS: What do you think is the most important thing to do/learn in high school?
AB: Challenge yourself. If you are bored or feel like the stuff you are doing in high school is pointless, try to find ways to bring purpose to the work you are doing by challenging yourself. For example, the school I attended didn’t offer any computer science classes so I took an independent AP Computer Science and bought “programming for dummies” books in order to teach myself how to code. Aside from classes, challenge yourself in the extracurricular activities you participate in. School is important, but the extracurricular activities you participate in really shape who you are as a person and differentiate yourself from others. Along with electrical engineering, I am extremely passionate about music. In high school, I participated in choir, band, musical theater, and took voice and instrument lessons. Because I challenged myself musically in high school, I was able to join one of the top choirs at the University of St. Thomas, I can volunteer as an accompanist or cantor at my church, and I have awesome presentation skills because I don’t get as nervous speaking in front of a large audience.
KS: Any words of wisdom or advice for students in high school who have no idea what they want to be?
AB: 1) Talk to people. If you think you are even slightly interested in a career path, reach out to someone who has already taken that career path and ask them questions about what they like/don’t like about their job. 2) Find an internship right away. Some companies even offer internships to high school students. An internship will allow you to work with people and projects that will tell you what you like (or don’t like) about a job. 3) If you are leaning towards a certain major, start taking applicable classes right away. Some students aren’t getting into their field of study courses until junior year- avoid that if possible. I was unsure going into college if I wanted to major in computer science or electrical engineering. I talked to my advisor and he encouraged me to take several classes that would expose me to both areas so I could make a better decision earlier on in my college career.