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STEM cells: Growing interest in smart grid and engineering

We sat down with Sainab Ninalowo, smart grid engineer in the Smart Grid and Technology Group at ComEd (and also a driving force in the IEEE Power and Energy Society's Women in Power program) to chat about the biz and a woman’s place in it---and her place, too. 

How did you get into the power biz, and is this what you dreamed of being as a kid?

As a kid, I found STEM studies really interesting but I wasn’t sure what field to study, so I focused on becoming a lawyer. After my first semester in college, I realized I was better at the STEM prerequisites, and political science just wasn’t for me. Consequently I began taking engineering courses and loved the challenge.

I developed an interest in the power industry after my first internship with ComEd’s Regional Engineering group in 2011. Prior to the internship, I had focused primarily on thermodynamics and energy efficiency. The tremendous opportunity to intern for an electric company, to understand their infrastructure, and the challenge to learn beyond my natural order of college classes and curriculum excited my energy, and geared me towards the power industry.  

What's the sexiest thing--in your opinion--about smart grid stuff?

The fact that it’s bringing the traditional electric delivery system into the 21st century! As a young engineer in the industry, the diversity of the technology systems and the automation of the grid stimulate my brain. It’s like being in school again. I’m constantly learning about a new technology, and the ways it enhances the grid. It also allows the consumer and utility industries to learn more about power flow, real time usage, and enables dynamic controls amongst other benefits which leave an open window for integration of ideas and technologies that don’t already exist. It’s almost like the future of power is in our hands.  We can embrace renewables and distributed generation, understand consumption, implement smart controls for home appliances, and possibly reduce the country’s energy consumption.

What's your favorite part of your job at ComEd?

I absolutely love working for ComEd. I love the commitment to safety, our customers, the community, and being the leader in the industry. I work in a very welcoming and conducive environment, amongst a diversity of knowledge. My favourite part would be the learning opportunity. I’m always challenged and able to learn from my peers who are willing to participate in stimulating team work. ComEd also focuses on external development which entails sending employees to conferences that allow for personal and professional growth. Also, ComEd has a huge involvement in the community. I’m able to participate in volunteer events that range from STEM fairs to packing food at shelters. 

Tell us about being ComEd's regional innovation ambassador. What does that entail?

ComEd is committed to innovation and its employees driving innovation because we all realize that innovation is how we’ll provide value – and, one day, new products and services to our customers. The Innovation Hub is a group created to introduce and maintain a platform that recognizes, celebrates, implements and institutionalizes innovation and new technology at ComEd. 

The iHub consists of a cross-functional team of ambassadors from diverse departments. As a regional innovation ambassador on the technical team, I assist in performing a preliminary technical review of all ideas that come through the iHub, and I champion the ideas from the analysis and planning stage to the institutionalize stage by providing resources to facilitate further analysis of the employee ideas that are assigned to me. The four innovation stages are; analysis & planning, pilot, implement and institutionalize. At the end of the stages, the innovative idea becomes implanted into the organizational culture. It’s a great opportunity to learn about what other employees are working on, and what they think about some of the programs/projects in the company.

How did you get involved in IEEE Power and Energy Society's (PES) Women in Power program?

IEEE Women in Power (WiP) is a global organization creating a movement in the Power Industry. IEEE PES WiP fosters a more diverse leadership by supporting the career advancement, networking and education of women in the energy industry. I became involved with Women in Power in February 2014 after a mentorship meeting with Shay Bahramirad, IEEE PES WiP Committee Chair. Shay told me about IEEE PES, and the benefits of a being an active participant in this organization. I am honored to be a part of IEEE PES WiP.

As IEEE PES WiP’s co-chair, I am in charge of supporting the group’s mission under Shay’s direction. My goal is to maintain the resources IEEE PES WiP has to offer to our regional ambassadors and members to ensure that women around the world are leveraging the group’s resources.

Do you have a favorite story about IEEE PES WiP---an experience, a speech, a parable you like to tell?

I love the experience. I get the opportunity to learn and grow professionally through the monthly webinars, panel/speaker sessions and the networking connections. A huge part of the experience is the personal connections I make at IEEE PES WiP events. I meet women around the globe, and keep the relationships we make. Some of the women I met through WiP have become my mentors, best friends and coworkers!

One of the most inspiring women I have met is Simay Akar. Simay works in the solar industry and holds many responsibilities as an IEEE volunteer. Her knowledge about her work, her ability to work globally and have such an impact in IEEE motivates me. Simay is one of the mentors through IEEE PES WiP.

In addition, I became active in IEEE’s Women in Engineering (WiE) after a joint meeting WiP and WiE held in region 4 on the importance of the PE license. The event planned by Lisa Schoedel and IEEE PES WiP region 4 members allowed me to get more engaged in IEEE WiE activities. It was an opportunity to get inspired by the speaker, and connect with other Engineers who are considering their PE license. To further my participation in IEEE WiE, I’ll be speaking on Smart Cities at the next IEEE WiE International Leadership Conference in San Jose on May 24th, 2016!


More on Sainab Ninalowo:

Sainab Ninalowo is a Smart Grid Engineer in the Smart Grid and Technology group at ComEd which is charged with developing and implementing innovative technologies and business models for advancing the electric grid. Prior to her role with the Smart Grid group, Sainab was an Engineer in ComEd’s New Business group where she managed grid interconnection projects to connect new residential and commercial customers. ComEd is an energy delivery subsidiary of Exelon Corporation and one of the largest utilities in the United States. ComEd provides service to approximately 3.8 million customers across northern Illinois. Sainab also drives innovation and collaboration at ComEd as ComEd’s regional innovation ambassador. Sainab is the VP of Outreach for the Society of Women Engineers- Chicago Regional Section, where she oversees the high school, elementary, scholarship, and collegiate outreach programs. She is the Co-chair of PES Women in Power (WiP). WiP is a global organization creating a movement to promote more diverse leadership in the Power Industry. Sainab graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Bradley University in 2012, and she is currently pursuing an MBA degree from DePaul University in Chicago. Sainab loves outdoor activities such as hiking, camping and photographing the life around her.

Kathleen Wolf Davis's picture

Thank Kathleen for the Post!

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