Mechanical Maintenance Foreman | Watts Bar Nuclear Plant | Chattanooga, Tenn.
I’m a strong believer in the power of a smile, and the difference and a supportive person can make.
When Bill McElvain joined TVA, he had all the usual questions and uncertainties that come with taking a new job. He was in a new place among people he didn’t know. But he soon found a network of support that helped him adjust and thrive in his role as journeyman machinist at TVA's Watts Bar Nuclear Plant.
“I was apprehensive at first,” McElvain recalls. “I didn’t know anyone at Watts Bar, and I had a lot to learn. But I met someone in the African-American Equality Congress [one of TVA’s first employee resource groups] soon after I got hired. They reached out to me to offer support in getting me acclimated to my surroundings. It made a big difference in my success.”
That was 14 years ago. Now McElvain is a mechanical maintenance foreman at the plant and acting head foreman for the start-up of Watts Bar Unit 2. And he's right at home in his job. “This is one of the more challenging roles I’ve had at TVA,” McElvain says. “But I enjoy it.”
McElvain is comfortable in his role as a leader at work; he's a leader in the employee resources group—now called African-American Voices—too. Today, he serves as the group’s valley-wide champion.
“I want other employees to have the same positive experience that I had when I joined TVA,” McElvain says. “But, more than that, I believe in what our employee resource groups are trying to do. The idea is to bring people from diverse backgrounds together to create a culture of inclusion at TVA.”
McElvain likens employee resource groups—and the African-American Voices group in particular—to a choir.
“You have a lot of people from different backgrounds coming together to make harmony,” he says, “and that is a powerful thing.”
Creating harmony is a theme that seems to run throughout this one-time choir director's work and personal life.
On the job, it's key. “In Nuclear, it’s making sure we are all focused on the goal of providing safe, reliable energy to the public,” he explains. “As a foreman, my most important job is making sure everyone on my crew understands the job at hand—what needs to be done and how to do it safely. The better my crew works together, the better things go. We’ve got to support each other.”
As much as he loves his job, home and family life is even more important. McElvain met his wife, Antoinette, in high school. “It was love at first sight,” he says. “But I went off to the military right after I graduated and was gone for three years. Fortunately, she waited for me.” They’ve been married 26 years now and have three grown children and two granddaughters.
“Our church is important to us,” McElvain says. “Antoinette and I work with the kids in our church, and we lead our church’s marriage ministry.”
The McElvains have harmony to spare.
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