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TVA’s Stephen Craven Named Federal Engineer of the Year

At an awards ceremony in Washington D.C. last week, TVA’s Stephen Craven was named the Federal Engineer of the Year.

Ten finalists were up for the honor, with TVA's Ike Zeringue Engineer of the Year winner being chosen. This is the first time TVA has had a Federal Engineer of the Year since 1982.

“I am truly humbled by this honor,” said Craven. “I want to share this recognition with the excellent TVA engineers I work with daily, united in our desire to provide reliable, low-cost power to the people of the Valley.”  

Stephen Craven at award ceremony in Washington D.C

In 2018, TVA began the installation of an additional 2,700 miles of new fiber optic cable throughout the Valley, offering unused – or dark – fiber to our local power companies to help them keep their communications up to date. Everything seemed to be running smoothly.

“Or was it?” asked Craven, who was responsible for substation communication for TVA’s Transmission and Power Supply. Looking at the fiber and all that it does, Craven had a good idea: Make TVA’s connection to it faster, safer, and more private.

“The original fiber equipment we used was created for the telephone company,” he said. “(The Synchronous Optical Network, commonly referred to as SONET equipment) was perfect for our needs because our critical circuits controlling the power grid were separated from less trusted ones.”

The SONET system that ran transmission communications reached the end of its lifespan in 2020. While able to carry more traffic, the packet-based equipment that replaced SONET does not provide the same circuit isolation and ability to handle fiber breaks.

Craven took advantage of the technology switchover, developing an architecture for the new packet-based equipment that could withstand cyber and physical attacks.

“I realized there was a way to do things better,” he said.

His design delivered the most critical messages over long transmission lines within six milliseconds while instantaneously flipping over to a backup path should the fiber ever break.

“This new system will be robust,” Craven said. “The Grid of Tomorrow demands that our transmission is safe, secure, and resilient.”

For his development of this secure communication architecture, Craven has been awarded the Ike Zeringue Engineer-of-the-Year Award – TVA’s highest distinction – for 2023. The award is named for O.J. “Ike” Zeringue, an engineer who, during his career, served TVA as president, chief operating officer, and chief nuclear officer.

This inventiveness comes naturally to Craven as he is a third-generation TVA employee. His grandfather and father both served as engineers for the company.

As a youth, Craven planned to break the family mold and do something different – and he ultimately did.

With a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, a master’s degree from Georgia Tech, and a Ph.D. from Virginia Tech, Craven worked as a computer chip designer, security researcher, and professor at UTC before he came to TVA in 2013.

“My father and grandfather enjoyed working at TVA and were happy in their careers,” he said, chuckling about the winding path that brought him to where he feels he most belongs.

“I love it here at TVA,” Craven said. “That’s because I know I’m helping people, which gives me motivation to always put my best foot forward.”

The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), comprised of licensed professional engineers from all disciplines, promotes the ethical and competent practice of engineering, advocates licensure, and enhances the image and well-being of its members. Founded in 1934, NSPE serves more than 35,000 members and the public through 53 state and territorial societies and just over 400 chapters.

The Federal Engineer of the Year award is the only one of its kind to solely recognize outstanding engineers employed by the federal government.

The nominated engineers from various federal agencies, departments, and military branches, are evaluated based on factors such as engineering achievements, education, professional and technical society activities, awards and honors, and civic and humanitarian activities.

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