For Women’s History Month, we’re shining a spotlight on some of the incredible women at OPPD who have paved the way for future generations. From overcoming adversity to breaking stereotypes, these women have broken barriers and impacted their fields and our community.
Shonda McCain is the first female principal engineer at OPPD, but this isn’t the first time she’s worked in a male dominated field.
“When I first started after high school, I joined the military in the communications field and I worked my way up,” she said.
Though she excelled in her area, she says she struggled to belong. “I felt like I had to prove myself wherever I went.”
After four years in the military, McCain took her experience and went to college to learn about networks on the power grid. That’s where she heard about OPPD’s co-op program in substation engineering, and got the job.
That started her almost 12-year career with the district where she’s served as an engineer and excelled at finding efficiencies that made work easier for those in the field. “It was pretty complex, but it brought cost-savings to the company and a lot of gratitude from the technicians and electricians,” said McCain.
She took her passion for processes, efficiencies, and compliance one step further, by joining the NERC Compliance team in 2019, where she now serves as principal engineer.
“What kept me going? Perseverance. I am a pretty strong person,” said McCain. “Just knowing if you keep going and keep your head up, good things will happen.”
Rose McKelvey’s career has taken her around the world, from her hometown in the Philippines to the United States with many stops in between. Through her journey, she’s embraced the detours and lived life with an adventurous spirit.
“I just couldn’t imagine staying in my hometown and not enjoying the world around me,” said McKelvey, a supplier relationship specialist at OPPD.
Rose dreamed of being an architect growing up – but life had other plans. “We were poor, we were very poor,” she said. “I’m the oldest of nine children, so imagine the burden my parents had. So, education was a collective effort and really a family event.”
After college, McKelvey’s first job was at her hometown utility company, Albay Electric Cooperative.
“I’ve gone full circle now,” said McKelvey, who has worked for eight years at OPPD in Supply Chain Management.
After her time with Albay Electric Cooperative, Rose moved to another part of the Philippines teaching English to refugees. “Working as an ESL teacher helping Indochinese refugees opened my eyes to different journeys each one of us had to take or chose to take,” she said. “They gave me courage.”
From there McKelvey studied to become a certified paralegal, eventually moving to Abu Dhabi, where she worked for various global law firms for 11 years.
McKelvey has learned many lessons from her journey, and there is one she would encourage others to heed:
“Travel whenever you can. Just travel. Take that risk. Take that chance. Try new food and go somewhere you’ve never been.”
If you’ve had the opportunity to meet Jen Iwanski, you know she’s someone who remembers names, reaches out and introduces herself. But it might surprise you to learn that Jen doesn’t see herself as social.
“It’s not my comfort zone,” she said. “But I’ve always tried to step outside of my comfort zone.”
Iwanski, a supervisor for customer operations technology, isn’t afraid to try something new. “My background is in accounting, so definitely different than where I’m at now,” she said.
She started her 14 year career at OPPD as an accounting clerk. The role gave her an opportunity to learn about systems and processes, and it’s where she found her passion.
Julie Comstock, a former OPPD vice president, inspired Iwanski to follow her passion.
“Juli Comstock had a very similar background to me, and she’s the one who encouraged me that this is the right path,” said Jen.
This led Jen to a system analyst role, which is the team she currently leads. At the time she became a supervisor, she was also experiencing another first – becoming a mother.
“Looking back, it made me a much better leader. Had I not had a daughter, I wouldn’t have been able to relate to women with children,” Iwanski said. “I definitely think the life event of having my daughter really helped me as a woman in the workplace.”
She was also able to find inspiration and encouragement from the female leaders surrounding her. “At OPPD in the Customer Service business unit, I’ve had so many strong female leaders” who were all great role models, she said.
And she has continued this tradition of reaching out a helping hand to inspire others.
“Pushing yourself outside your comfort zone or pushing others outside their comfort zones in a safe space, I think that’s one way to help women build confidence to do things that they didn’t think they could do themselves.”
Amy Hansen describes herself as a hard worker, something she got from her mother.
“My mom has an extremely high work ethic, and she still does,” said Hansen, a principal regulatory specialist at OPPD. “She’s been a really good role model to women who work.”
This is something Hansen wants to pass down to her kids.
“I want them to find something they love doing. Something that makes them happy. Something that makes them fulfilled,” she said.
Finding fulfillment for Hansen has been a journey that began after college when she started a career in the legal field as a court reporter.
But as her family grew and her work hours and commute got longer, she took a look at her priorities. “I would drive past Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station and think, if I worked there, my commute would be five minutes and I’d be home for my kids,” Hansen said.
So when an administrative position opened at Fort Calhoun Station, she began her 25 year career at OPPD, and worked her way to site operating experience coordinator.
“That gave me a ton of great opportunities around the industry,” she said. “I traveled around the United States. I got to go to Switzerland, Slovakia. It was pretty cool.”
She was one of the only women in this role at OPPD and around the world. “In Switzerland I was the only female on a team of 20 and they came from 20 different countries,” she said.
But it wasn’t always easy working in a male dominated field. “The nuclear industry is tough,” she said. “You had to work super hard to show your creditability, show you could do pretty much anything.”
While growing her career, family was still Hansen’s top priority.
“My mom was always involved in our lives as a room mother and I wanted to do the same thing,” she said. “Working out of the plant gave me that opportunity.”
As retirement gets closer, Hansen said she has found other passions in her life, including real estate and serving on area boards.
“I looked back to see what defined success for me, and at first it was money, stature and title,” she said. “I needed to find something where I felt fulfilled and had passion and happiness.”
Lisa Olson describes her career as happening organically.
“Every day is an interview. What you do every day, the next opportunity will come and the next opportunity will come,” she said. “Show where you can make a difference and it will be hard for people to say no.”
Olson had a summer job at OPPD while she was in college.
Years later, when an opening came up at OPPD for the division manager of Corporate Marketing and Communications, Olson was ready for a career change.
“I just wanted to come home,” she said.
Olson started at OPPD right before the severe flooding in 2011, which impacted OPPD facilities.
“I probably wouldn’t have done it any other way,” she said. “People rally at OPPD, and the passion just flows out. I got to see how the team really comes together across the district.”
Olson now serves as the vice president of Public Affairs, where her teams touch every part of OPPD and the communities the utility serves.
“It’s a special place and I love every moment of it,” she said.
And as someone who takes opportunities as they come and says “yes” to life, Olson has some advice for others trying to develop in their career:
“Be authentic, be yourself and be open to new opportunities.”
develop in their career: “Be authentic, be yourself and be open to new opportunities.”
Subscribe and receive updates on the latest news and postings!