Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commissioner Kathryn L. Zerfuss Will Moderate “Careers in Energy Panel” at Lehigh University

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Pennsylvania’s Public Utilities Commission Commissioner Kathryn L. Zerfuss will moderate a panel on April 16 at 4:00 p.m. in Lehigh University’s STEPS building, Room 101. The panel will feature four speakers, from PPL Electric Utilities and Lehigh University, discussing potential careers in the increasingly diverse field of energy. You can register here.

Two of the panelists, Carol Obando-Derstine, PPL Electric Utilities, Data Governance in Transmission & Substations, and Shalinee Kishore, Iacocca Chair Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Director of the Institute for Cyber Physical Infrastructure and Energy at Lehigh University, recently took some time to articulate how the panel can help students and to describe how changes in the field of energy are creating new workforce opportunities in renewable energy and elsewhere. As Obando-Derstine says, the field is “exciting and ever-evolving–it’s the best sector there is.”

Kishore says that energy and climate change are “probably one of the grandest grand challenges facing the next generation.” The nature of grand challenges–complex problems that require sophisticated, multidisciplinary solutions–means that the workforce dedicated to solving them needs to have not only specialized skills, but also the ability to share, communicate, and compromise in the development and implementation of those solutions.

This workforce will “require talented people who can communicate, engage communities, facilitate policy changes, bring differing perspectives together, and so on,” says Kishore. The energy sector has been evolving for a long time, and this trend will persist as increasing attention is paid to zero-carbon generation, increased reliability and storage, distribution, transmission, and equity. Innovations in improving and modernizing the grid will continue, ensuring the “safe, reliable delivery of power to our customers,” Obando-Derstine says. 

The panel will draw an audience interested in career possibilities in the field of energy, an area where Lehigh excels in training students, particularly in electricity grid-related issues, renewable energy generation, energy storage, and energy usage. Lehigh expertise can also train students in cybersecurity for the energy sector, data-driven energy solutions, and in energy markets and policy. This breadth of knowledge is crucial in energy, says Obando-Derstine, as “the grid is undergoing a massive change because it is becoming decentralized, decarbonized, and digitized.”

Students who can adapt and even help make these changes happen will find expanded career options. Obando-Derstine is living proof: a graduate of Lehigh’s Masters of Engineering in Energy Systems Engineering program, she is proud of her education and knows that “all areas in the energy sector are looking for talented workers like those at Lehigh,” engineers and non-engineers alike.

Greater demand for electricity from all sources means that the energy workforce will need to grow. Kishore says that the workforce will need to be trained “in the ways that the sector is changing.” Overall, future careers, and therefore training, will increasingly focus on issues related to renewable energies, such as solar, wind, electric cars, and heat pumps. And jobs in the energy sector increasingly require an interdisciplinary set of skills. Kishore says, “Transforming the energy landscape doesn’t necessarily require technical knowledge. It also requires talented people who can communicate, engage communities, facilitate policy changes, bring differing perspectives together, and so on.”

For students who have pursued a major other than engineering, this is good news. While it’s crucial to develop energy technologies and materials, it’s just as crucial to have workers in place who can focus on interdisciplinary collaboration, community engagement, and synthesizing multi-stakeholder perspectives. Obando-Derstine notes that there are many non-engineering roles in the energy sector, in areas such as compliance, regulatory affairs, finance, communications, legal and more.

The panelists at the event represent diverse pathways into energy careers, says Kishore, who also notes that, “Their discussions will be encouraging to students and others who are interested in working in energy to find their own unique journey in this field.” Obando-Derstine adds, “We need workers from all walks of life who are willing to share their talents and expertise in innovative ways. The panel will be informative, inspiring, and potentially pivotal.”

A networking opportunity after the panel will allow attendees to gather more information. 

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Commissioner Zerfuss was confirmed as PUC Commissioner in October 2022. Previously, she spent 20 years advancing regulatory and policy issues with a focus on education, workforce development, and worker protections. Her term ends in April 2026.

While at Lehigh, Commissioner Zerfuss will tour the Advanced Technology for Large Structural Systems (ATLSS) Engineering Research Center and the Energy Research Center (ERC) facilities on the Mountaintop Campus.

In addition to Kishore and Obando-Derstine, who was instrumental in organizing the event, panelists include: Katelyn Arnold, PPL, Regulatory Strategy & Compliance, and Matt Wallace, PPL Electric Utilities, Grid Modernization.

To attend, register here.