Being an Engineer for Service
Today’s guest post comes from Jasmine DK Shepard, an AmeriCorps Alum who’ll be joining us as a panelist for our November 27, 2012 webinar on the Best New Jobs Suited for AmeriCorps Alums. Read her service story from her 1st AmeriCorps term here.
After a year of running nerdy hustles, I found myself again looking at AmeriCorps. This time ClimateCorps Bay Area placed members throughout the Bay Area at government agencies and non-profits on projects that make measurable reductions green house gas emissions.
My first year of AmeriCorps was quite local; Oakland VISTA, Oakland non-profit, Oakland residents and students, the epitomy of “so Oaklandish.” During my second year I travelled from San Jose to Santa Rosa in the most challenging position I’ve had in my life. Volunteer and Training Associate (VTA) and GRID Alternatives Bay Area.
GRID Alternatives is a non-profit solar contractor that installs photovoltaic systems exclusively for low-income homeowners with the help of job trainees and volunteers. So basically GRID installs solar and the volunteers actually install the systems! They were founded by 2 engineers (seeing a theme here?), Tim Sears and Erica Mackie, during the California Energy Crisis. GRID started small in just the Bay Area and this year they’re slated to complete 1000 systems statewide throughout the 7 regional offices. Also they’re getting ready to install in Colorado this fall.
As VTA of the flagship office I managed over 3000 volunteers throughout the Bay Area, training 650 new volunteers during year. I assigned volunteers crews to over 80 complete installs and worked with local job training groups. For many of them, as one volunteer said “You were one of the first faces I saw as I entered the world renewable energy.” It was a bit overwhelming at first. I learned a lot about my leadership style and that I seem to have a knack for project coordination. It made me more interested in seeking out project management positions in engineering and construction.
Working with the volunteers was the best part of the job. Having volunteers from such diverse backgrounds from homeless veterans to Engineering Ph. D’s. I love the volunteers, some of the nicest and hard-working people I have met. I would go on an install once a month or so to work alongside the volunteers. Whenever I would go to a class at the Pacific Energy Center I was sure to see a couple, with so many of them, I ended up seeing them everywhere, the grocer, baseball games, even when I travelled outside the Bay to Sacramento for a Home Performance Conference. They would come up to me and smile and talk to me as if I could remember each of them by name, but it was rewarding to know that they felt like they could. Many of them were transitioning careers, under or unemployed, sometimes they just needed to vent, something I could understand. I was glad to make their volunteer experience enjoyable.
In the office I mainly worked alongside the managers who were always willing to answer my questions. With Development I learned valuable skills on the etiquette of business even in the laid back world of solar. The Construction department I was always “cornering” them whenever they were in the office asking about Team Leaders, constantly asking the project manager questions about system designs and “where’s the permit, where’s the permit”, as it was my job to compile the install packet, with all documents necessary at the install. Sometimes it was tough, I managed the rain-line during the rainy season and waking up at 6:30am to talk with construction on whether an install was going to happen was a bit tough, but being able to set my office line to the recorded message “Install is on or cancelled” as the case may be and go back to sleep made it bearable!
Having an engineering degree definitely came in handy in this job. A natural inclination for schematics, when volunteers would ask questions about pros and cons of microinverters vs string inverters, energy efficiency and its effect on system size, not to mention quite of few of the Bay Area volunteers were engineers themselves. It helped me relate to them and their interests to get up on a roof and install. During my time at GRID I participated in over 10 installs and I learned a lot about Solar installation, while I won’t be seeking out installer positions I really have a solid understanding of the process and parts of a residential install.
As a GRID and ClimateCorps member I got tons of training, Climate Corps had monthly trainings where the members would meet at one another sites. We were required for 20% of our 1700 hours to be training. GRID was helpful as they paid for my training to be a BPI Building Analyst (energy auditor) and even for my EIT study book!
GRID is more than a fantastic non-profit, they’re a leader in residential solar in the Bay Area. It was the first time that I’d ever worked at a company that everyone knew from the name. Having GRID on my resume definitely was key in me securing my temp gig at Solar City where I work in asset management while I continue my job search.
To learn more about how Jasmine has applied her service towards her career as an engineer, register for our November 27, 2012 webinar on the Best New Jobs Suited for AmeriCorps Alums.