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Becoming WISE: Community, Connection and Celebration

March 31, 2021

Written by Beth Anne Johnson, College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences

In celebration of Engineers Week, women in the College of Engineering, Computing, and Applied Sciences created and enhanced their communities. Alongside student organizations, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and Alpha Omega Epsilon (AOE), the Department of PEER/WISE celebrated WISE Connections – Women In Nuclear (WIN) Night with Duke Energy on Monday, February 22nd at 5:00 pm.

Women from across the institution listened as the Duke Energy Women In Nuclear (WIN) network from Oconee Nuclear Station shared their undergraduate experiences and journeys to becoming wise women in the nuclear industry. Six women from Duke Energy were on the call: Svetlana Cartner, Mikayla Kreuzberger, Jessi Link, Spenser Pasqua, Greta Sparks and Kerry Thompson.

“We want college students with STEM backgrounds to know about employment opportunities available with Duke Energy and its nuclear power plants, including Oconee Nuclear Station,” said Mikayla Kreuzberger, Duke Energy corporate communications consultant for Oconee Nuclear Station. “We cannot achieve our company’s aggressive carbon reduction goals without nuclear power – our largest generator of carbon-free electricity in the Carolinas and for our company. We’re going to need today’s young minds to help us meet those goals for the future.”

Additionally, Kreuzberger mentioned that nuclear power plants are economic drivers for their communities, providing thousands of well-paying jobs, significant tax revenues, partnership opportunities and other benefits.

Duke Energy’s Oconee Nuclear Station is located just 20 miles north of Clemson’s campus. The three-unit power plant produces electricity for roughly two million homes; it offers great employment opportunities for alumni desiring to make the upstate their home. Chair of Oconee’s WIN organization and panelist, Jessi Link, is a 2007 Mechanical Engineering alumna and a Duke Energy senior reactor operator for Oconee Nuclear Station.

“I’ve been there 13.5 years now,” says Link. “I did 7 years in the engineering department…then I wanted to do something more hands on, so Operations was a good fit while still using my engineering experience and knowledge.”

The Q & A style panel ranged from career experience to more personal questions like work life balance and managing adversity. Panelists were asked, “Most of the students might experience being the only woman in their class. What words of encouragement do you have to share?”.

Pasqua encouraged the young women to think of their feminine identities as a superpower. “You can see both the extreme details, alongside the big picture. Never underestimate the importance or ability of seeing both on a project.” Other topics included industry transitions, becoming the first in their families to become engineers and much more.

“The women of Duke Energy did a phenomenal job,” shares Serita Acker, Executive Director for PEER/WISE. “They reminded our students that they too struggled in their studies but are now successful women in industry. We are so thankful to have them as an advocate of PEER/WISE and our education outreach programs like Project WISE, a weeklong summer camp for 7th and 8th grade students.”

Many students were moved by the panelists’ recognition of their stories, especially when they took a moment to be proud of their journeys. WISE mentor, Kelli Trotter, tells, “I got emotional just hearing their stories, especially Svetlana’s. Sometimes as female engineers we feel this need to hide our emotions, but it really is important to recognize all that we have achieved.”

“Research shows that an effective tool we can use to help students develop resiliency, especially for those underrepresented in STEM fields, is to give them opportunities to engage with mentors that share their identities, be it: race, ethnicity, gender, abilities, orientation, roles and so much more,” explains Beth Anne Johnson, associate director for WISE. “It reminds female and underrepresented minority students, ‘You belong here’ and that is exactly the message PEER/WISE strives to deliver.”

Did you miss the celebration and want to hear more? Check out the video below to view the WIN event.