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Humans of IEEE PES – Mazana Armstrong, Vice President Chapters

Humans of IEEE PES refers to a dedicated PES volunteer who is well known for his/her notable contribution to IEEE PES. In this issue of IEEE PES Enews, Dr. Mazana Armstrong, Vice President Chapters, IEEE PES is selected as the Humans of IEEE PES. We are very pleased to include an exclusive interview of Dr. Mazana Armstrong.

Dr. Mazana Armstrong, Vice President Chapters, IEEE PES

Dr. Mazana Armstrong
Vice President Chapters, IEEE PES

PES Enews: Please provide a brief introduction about yourself (your current affiliation-professional and IEEE, your grew up, childhood, school, college, university)

Mazana: Thank you for this opportunity to share my story with our IEEE PES community. I have been living in Canada for the past 20 years, but I am originally from Croatia. I consider myself to have two home countries, two equally beautiful places to live. I went to a technical high school in Zagreb, Croatia, and continued on to study at the University of Zagreb, Faculty of Electrical and Engineering and Computing, with a focus on Power Systems. This is where I obtained my Bachelors of Applied Science (Diplomirani Inzenjer) degree. I worked for a brief period of time for the Croatian electric power utility HEP, and then did research at the Energy Institute Hrvoje Pozar. I really enjoyed my work, however I also wanted to complete graduate studies, so when an opportunity to study at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada came up, I took it and I moved to Canada. This is where I completed my Master and Doctor of Philosophy degrees, both with emphasis on power systems transients, which is the area UBC is well known for. I had a privilege to work with many brilliant engineers during my graduate studies, such as my supervisor Prof. Jose R. Marti, as well as Prof. Herman Dommel and late Dr. Prabha Kundur. There are many more wonderful people that helped shaped me into an engineer I am today, and I am very thankful to all of them for being a big part of my career and my life. I consider them all as my mentors, but also as my good friends.

After graduation from UBC I worked for Powertech Labs, and then spent 12 years working at BC Hydro as a Specialist Engineer in Engineering. I recently took on a role of a Senior Manager of the High Power and High Current Labs with Powertech Labs. I have had a 20 year long volunteer career with IEEE and IEEE PES, where I have gone through the ranks of a chapter chair, IEEE section officer roles, and in the last 10 or so years I have been volunteering with IEEE PES, currently in the role of a Vice-President for Chapters.

PES Enews: Women participation in engineering program is relatively low in most of the countries. Tell us your motivation behind selecting engineering education.

Mazana: My single biggest reason for going into engineering is my parents. They are both mechanical engineers, and my sister and my brother are both engineers as well. So my path was likely predetermined in some way. Coming out of high school my second career choice was journalism. To this day I believe I would have been equally successful as a journalist, however that career path would have never taken me to Canada and where I am today in my professional life, including my involvement with IEEE PES.

Studying engineering in Croatia was quite different from what I experienced in Canada, there were quite a few female students in Engineering. Also there was a relatively high percentage of female engineers working in industry. That was very normal, so I never gave it a second thought. But once I moved to Canada I noticed the difference. Young women here are less likely to consider engineering as their career path.

PES Enews: When and why did you decide to start your career in the areas of power and energy? What made you motivated for selecting this option?

Mazana: In high school I knew I wanted to study electrical engineering because I was exposed to many electrical engineering courses and some very influential teachers. However when it was time to make a decision on what to specialize in my undergraduate studies, I followed by passion for electric machines. Once in the power system program I discovered that there was so much more to power systems than I initially thought, and I am still amazed by how much there is to learn. I am still learning new things every day, and that is what I truly enjoy about the area of power and energy. There are endless opportunities to grow professionally and continue advancing your knowledge.

PES Enews: We want to know about your early professional career, challenges, turning points, ups and downs, change in professions any interesting incident (if any).

Mazana: Early on in my career I knew I wanted to be challenged and work on solving complex problems, and research was a way for me to fulfill that desire. However my early exposure to working for a utility also gave me a great perspective on the challenges faced by utilities in charge of designing, operating and maintaining power systems. This early love for working on day to day problems faced by utilities made it very clear to me that my career path would be with utilities and industry, and not in academia. In a couple of instances my amazing career and life mentors tried to stir me towards applying for jobs in academia. It became very clear to me that was not my passion. Occasionally I hear comments from my academic colleagues that I am wasting my talents working for a utility. I firmly disagree that utilities do not need engineers skilled in research, I believe just the opposite is true. I do believe that some utility leaders do not see the value of hiring highly skilled workforce and consider engineers with doctorate or master degrees overqualified. I have been fortunate that there was nothing like that preventing me from materializing my dreams while working for a utility. I was able to assemble a strong team of design and research engineers with highest qualifications during my tenure with BC Hydro. As a team we were able to make significant advances in introducing cutting-edge tools and developing new methodologies to solve the most complex problems utilities are facing, with the ultimate goal to make power systems safer, more reliable and resilient in order to provide better service to our customers, and to protect the public and our employees who work on the system.

PES Enews: You are a very promising leader and have earned a good reputation in your job. Being a woman in power, do you feel any difficulty to move forward? What is your advice to young female students regarding selecting their career in the areas of power and energy?

Mazana: Being a female engineer and leader in the power and energy industry, I truly believe that I should not have to face any difficulty to move forward. I have demonstrated to myself that it is possible to forge my own successful career path with hard work and determination. It is also invaluable to have a strong professional network at your fingertips, and I do not see a better place for building your professional network than with IEEE PES. A career in the area of power and energy is extremely rewarding, there is an unlimited number of career paths you could take. Exploring and not being afraid of taking risks is the way to success. However I am not in favour of continuously looking for the “greener grass” somewhere else. Willingness to learn and desire to contribute to your company’s success are the two major characteristics you need to have, and learning and accomplishing takes time, patience and hard work. The time to move on to new challenges is when believe you have achieved your potential in your current position.

PES Enews: What is your overall feeling about the activities of PES local chapters in comparison to other society chapters. To you what is the key behind the success of a chapter?

Mazana: I don’t believe it is necessary to compare PES chapters with other society chapters, or even to compare PES chapters in different Regions, or different areas of the world. Chapters reflect our local membership and the strength of our industry, and like with everything else, there will be success stories and there will be challenges. I have seen some big and active chapters slowly fall asleep, and I have seen dead chapters rise from the ashes like a phoenix. The success of chapters is all about the strong local chapter leadership and succession planning. In both our professional and volunteer worlds our highest priority should be to grow people who will come after us. Bringing new blood to our chapters truly revives them, and that is why we need you to volunteer with your local chapter, or form one where we don’t have any. My favourite saying is “challenges are your opportunities to shine”. So if your local chapter is not doing things that are interesting to you, join us as a volunteer and make your chapter what you want it to be. Make your chapter shine, and be that driving force to take it to the next level. It is fully in your power, and our Chapters organization is here to help that happen!

PES Enews: What are the common problems of student branch chapters? What is the main barrier in retaining the membership of our PES students during the transition from student to professional life? How can we overcome it?

Mazana: Our students often don’t feel connected to the local engineering community, student chapters function within the walls of their schools and universities, and that is a big problem. We need to make an open channel between students and the local professional community (our PES chapters). The flow of information and communication has to be from both directions, and that is the first and most important step. I am delighted that our newly formed Chapters Student Activities Committee led by Thaigo Alencer from Brazil is taking important steps in this direction. Please let myself and Thiago know what you think can improve the transition of IEEE PES Students to Young Professional (maintaining their membership and involvement with PES after graduation).

PES Enews: Do you want to mention anyone that served as a mentor for you or was a source of inspiration?

Mazana: Absolutely! One name that sticks out for me as someone who has encouraged me and helped me grow as a volunteer is my amazing friend and mentor Mrs. Meliha Selak. This interview is definitely not long enough to express my gratitude to Meliha. There are many others like myself who were mentored by this amazing lady, and who left a stamp on our volunteer organization. In my dictionary, Meliha is a true definition of a mentor!

PES Enews: You are now holding a key position in the IEEE PES ExCom (VP Chapters). Tell us about some major initiatives taken by you as VP Chapters.

Mazana: There are several initiatives I am very proud of, for example expanding Chapters organization to include more student volunteers, the newly formed Chapters Student Activities Committee. We are also creating some major changes in tracking the health of our existing PES chapters, so we can send help when it is needed the most by our chapters. We are also making it easier for chapters to send us their annual reports. I am also very passionate about our Distinguished Lecturer Program and we are taking steps to raise the profile of this program and have as many chapters aware of the program and the benefits a PES Distinguished Lecturer can deliver to the local membership. We are also continuing with the initiative of organizing industry focused workshops in chapters in every region across the world, and we have recently formed a subcommittee to assist with this initiative. This is just to name a few. Above all I am proud of our team of volunteers who are all doing this as a second (unpaid) job. Christopher, Nirmal, Felix, Thiago, and our fantastic Regional Representatives and Chapter Representatives, student coordinators, chapter chairs, student volunteers, the list is very long, but no single position more important than another, it is a team effort with all hands on deck!

PES Enews: In the next 30 years, that is by 2050, where do you think IEEE PES will be?

Mazana: I believe that in 30 years we will be around and we will be stronger than ever. We are an organization of volunteers and the future of IEEE PES is in our hands, so everything that we do today matters. The world of tomorrow is where every professional in the power and energy industry is a member of IEEE PES because they see the value of being in our network and having 100+ years of technical knowledge available at a press of a button through standards, publications, educational courses, conferences, workshops, local presentations, etc. I truly believe we can achieve this as an international organization, in all languages and cultures of the world. You are a part of this future, let us build it together!

Interview Coordination
Dr. Shaikh Fattah, Editor, PES Enews Update