- Role Model -
Name: Courtney Harnum
Occupation: System Planning Engineer
Employer: Newfoundland Power
Education: Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical), Memorial University
Hometown: St. John's, NL
Current community of residency: Mount Pearl, NL
What does your typical work day involve?
I work with a small group of 4, but the 3 of us get to interact with every other engineering group in our company. We like to call ourselves jacks of all trades. Most of my time is spent indoors in the office on the computer, however in the summer I spend a lot of time in the field, going to different substations and generating plants to see the different construction projects progress. It’s a great balance between office and field environments.
What do you love most about your profession? Why did you choose this career?
What I love most about my profession is the diversity of professions an electrical engineer can have. I work in the utilities, which is an incredibly tiny piece of the make-up of electrical engineering careers. At my company alone there are electrical engineers who are in the engineering department, who are in regulatory, who are executive, and who are field staff. The possibilities are endless, not just in utilities, but in every industry! Some of my classmates have gone to work at Apple, Tesla, the government, and some have even started their own company!
When did you realize you wanted to work in STEM?
I first realized I wanted to work in STEM when I was in high school. I initially did not want to do engineering, but physics and astronomy. I entered into engineering after high school at the school closest to me. Part of my first year was taking different engineering courses to expose myself to the different disciplines offered. When I took a circuits course, I loved it. Circuits are like little puzzles that you have to work through to find the final answer, and that’s what I loved most about it. I chose electrical engineering because I wanted to continue to solve puzzles, but on a much larger scale and in a way that could help society.
What were your favorite subjects in school?
My favourite subjects in high school were math and physics. In university, my favourite subjects were power systems, renewable energy systems, and critical thinking.
What advice would you give girls, who are still in school, who might be considering a career like yours?
My advice to girls who are in school and considering a career in STEM would be to get out, meet people in industry, and participate in any summer camps, mentoring programs, and school activities. This will expose you to what the industry is, what people do and work on, and you’ll get to build some cool stuff, as well as make new friends!
Why do we need more women in skilled trades and STEM?
We need more women in STEM and skilled trades because it’s been scientifically proven that having diversity in ideas, mindsets, and ways of thinking leads to better success within companies, teams, and individuals. Women in STEM and skilled trades provide a different perspective and can offer innovative solutions to problems not previously considered. More women in STEM and skilled trades also shows younger women that it is an industry they can pursue and be successful in by providing mentors in the fields.
Who was your role model? What about this person inspires you?
There are a number of people who inspire me for a number of different reasons. My high school chemistry teacher was a role model for his unwavering kindness, caring nature, and caring more about a student’s wellbeing than their grades. My high school physics teach was a role model because he had the courage to give up a successful job to pursue a career he loved in teaching. Finally, I am inspired by Mary Jackson, an American mathematician and aerospace engineer with NASA, and became NASA’s first African-American female engineer. She never let anything get in her way, and her dedication to her profession is something I very much admire.
What do you do for fun? What are some of your hobbies/activities?
In my free time, I enjoy playing piano, drawing, and swimming.
What superhero do you relate to most? Why?
The superhero I relate to the most is Mr. Fantastic. He’s a bright academic and dedicated to his profession, while also being empathetic and takes care of those around him. Although he can be too dedicated to his work at times and forget those around him, he never stops loving them.
Anything else you wish to share?
I highly recommend young women watch the movie Hidden Figures. This movie was a great source of inspiration for me, and allowed me to be confident in school, in my profession, and in my life.
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