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Every Jedi Master needs a Yoda

Yoda-QuoteAs the years go by, and as I draw closer to the end of my career than the beginning, it becomes easier to reflect back on those who served as my mentors at various phases of my life. The utility industry, like many others, relies on specific engineering training required in this business that is not exactly taught in college.

“Always two there are, no more, no less. A master and an apprentice.”

In my case, this was especially true. First, I am a civil engineer. Secondly, my undergraduate specialty was water and wastewater engineering. For a number of reasons, my first job was with a municipal utility, and the rest is history.

Our industry is blessed with many seasoned engineers who are both willing and able to enthusiastically pass on their acquired lifetime of knowledge to the next generation of utility engineers.

Bob Tushla was our high school principal, math teacher and basketball coach. He largely created my love of math. “Show your work.” “Keep track of all units.” Be able to write AAFCPS at the end of every geometric proof, “as any fool can plainly see.” “If you’re out after midnight on a school night, it’s either illegal, immoral or fattening.”

“Always pass on what you have learned.”

Dr. Mark Hammer in my waste treatment plant design class always said to start by asking, “What are you going to do with the sludge?” What he was trying to say is, start with the desired end result before you begin any design. These have proven to be wise words that apply to many pursuits.

In my early days as a very green distribution engineer trying to figure out how electrical systems actually worked, my career intersected with planning engineer Ivan Otto Sunderman. He was nearing retirement; I was just getting started. He patiently drove me down Lincoln, Nebraska, alleys and explained how to tell 4.16kV from 12.5 kV. He taught me the difference between primary and secondary, single phase and three phase, and how to distinguish copper, all aluminum and ACSR conductors. Oh, yes, not all the wires on the poles carry electricity! Some are telephone and some are cable TV conductors. And most of all, “use big wire!”

“Patience you must have, my young padawan.”

When I transitioned from distribution to transmission, Dan Pudenz taught me everything I needed to know about calculating loads, weather cases and loading trees. I still have the hand calculations from the first 115 kV line I helped design. Good stuff!

Frank Schaefer, a wise older lineman, taught me how to inspect drilled pier concrete foundations. This came in really handy when he was called for jury duty and I had to become the inspector for two weeks. Thankfully, the structures on that project are still standing along I-80 in Lincoln. Yes, I check every time I drive by.

More recently, while serving on a project team that attempted to permit, design and build a supercritical 650 MW coal generating station, I experienced wise counsel from a host of industry experts who were responsible for various aspects of this wicked-awesome project. I learned about precipitators, rail loops, coal handling technologies, water treatment, boiler design, scrubber technologies, air permits, and on and on.

But one of the more memorable things I learned was from John Blase, who stressed the importance of determining and specifying CCT delivery for a commodity of major pieces of equipment. When asked to explain CCT delivery, that magical twinkle would appear in his eyes as he explained that CCT meant “choo-choo train.” He really cracked himself up with that one. John, you cracked me up, too! Thanks for that, my friend.

Hopefully, we have all experienced the incredible value mentors provide to our lives and careers. It is critical for all of us to find and engage mentors. It is equally important we all recognize the need to serve as mentors and take every opportunity to pass on the lessons we’ve learned to the next generation.

“Who’s your Jedi master?”

About the author

Marlon is our account executive in the Power market. He has more than 35 years of experience with all aspects of planning, design and construction of 12.5 kV-345 kV distribution and transmission systems, including right-of-way, design, regulatory coordination, public information meetings, public testimony and project management. With an extensive background in power transmission and distribution, Marlon brings a wide variety of knowledge in discussing the energy industry and the issues it faces. From education of future engineers to critical infrastructure analysis, he offers a unique perspective on the industry and where it's headed.