Special SCE Tour Engineered for STEM Students

Students from Cypress High School get a lesson in utility work and career possibilities at the company’s Santa Ana Service Center.
Dec 9, 2019 12:20 PM ET

ENERGIZED by Edison blog

by Susan Cox, Energized by Edison Writer

What do engineers do?

“Every day is different,” said Danielle Chanes, a Southern California Edison distribution field engineer. “There are all sorts of engineers — mechanical, electrical, operations engineers, distribution engineers. It’s so broad I could go into any industry, so I encourage you to keep your minds open to everything.”

Thirty Cypress High School students recently toured SCE’s Santa Ana Service Center to learn about the work done there and career opportunities in the utility industry.

Brittany Merryman, an SCE advisor, along with Hunter Rice, an operations engineer, organized the special tour as a favor to Jimin Lee, a 2019 Edison Scholar and Cypress High School graduate, who now attends MIT.

“This was a unique experience to accommodate an Edison Scholar’s request that also fits into the outreach efforts of the Women Empowerment Forum in Distribution Engineering,” said Merryman. “It was a lot of work to organize, but it’s so rewarding to feel like you’ve made a positive impact on a student’s career path.”

The mostly seniors and juniors are enrolled in “The Principles of Engineering,” a second-year class taught by Kevin Dwyer, their physics and engineering teacher.

"They're starting to think about college, where they want to go and what they want to major in," said Dwyer. "This tour lets them see several different types of engineering. The most rewarding careers today are STEM related and the students were able to see how their skills in math and science can launch them into a great career.

“What was also really valuable was seeing the grand scale of what it takes to deliver electric power to their homes. We never really think about it."

The daylong tour included a stop at the Chestnut substation, where SCE’s Ryland Watts, an operations engineer, explained the intricacies of electrical equipment, how circuits work and how transformers reduce high voltage to lower levels to distribute electricity to customers’ homes. 

“We’re all problem-solvers here at Edison,” said Watts. “If you can solve problems, you can have a real fun career.”

Around the vast outdoor yard, the students were surrounded by assorted SCE utility equipment assembled, packed and ready to go. There were bucket trucks, utility poles and high-voltage overhead switches ready to set and install.

Max “Rick” Oelschlager, an SCE technical specialist, explained how underground and overhead equipment differ and the importance of covered conductor that help prevent a spark from causing a wildfire.

“Southern California Edison is very committed to preventing fires,” he said.

Nadia, 16, isn’t sure where her career interests lie. She likes biology and physics, but the SCE tour got her thinking.

“There’s a lot more reliability and trust in the equipment than I thought,” she said. “Electrical engineering is a little interesting after seeing what they do.”

“I’ve noticed a lot on the tour,” said Edward, 17. “It’s pretty cool how they bring in high-voltage lines and then step it down to a lower level to distribute power to all of Orange County.”

At the Southern Distribution Operation Center, students watched as staff monitored outages on multiple screens and learned there are different kinds of outages. Next stop was the Distribution Automation and Power System Control Lab where the students learned how SCE engineers can lower high-voltage power at the distribution level remotely.

“Anything remote controlled is our responsibility,” said Valerie Brewer, an SCE engineer. “Our role is to grow, develop and maintain the distribution automation system to minimize restoration down time and maximize safety.”

Halfway through the day, Justin, 16, declared the tour “pretty fun.” After seeing all the electrical marvels around him, he said, “Initially, I was interested in mechanical engineering, but I’m not sure now.”

For information about SCE careers, visit edisoncareers.com. For high school seniors seeking STEM scholarships, visit edisonscholars.com to apply for the 2020 Edison Scholars $40,000 college scholarships by Dec. 16.