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IREA's Women of Power

IREA is proud to be energized by powerful women at every level of our cooperative. Their important work in diverse roles is core to who we are at IREA. This Women’s History Month, we are spotlighting just some of the many Women of Power at IREA and asking them to share their thoughts, experiences and advice about working in the utility industry.

We will be adding to this page throughout March, so check back for more!

Jaclyn Terwey, Key Relationships Liaison
As IREA’s Key Relationships Liaison, Jaclyn Terwey is responsible for the association’s government affairs work at the state capitol, and with local officials, as well as its key accounts program. Her career began in government affairs, which brought her to IREA and the utility industry five years ago in her previous role of Government Affairs Director.

Jaclyn enjoys being a part – albeit “small” – of Colorado’s energy future, and says her favorite part of her work is the “very diverse set of issues we deal with at the Capitol.”

“No two days are the same,” she says, “and every day I feel like I am learning something new.”

Jaclyn cites as her greatest obstacle the need to create and maintain her space in the government affairs arena.

“I continually feel like I have to prove I am capable and just as much an expert in my field as the men in the building. The culture is certainly changing – for the better – but there are still many unwilling to accept the change.”

Jaclyn encourages women considering careers in the utility industry to “do it.”

“Do not be afraid to start from the bottom and work your way up. Oftentimes, the entry-level jobs are where you can gain a sense of the industry – the actual work required, and if you are genuinely interested … They also can open future doors through your experience or relationships you may cultivate in those early years.”

She also has advice for women intimidated by the fact that both the utility industry and government affairs have, historically, been male-dominated:

“Everyone has something to bring to the table. Don’t let being a woman hold you back from something you’d like to pursue.”

Michelle McAndrew, Engineering Services Manager
Engineering Services Manager Michelle McAndrew first joined IREA as a Customer Services Representative, after her previous employer, a firearms manufacturer, was purchased and relocated out of state. She had a newborn son, lived nearby and needed employment. Within a year, she was part of the association’s Engineering department.

Michelle later became one of the first women to be promoted to a supervisory position within the Engineering department, and for a while worked only with men at that level.

“Gaining their trust of being knowledgeable could, at times, be a little frustrating,” she says. “But, for the most part, I was accepted and respected. Many of them became mentors and helped me learn at a very quick pace.”

Now, as Engineering Services Manager, Michelle oversees customer service relating to the department, including rates and regulations, generation interconnections and energy audits, as well as the processing of new construction from the initial request until the meter is set.

“It is never dull, and always challenging me to learn new aspects of the industry,” she says.

Michelle’s advice for any woman considering a career in the utility industry:

“It is not for wimps! You will need to buck up and be responsible for learning quickly in this ever-changing industry. If you want to be successful, you will have to be willing to move forward with the changes that seem to appear daily, and have the ability to work with the team. Consider every challenge as an opportunity to learn, not as a change to what you already know.”

Ambre Bonasera, Distribution Operations AMI Coordinator
As IREA’s Distribution Operations AMI Coordinator, Ambre Bonasera monitors the day-to-day operations of the association’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), the new system through which IREA now delivers power to more than 165,000 locations.

Ambre first started at IREA as a Customer Service Representative and has served in multiple roles since.

“The knowledge and skills I developed over the years gave me the experience needed for my current position,” she says. “I am fortunate for the opportunities IREA has provided me.”

In her current role, Ambre works with multiple vendors to ensure the health of the AMI system and coordinates system testing and upgrades. Her favorite parts of the job include “analyzing the data from the AMI system and being proactive on potential issues we weren’t able to see before AMI.”

Her advice to any woman considering a career in the utility industry is to “stay educated, motivated and never give up.”

“Choose the field that is the most interesting and learn as much as possible. The utility industry continues to grow and change every day.”

Kristi Sheley, Application Analyst
Kristi Sheley enjoys “digging into data and seeing how seemingly unrelated pieces of data can be pieced together to present an unexpected picture” as Application Analyst for IREA’s IT department.

Kristi had previous experience as an IT analyst and developer, but had not worked in the utility industry until she started contract work for IREA, which she later joined as a full-time employee. Her work as Application Analyst includes supporting and utilizing the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system upon which most of IREA’s data and business processes are built.

She acknowledges that there can be challenges as a woman in the IT field.

“The biggest obstacle for me is getting over the feeling that I have to always ‘prove myself’ somehow,” she says. “This can become a problem with regards to taking on too much work or work that doesn’t necessarily align with my professional background, and can be a pitfall when trying to balance work and home life.”

She encourages any woman interested in either the IT or utility industry to consider college, as “the path may be a little bit more bumpy” without a degree, and says “don’t be afraid to wear different hats at the start of your career so you can see what the best fit is for you.”

“No matter what your career choice, always give it your all!”

Susan Kroll, Energy Efficiency Specialist
As IREA’s Energy Efficiency Specialist, Susan Kroll conducts home energy audits that help customers throughout the association’s 5,000-square-mile service area identify opportunities to reduce their electricity use.

Susan first started at IREA as a data entry clerk and quickly became a meter-reader, at a time when many of IREA’s meters had to be physically read – sometimes using binoculars – and data logged by hand. She worked in metering for nearly 10 years before becoming Energy Efficiency Specialist, a role in which she most enjoys “meeting and helping customers.”

“I am happy to help someone who is concerned about high usage, or offer suggestions on what to do to their home to make it more energy-efficient.”

Susan says she hasn’t faced many obstacles as a woman in the utility industry, but has encountered misperceptions.

“When I was a meter-reader, I believe there was a misperception that women wouldn’t be able to keep up, but for the few of us that there were, we did.”

She cites the recent blizzard as an example.

“After a snowstorm like we just experienced, all meter-readers would be walking through a foot or more of snow to get to a meter – women and men alike – and we did keep up.”

In her current role, Susan does still occasionally encounter misperceptions.

“In the process of scheduling an energy audit, I am often asked for the name of the person who will actually be coming out to do the audit. When I tell them it will be me, there is often a pause, followed by a response that confirms they are surprised that I will be doing the actual audit.”

She encourages others to “learn your job, be knowledgeable about [it], and then simply do it.”

Shiloh Sword, Human Resources Director
IREA Human Resources Director Shiloh Sword was in high school when a woman in the utility industry told her to take any opportunity to join an electric cooperative.

“She had held a prominent position and described to me the unity and family atmosphere she felt while working at a cooperative,” Shiloh says. “It was 15 years later that I knew I wanted to pivot from the industry that I was working in and dive into the utility industry.”

Shiloh now plans, leads, directs, develops and coordinates the policies, activities and staff of IREA’s Human Resources department, and ensures legal compliance and implementation of the association’s mission and talent strategy.

Her favorite parts of the job are “working with employees and finding solutions to problems, developing an idea that accentuates benefits, strategizing and planning into the future for all employees and the organization.”

She feels fortunate to have worked with “empowering female and male role models and mentors” in her career, and to have not encountered some of the challenges often experienced by female colleagues in the utility industry, though she does admit that one challenge has been getting buy-in from top management positions when it comes to changes and ideas.

Shiloh encourages any woman considering a career in the utility industry to not give up or settle.

“Keep your head high and realize you are doing something very valuable for not only the utility industry, but for women of the future and for positions in an organization. Carry yourself proudly, so other young ladies can follow in your footsteps.”

Martha Lord, Controller
Martha Lord started at IREA as an accounting temp. Now, as the association’s Controller, she is responsible for much of its financial processes, including the preparation of the financial statements, processes that capture the association’s financial data, regulatory reporting, asset recording, and control and payroll.

Martha says she does not understand why anyone would not want to pursue a career in accounting, which she considers fun and full of opportunities.

“Generally, accounting/finance has a wide set of career possibilities,” she says. “Every entity – no matter what they do – will need to have an accounting department that will process the transactions.”

Martha most enjoys “being able to see all aspects of the company, since all things end up in Finance eventually,” and working with “extremely friendly and down-to-Earth people here and across the country.”

“I think I have been blessed working in this industry,” she says of the utility industry, though she also admits some business practices were outdated when she first started in the profession and have since “come a long way.”

The past year has been especially reaffirming for Martha.

“The ability to gain experience and work in an industry that is sustainable and reliable with amazing benefits is a rarity. I felt so fortunate during the last year to know that we work for a company that will always be necessary, even during a once-in-a-century event like the pandemic.”

Mandi Lesher, Community Relations Officer
IREA Community Relations Officer Mandi Lesher became part of the utility industry “completely by accident.”

After graduating college with a degree in business administration – along with an emphasis in computer information systems and minor in international business – and interning for a small software development company, she planned to continue in software testing or product development. She knew living in a small town on Colorado’s Western Slope would make it difficult to remain in the software industry, though, and took the best job she could find: secretary/assistant to the general manager of a local electric cooperative.

“I was hesitant to apply because I knew that role wasn’t what I wanted to do long-term,” she says. “However, I took a chance, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. That job allowed me to gain experience in numerous areas of the industry and gave me a great foundation to move forward.”

Now, as IREA’s CRO, she oversees the association’s billing and payments, public affairs and customer service, including the call center, marketing, government relations and collections.

Mandi most enjoys the “variety of tasks my job offers.”

“Though some tasks are routine, no day is ever the same,” she says. “I also enjoy that I still get to use my software testing skills – who knew?! – as we frequently implement new software or upgrades to what we have. It’s been gratifying watching some of my employees gain an appreciation and knack for software testing, too.”

Mandi has never felt that her gender has put her at a disadvantage.

“Most of the employees who directly report to our CEO are female, so I’m in good company.”

She advises any woman considering a career in the utility industry that “if you want it, go for it.”

“Focus on your skills, mindset and determination, and you’ll be better positioned for success.”

Kanisha Stone, Organizational Development & Communications Administrator
Kanisha Stone has a great appreciation for the utility industry, which she joined after previously working in the government sector.

“I love the history of resilience associated with the utility industry,” she says. “This industry has weathered many storms – no pun intended – and has continued to be reliable under any circumstance.”

As IREA’s Organizational Development & Communications Administrator, Kanisha ensures company culture – along with human resources business practices, training and employee development strategies – aligns with the association’s mission, goals and values.

Her favorite parts of the job are helping IREA maintain an inclusive and flourishing company culture that supports its employees and making the association an employer of choice for future employees – “a place people want to come to work.”

Kanisha acknowledges implementing change within the utility industry – with its long history and lack of competition compared to many other industries – is “not always easy,” but that she is “definitely up for the challenge.”

“It’s my job to ask, ‘What if we …?’ or ‘Why don’t we …?’”

She also has the “great privilege of working with many amazing women on a daily basis.”

“When you are in HR, you are in the ‘people business,’” Kanisha says. “Industries may vary, but a good HR professional has a true passion for the development and sustainment of a healthy, thriving employee-employer relationship.”

Her advice for any female HR professional, especially women of color:

“The industry needs you! We need your drive and innovative spirit to shed light on what we do and what we have to offer. Lights don’t turn on by themselves, you know!”

Amanda Steiner, Distribution Engineering Supervisor
Distribution Engineering Supervisor Amanda Steiner’s career in the utility industry has followed a somewhat typical trajectory, yet is especially unique. After starting as a meter reader, she eventually got into line work, a field traditionally dominated by men. She reached “journeyman” level, a designation that comes only after years of complex, often dangerous line work, and which typically means most tasks can be done without direct supervision.

Amanda says that though she has in the past worked side-by-side with some narrow-minded individuals who had reservations about women in the industry, her hard work earned the respect of peers and supervisors.

“After working with these individuals on a day-to-day basis, I changed their mind about judging a book by its cover and earned their respect. It’s all about mutual respect. You have to give respect to earn respect.”

Amanda moved from line work to distribution design and now, as Distribution Engineering Supervisor, she enjoys “helping my peers understand the what, why, when, where and how of the utility industry” and “building lasting relationships with our customers and internal personnel.”

“Passing on education and teaching the next generation is so important to the success of our business.”

She encourages anyone considering a career in the utility industry to “never let anyone get in your way of achieving your dream.”

“Anyone – man or woman – can do anything, if you put your mind to it. Listen and learn from your mentors, and make your own way!”

Audra Mangus, Quality Assurance Specialist
Audra Mangus joined the utility industry “100% by chance.” She was looking for extra work and happened upon a temporary data entry position at IREA in which her skills with a 10-key pad would be especially useful. She parlayed that into a full-time position, and through hard work and networking eventually moved into the association’s Engineering Department.

As IREA’s Quality Assurance Specialist, she now reviews the plans developed by engineers to make sure they meet the association’s requirements and that everything is complete and accurate. She most enjoys the technical aspects of engineering and “making sure all the ‘T’s are crossed and the ‘I’s are dotted.”

“With years of engineering experience, it is easy to get ‘comfortable’,” she says. “But the constant technological changes within the industry keep things fresh and new.”

Audra did observe a lack of trust that a woman could handle the technological aspect of electrical engineering.

“People outside of IREA were skeptical. Thankfully, the complete support and trust within IREA made this easy to overcome.”

She has words of encouragement for those considering a career in utilities:

“My biggest advice to ANYONE – male or female – entering the utility industry is to LEARN. Learn all you can, from anyone that will teach you. My biggest advice to a woman looking at the utility industry is to work. Just do the work; the rest will follow. Use your unique talents – whether they are a result of being a woman or not – to help find solutions.”

Alycia Knight, Executive Assistant to the Chief Operating Officer
Alycia Knight was well-acquainted with “life on the (electric) lines” even before she joined the utility industry. Her grandfather retired as a Journeyman Lineman from Ottertail Power in Minnesota, and her father worked for Colorado Powerline.

She joined the industry herself with a temporary position in IREA’s Customer Service Department, and quickly was hired on full-time. She later worked in the association’s Engineering Services Department, and as a Rate Technician.

Now, as Executive Assistant to the Chief Operating Officer, Alycia is responsible for the day-to-day administrative duties for the COO, including scheduling, reporting and coordination, as well as supporting IREA’s Distribution and Transmission Operations, Engineering, Power Supply and Safety departments.

“I most enjoy being a part of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of an electric cooperative,” she says. “I love that I see how our infrastructure is designed, built and maintained. To see us ‘keeping the lights on’ every day and get to be a part of that is pretty amazing.”

Alycia has had “so many great opportunities” and “always received encouragement” as a woman in the utility industry.

“I have always worked with people at IREA – and our colleagues in the industry – who are willing to help, explain, teach, etc., regardless of the fact that I am a woman.”

She advises anyone interested in a career in the utility industry to “go for it!”

“The excitement and challenges of working for a utility are boundless. The opportunity to learn something every day and to be a valuable part of your community through your commitment and work feels incredible. Women can do anything they put their minds to, and their contributions to the utility industry are most welcome!”

Vicky Lowe, Meterman
Vicky Lowe got her start in the utility industry as a Meter Reader, “back when we read all of the meters by hand with a meter book and a pencil.”

Now, as a Meterman, she tests meters both in the shop and the field, conducts meter investigations, programs meters and wires new services. Growth in rooftop solar has Vicky spending much of her time conducting inspections of new solar installations and setting the net meters that connect them to IREA’s grid.

She especially enjoys working outside – though it is not without its challenges – structuring her own workday, and the brotherhood she shares with coworkers.

Vicky admits that though she is “just not as strong – or as tall! – as the guys are,” she simply has to sometimes figure out a different way to accomplish a task.

“There will always be a couple of people who want you to fail,” she says. “SO WHAT? We are all human and all have flaws. That is their flaw, not yours.”

Becky Wilson, Community Affairs Administrator
Becky Wilson first heard about electric co-ops in her home state of North Dakota, where a friend who worked at one told her “what a great company it was to work with.” After relocating to Colorado, she applied to and was hired by IREA.

As Community Affairs Administrator, she now manages the association’s community affairs programs; works with local chambers of commerce, economic development groups and civic and school organizations; advances IREA’s community messaging; and educates the public on issues that affect the communities IREA serves.

In that role, she most enjoys “visiting with all the different people I come in contact with.”

“Our customers are our lifeline, and I am happy to be one of the employees who gets to interact with them every day.”

Becky encourages any woman considering the utility industry to “definitely look into what we have to offer.”

“There are so many fields they can go into,” she says. “Public affairs, electrical line worker, engineering and more.”

She also touts IREA’s “great promote-from-within commitment,” which makes the association “even better.”

Pam Feuerstein, Chief Operating Officer
While attending college for electrical engineering, Pam Feuerstein worked as a summer intern at an electric utility. That experience led her to focus on the power industry and later accept at an engineering consulting firm a position planning and designing electrical infrastructure for utilities.

Now, as IREA’s Chief Operating Officer, she oversees the association’s engineering, distribution and transmission operations, power supply and safety. Her responsibilities are critical to the association’s day-to-day operations, and play a large part in keeping electric service reliable around the clock.

She enjoys “being part of a team that provides an essential service to the community I live in” and the “daily challenges of the job.” Her favorite part of the job, though, is “working with a great team of people, being able to mentor and watch others achieve their career goals.”

Pam says the electric utility industry is “rapidly changing and facing some exciting challenges.”
“I see this as a great opportunity for women who are looking for a challenging career with the added benefit of improving the community you serve.”

She advises those considering a career in the industry to “seek out great mentors to learn from, set the bar high and don’t be afraid of a challenge.”

“If a career in the utility industry is something that inspires you, you will work hard and achieve your goals.”

A temporary power cost adjustment will be applied to bills starting this month. For more info, visit our PCA webpage.
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