The Basin Electric ad campaign “Be the light” shows how Basin Electric and its member cooperatives can be the light in communities and homes like only a cooperative can.
You will see this story in an upcoming Prairie Business magazine. Here is your sneak peek.
“People don’t realize everyone is a scientist,” says Amanda Wangler, Basin Electric project manager III. “Science isn’t just sitting in a classroom with a textbook. It’s everywhere, it’s around us, it’s what we live every day.”
Wangler uses science when her team is determining the best foundation for a wind turbine, or the most effective system to set a transmission pole. Science and math are what she needed to focus on in school to become an electrical engineer.
And science is what Wangler is using to spark interest in kids, through her work on Gateway to Science’s board of directors.
“One of our board members is a pharmacist, which is all science. Everybody who works at the zoo is basically a scientist,” she says. “It’s so important for people to be open minded and want to learn and teach their kids that science and math are fun.”
Wangler is Basin Electric’s project manager for the AVS-to-Neset transmission line construction project in western North Dakota. The 200-mile long high-voltage transmission line began construction in 2014. The North Killdeer Loop, a second line being built to help strengthen the transmission grid, began construction in 2015.
The transmission lines are needed to bring electricity to western North Dakota and eastern Montana, especially since the oil boom activity, and even though it has since slowed down.
A transmission line of this size is not the kind of project every engineer will get to tackle in his or her career, but Wangler’s experiences to now have prepared her in unique ways.
She did an internship with the city in her hometown of Worthington, MN, when she was in high school. “I tested gravel in the basement of city hall, and took concrete cylinders. I physically did a lot of the work that we now hire contractors to do,” she says.
Wangler’s dad is a civil engineer and helped her learn how stuff works. They’d play “Oregon Trail” on the home computer, and she’d want to know how the computer worked. She remembers being fascinated with sending her first email, and pulling apart her laptop in college when it wasn’t working.
She received her degree from North Dakota State University in electrical engineering, working for a consulting company before moving to Basin Electric. Wangler’s first projects at Basin Electric focused on microwave towers at electrical substations. In addition to working full-time, she was able to earn her Master of Business Administration degree at University of Mary in Bismarck through Basin Electric’s education reimbursement program.
Soon, though, Basin Electric decided to build wind projects of its own, and Wangler was named project engineer. “When we built the PrairieWinds 1 project near Minot, ND, it was the largest project to be owned solely by a cooperative in the United States,” she says. “Just to have the experience of knowing what can possibly go wrong on one project helps you to know what could go wrong and will probably go wrong on the next project. So, you can be a little more proactive with looking into issues that come up, get everybody coordinated, and move forward.”
To date, the AVS-to-Neset transmission line project is on schedule and under budget, an impressive feat considering North Dakota’s extreme weather and diverse landscape. Watch Wangler talk about the project in a video produced for Basin Electric’s 2016 Annual Meeting.
“One thing I think about a lot is maintaining my integrity as a person. I can get really busy and bogged down, and the phone rings all the time, but I really try to focus on, if I tell somebody I’m going to call them back, I call them back,” Wangler says. “I try to put people first. I understand that no matter how strong you are, you can’t get anything done without a strong team of people. Whether it’s a big project or a small one, it’s important to understand that everyone’s job is equally as important as everyone else’s.”
Wangler came to her career in engineering in a way that’s not as rare as she’d hope. During a course on careers in high school, her teacher assigned the final paper of the semester to focus on a career of interest. Wangler chose engineering. “The counselor gave me a ‘C’ and told me, ‘You have to be smart to be an engineer,’” she says. “I think he probably understood me more than I give him credit for, because when people tell me I can’t do something, that makes me want to do it even more.”
Wangler remembers that story often as she does outreach work through Gateway to Science. “One or two people in your life can have such a big influence. … I’ve done some outreach in the middle schools in town, just trying to get kids interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) but kind of focusing on the girls,” she says. “I show them photos of when I got to go to Italy and South Korea for my job. I try to be a positive role model to work against some of the negative experiences we can have that are so forming when we’re younger.”
She says when she walked into her first engineering class in college, there were 100 men and five or six women. “It’s intimidating to be the only girl,” Wangler says. “I know so many successful women engineers and women in science, and it’s their passion and they love what they do. If they would have had those negative influences at the start of their life instead of the more positive ones, they might have chosen a different path.”
Waiting to get girls interested in the STEM careers until college is too late, Wangler says. “We need to target them in elementary school. By the time these girls get to middle school, they’ve fallen into gender norms. They might think they’re not good at math or science and that’s not where they should be, because that’s not where their friends are,” she says. “They’ve made that decision by fourth or fifth grade.”
Wangler wants to provide the positive experiences girls can look up to. “My goal isn’t that 100 percent of girls need to take math and science, but rather for 100 percent of girls to realize it is an option for them, and it might be a really good option,” she says.