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Students get the inside scoop on energy, utility jobs

October 25, 2022 | Grant Schulte | community, OPPD employees, outreach
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Westview High School students use hand cranks to light up a circuit board during OPPD’s annual Careers in Energy event. The students tested the circuits while working on a lesson with Michal Lisowyj, right, an OPPD senior alternative energy specialist. Photo by Grant Schulte

One classroom had pedal-powered light bulbs. Upstairs, students ran their hands over a solar panel, lit up a circuit board with hand cranks, and made homegrown water filters out of rocks, sand, pantyhose and cat litter.

There was no shortage of hands-on lessons for the roughly 100 high school students who participated in OPPD’s annual Careers in Energy event, an effort to entice students into careers in energy and utilities. OPPD and the Metropolitan Utilities District joined forces for the event, geared toward freshmen and sophomores at Omaha’s Westview High School.

“It was pretty cool,” said Collin Krahling, a 14-year-old freshman.

Different paths to careers

The hands-on stuff was only part of the experience. In each class, employees from OPPD and M.U.D. shared how they landed in their jobs and the sometimes unlikely paths that led them to careers in utilities.

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Jordan Teel, a 15-year-old sophomore, uses pedals to turn on a light during a presentation hosted by engineers including John Kelly, an OPPD senior account executive, right. Photo by Grant Schulte

Michal Lisowyj, a senior alternative energy specialist at OPPD, told students about graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a biochemistry degree and starting a research job at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Then came a new, interesting opportunity at OPPD’s Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Station. That job eventually led him back to school for a master’s degree in engineering before he took his current job.

“I had no idea I’d be standing up here one day talking to you guys about alternative energy,” Lisowyj said. “Whatever you think you want to do right now, it’ll probably change depending on your situation over the next few years. But this is a fun career. OPPD is great. I love energy and being at the forefront of new technology.”

Nontraditional routes

Cory Rosenblad, a senior engineer at OPPD, recounted his blue-collar childhood in western Nebraska and his early working years in a machine welding shop. That experience, and a strong interest in math and science, eventually guided him toward a career in engineering.

“Don’t be afraid to do a nontraditional route, a trade school or a community college up front,” Rosenblad said. “In my case, it was pretty beneficial.”

Presenters also noted the benefits of energy, utility and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) jobs, which tend to be high-paying and stable. In one classroom, students learned about how OPPD uses data to improve safety on the job and assess feedback from customers.

“We want you guys to come work in energy,” said Tony Damme, information management team leader for OPPD. “If you like data, if you like numbers, there are a lot of opportunities out there.”

Education is ‘incredibly important’

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Javier Fernandez, OPPD’s president and CEO, encouraged Westview High School students to study in STEM fields. “You’re learning how to learn,” Fernandez told the students. “When we hire people, we want those who know how to learn.” Photo by Grant Schulte

OPPD President and CEO Javier Fernandez addressed the students at the close of the event, encouraging them to study in STEM fields and consider the many different jobs available at the utility.

“The work that you do here in high school, the grades you’re getting, are going to be incredibly important to your future,” Fernandez said. “You’re learning how to learn. When we hire people, we want those who know how to learn.”

He said the students could very well become part of OPPD’s and M.U.D.’s  workforces.

OPPD’s Human Capital department has hosted Careers in Energy events for eight years. Typically, OPPD invites students to its Elkhorn Service Center. The event turned virtual in 2020 due to the pandemic. This year’s gathering was the first to be held at the students’ school.

Working in sustainability

Westview High School opened in August and offers various college and career pathways for students, including one in sustainability with focuses on clean energy, civil engineering and environmental studies. OPPD, M.U.D. and Southeast Community College partnered with the school because those areas align with the energy industry.

About 25 of the participating students were sophomores who have already chosen sustainability as their career pathway, while the remaining 75 were freshman who have to choose a pathway in December. The presentations exposed them to the energy industry and the many different careers it offers.

OPPD’s presenters were Rosenblad, Damme, Lisowyj, John Kelly, Ajay Devulapalli, Kyle Maynard, Paul Tranisi and Nate Horrell. Bonnie Savine and Dennis Rinkol presented on behalf of M.U.D., and Shane Klinginsmith represented Southeast Community College. The event was organized by Eric BenSalah, Jaron Cannon, Joyce Cooper, Kara Lenart and Jamie Wagner from OPPD, and Ann Boesen of M.U.D.


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About Grant Schulte

Grant Schulte joined OPPD as a content generalist in 2022. He is a former reporter for The Associated Press, where he covered the Nebraska Legislature, state politics and other news for a global audience. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa and a proud Hawkeye. In his free time he enjoys running, reading, spending time with his wife, and all things aviation.

View all posts by Grant Schulte >

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