Exelon PowerLabs

Dana Al-Qadi, Engineer, AECOM, Inc., Chicago, IL

IEEE PES Women in Power (WiP) always inspires the career advancement, networking and education of women in the power and energy industry. IEEE PES WiP is impacting the lives of young engineers throughout the world. This time I am pleased to introduce Dr. Dana Al-Qadi, who is one of the winners of the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) Young Professional of the Year (2016). She shares her experiences about WiP and her success story:

“I took my first engineering class when I was five years old…kind of. My father taught an evening engineering course at Virginia Tech and I would beg him to take me along. I would sit in the back of the classroom, my feet dangling from my chair – still too short to reach the ground – and watch in awe as my father and his students worked through line after line of mathematics on the blackboard. It all felt so interestingly complex and inspired my lifelong commitment to the STEM fields.

Later, I would enroll at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a microbiology major, with my heart set on pursuing medicine. However, an undergraduate research opportunity with the National Science Foundation’s Center of Advanced Materials for Purification of Water with Systems (WaterCAMPWS) quickly changed my mind. My research focused on developing water purification technologies and I appreciated the simultaneous technical intricacies and social impact found in the field of drinking water treatment enough to change my declared major to civil and environmental engineering. I continued my research with WaterCAMPWS for all four years of my undergraduate career.

My first project was an analysis of pathogens in the drinking water of the Gaza Strip – a topic I found especially relevant on a personal level. As the first-generation daughter of Palestinian immigrants, I was all too familiar with the poor water quality and resulting health impacts Palestinians faced as the result of the ongoing Israeli occupation. I also researched the effect of silver nitrate, solar radiation, and a combination of the two in a technology I termed “SOLVER” to inactivate the bacteriophage MS2, an RNA virus that infects E.Coli and is used in research purposes as it exhibits similar structure to human pathogens such as poliovirus.

When my research advisor offered me a research assistantship to pursue a graduate degree in Environmental Engineering, I did not hesitate. My master’s thesis focused on the inactivation of Coxsackievirus B5 (a waterborne pathogen that causes hand, foot, mouth disease) with monochloramine and solar disinfection. Monochloramine is a disinfectant with critical implications on water treatment in both developing and developed nations.

During this time, I conducted a site visit to a Kenyan village in the Bondo district along Lake Victoria where I analyzed water samples from a number of water sources. During the day, my team and I would trek around the village interviewing residents about their knowledge of safe water use and impressions of effective water treatment. We visited ponds where we saw people washing cars in the same water as mothers bathed their children, schools where swarms of children came out to play with us,and hospitals where the state of the stained and torn single maternity bed left me in tears. At night, we would sit in our makeshift lab at the hotel and analyze our samples to identify what water contamination issues were most pressing. The data was ultimately integrated into a Phase I water treatment scheme that was proposed to the community.

After graduation, I accepted a position at the global design firm, AECOM as an environmental engineer. I quickly saw my work focus shift from global to local and began working on water treatment plant design and distribution systems for municipal clients. Within a couple of years, I had transitioned from working solely on water projects to working at the nexus of water and energy- an area of emerging importance and focus. As a part of an interdisciplinary team, I have had access to numerous exciting and innovative projects focusing on sensor deployment, smart cities, low carbon efforts, and urban resilience. Most importantly, I have been able to connect this work to improved livability and connection for residents and vulnerable populations.

I worked with the Natural Resources Defense Council on a whitepaper focused on increasing financial support for green infrastructure by levering emerging financing trends and best practices. I also worked with the City of Decatur on their Capacity, Management, Operation, and Maintenance (CMOM) analysis in order to ensure their compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) consent order. In a partnership with UI Labs, I conducted the engineering feedback analysis on their Smart Green Infrastructure Monitoring pilot work to demonstrate the impact of real-time monitoring of green infrastructure sites using in-situ sensors as well as the impact of sharing such data with community members. As a strategy partner for the City of Chicago, I worked with the City on their Resilience Strategy, as part of their inclusion in the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative, in efforts to improve Chicago’s ability to respond to shocks and stresses that undermine its functionality as a city. I have also worked with Boston’s Development Authority to develop their Smart Utilities Vision in order to develop standards for engineering and policy recommendations for innovations in utility infrastructure for enhanced social equity, resource efficiency, resilience, and community impact. I am currently working with ComEd on a number of smart city initiatives that redefine the role of electric utilities, including developing a set of resilience metrics for a microgrid that address both infrastructure and community.

As a result of these opportunities, the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) recognized me as a Young Professional of the Year in 2016. Most recently, I completed my doctoral degree at the George Washington University in Engineering Management. My dissertation focused on expanding the stakeholder requirements for urban water system resilience. I examined the impact of expanding the urban water system requirements elicitation process to include community stakeholders early in the decision-making process on urban resilience decision-making and engineering accountability. To do so, I developed the PIE (Participatory Implementable Engineering) Index and PIE Matrix to quantify the stakeholder engagement process for urban resilience systems and allow for a quantitative correlation between engagement processes and resilience outcomes of water systems.

The entirety of my path – from school to career – has been lined with mentors that have influenced me in ways I could never have imagined. I can personally attest to the power of professional mentorship and strongly believe in cultivating both exposure and passion for STEM in our youth to advance our profession and develop the next generation workforce. Outside of work, I am active in two mentoring programs; ACE and Project Pipeline. Both programs provide mentorship to young students from underrepresented populations in the architecture, engineering, and construction professions. Working with youth is a passion of mine and seeing them inspired by these fields allows me to see my own work with renewed eyes of gratitude and excitement. My favorite moment was watching our 2017 team win their national competition in Washington D.C. for their project that proposed converting the old Chicago post office building into a Chicago cultural center.

I learned about PES Women in Power (WiP) after working with some of its active members in Chicago. They are women who inspire through their innovative minds, hard work ethic, and commitment to tireless learning. This network is an incredible asset for young professionals, such as myself, aspiring to grow in the energy industry.

Being an engineer is a great scientific adventure, but it is also a great human adventure. I am grateful to be in a field where I can create a world that has never been through innovation and technology. I have learned that a career in energy is only as strong as the science we develop, the networks we build, and the youth we inspire. I have surely come a long way since those days in the back of my father’s classroom. Even though now my feet reach the ground, I still find this work to be interestingly complex and a driving force behind my passion for STEM fields.”   

Sainab Ninalowo