Telecom Electrical Engineer | Chattanooga
As a 17-year-old high school student in north Georgia, Kellie Keith had a dream: to be the first in her family to earn a college degree. But like many of her classmates, she was struggling with one basic question: What degree do I want?
“The TVA CADNet program was a godsend,” says Keith, now an electrical engineer in Telecom Planning & Standards. “I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I really liked math and analytical subjects but never thought about engineering.”
I like new challenges; I like to be inspired. My group works to develop cutting-edge technology for TVA. I like that I’m working for a group that’s always looking forward into the future.
Keith started in CADNet, TVA’s engineering-focused school-to-work program that was launched in 1995 and has grown to more than 10,000 students across the Tennessee Valley. (CAD stands for computer-aided design.) In 2008, she began to learn the basics of electrical engineering, working with AutoCAD drawings and learning how to set electrical relays, and spent two years in the System Protection & Analysis group at TVA while attending Chattanooga State Community College.
“Working with engineers every day, seeing what they do, made a big difference to me,” says Keith. “There was a female engineer in the group, and she really liked math and problem-solving. She influenced me to see that engineering was something I wanted to do.”
As her skills and knowledge grew, she landed a TVA internship in Nuclear Operations that taught her valuable engineering skillsets by offering the opportunity to work in an EMI/RFI (electro-magnetic interference and radio frequency interference) laboratory for four years. The lab testing assures safety of electrical operations at TVA nuclear plants.
“We tested radiation monitors, relays, radios and cell phones, and performed lightning protection studies,” she remembers. “Not only did it teach me about electrical engineering, but the knowledge went along with my coursework in school and brought understanding to some very tough subjects.”
Again, Keith points to her mentors as having made all the difference: “The opportunity to have an internship and work with many seasoned mentors who taught me how to be an engineer is invaluable. One of my greatest highlights from my internship was working on the Harris Radio Project, installing a radio system in the nuclear plants that gave me experience in learning about communications.”
Keith saw her dream come true, completing her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at UT Chattanooga in May of 2015. Now she is a TVA employee in Telecommunications and learning new things every day.
Keith works in the group that determines the telecommunication planning, engineering and design for TVA substations and plants in order to monitor and control the TVA power grid.
“It’s so interesting to me to learn how one piece of equipment, such as a clock, works within the substation to keep timing to protect our equipment from failures,” says Keith. “Also, learning how the network keeps substations interconnected within the fiber ring.”
Right now, she is in a rotation position, learning the specifics of various telecommunications equipment through testing at the telecom lab. Over time, the telecommunication equipment becomes outdated and must be upgraded, so the learning never stops.
“It’s a different challenge every day; it’s not a cookie-cutter job at all. Every plant and substation design is different even if they’re using the same type of equipment. We have a telecom planning group that develops our infrastructure for projects, a specialists and standards group that provides leadership to specific issues, an engineering design group, construction, maintenance and emergency response. Right now I’m in the standards and specialists group—we write the standards for how the equipment should be designed and implemented in the field.”
The Next Big Thing
Keith plays hard, too. She’s a lover of the outdoors and an avid mountain biker, and particularly enjoys getting out on TVA’s own trails at the Raccoon Mountain reservation (click here to read more about them). She saves time for family—and hers is large and loving, and gathers often, she says. Needless to say, they are proud.
Now that Keith has achieved her first goals, what’s next?
“I want to see myself in the next five years becoming a really competent engineer,” she says. “I want to be able to understand how the Telecom System operates on a day-to-day basis. I’m focused on developing expertise in my field.
“Control, protect and connect: these are the three things we make happen. Provide control to the TVA power system, protect it by relay protection, and connect it to proper transport communication. This is how we help distribute safe, reliable power to the Valley every day.”
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