Jill Anderson, vice president of Customer Programs and Services at Southern California Edison (SCE), remembers the moment she decided to pursue engineering. She’d enrolled in a summer math and science camp in high school with the thought of raising her SAT scores. “At 16 years old, I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do,” she recalled.
They were given a box of rubber bands, some pencils, wheels, and a mousetrap, and asked to build a racecar. After understanding that the spring in the mousetrap could be used to power the car, it was all over for Anderson. “I was hooked,” she told the 170 high school girls at Friday’s Women Engineers at the Beach event. “I decided I’m going to be an engineer.”
Since then, Anderson hasn’t looked back. She enrolled at Boston University and earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering degree, followed by a Master of Business Administration degree from New York University.
After graduation, she was hired as a field engineer at Parsons Brinckerhoff, and a manager at Con Edison and Hess Corp. She worked for the New York Power Authority, the country’s largest state power organization, for nine years before joining SCE, one of the nation’s largest electric utilities. At SCE, she is responsible for leading energy efficiency, demand response and clean self-generation programs, and customer strategy, marketing, e-commerce and strategic alliance functions.
“I love being an engineer,” she said, crediting engineers with solving some of society’s biggest challenges: building transportation systems, electrifying the country, developing water pumping systems, and designing spacecraft to explore space. But even bigger challenges remain. “We need engineers now more than ever, but we’re not filling that pipeline. And we’ve got urgent problems,” she said.
Among those problems: aging infrastructure, feeding a growing population, and climate change, which she called “the most pressing of issues.” Anderson said her position at SCE allows her “to fight climate change every day” by helping develop solar and clean-energy systems.
“We’ve inherited a lot of problems from the older generation,” she told the high school students, adding that “Your generation is more environmentally conscious, more connected. All of that is going to help you solve problems.”
And it’s important to have diverse teams to solve those problems. “Diverse teams make better decisions,” she said. We need to have more women out there solving those problems.”
In addition, there is a surplus of STEM jobs, 2.5 for every STEM graduate. “You can be the ones to fill the jobs,” Anderson said.
With two daughters, ages 2 and 5, Anderson said she hopes gender diversity in engineering has been achieved by the time they grow up. “When they are your age, I don’t want to be thinking about the diversity problem. I need all of you to be role models for them to follow.”
Besides Anderson’s presentation, Women Engineers at the Beach included workshops led by faculty and industry partners. Participants learned project management by making peanut butter and jam sandwiches, operated batteries with fruit, exercised collaboration by building LEGOmen, and learned about 3D printing, circuits, and polymers.
“Today is going to be a day full of learning and workshops,” said Stephanie Avendano, president of the CSULB Society of Women Engineers’ chapter, which organized Women Engineers at the Beach. Avendano, an electrical engineering senior currently interning at SCE, thanked SCE, Chevron, the College of Engineering, 49er Shops, ASI, and others, for sponsoring the event.