Katie Neal, the newest Construction Fellow in the North Valley office, earned her BSE from Gonzaga University in Mechanical Engineering and started her career working as a residential and commercial solar designer with Solar City. She recently elected to shift within the solar industry from a theoretical to a hands-on focus. She says “What drew me to construction is that I was always telling people what we were going to install but I didn’t have any personal, hands on experience with it. I thought gaining that experience would not only be interesting and fun to do, but make me a better designer and kind of round out what I know about solar.” Though her favorite aspect of solar installation so far has been learning conduit bending because of its creative potential, she loves the variety in her position with GRID as a Construction Fellow and how it keeps her learning. “I really like (at GRID) how I’m not stuck in one role. Working as a Construction Fellow, I get to be involved with permitting, design, construction, installation, inspections. You can pick on a daily basis what you want to work on so it never gets boring.”
Katie volunteered with GRID before applying for the construction fellow position. As a woman who has worked in the male-dominated field of mechanical engineering, Katie is no stranger to gender diversity-driven workplace dynamics. Now working in solar installation, she has a unique perspective on how increased gender diversity can support a robust and creative working environment. “I feel like being a woman in anything that is primarily male-dominated affects the atmosphere, just because you’re providing a different experience and usually different attitudes or ways of doing things. I do think it helps to diversify the people you have working on a problem or thinking about something.” She feels that the most important way to create an environment that is amenable to the participation of women in the solar workforce has to do with providing opportunities for confidence-building. “Training is the number one thing. Before I ever go out and do something hands-on, I want to know what I’m doing and have an overview of it. A lot of women don’t want to jump in and possibly make a mistake or waste material. Training definitely increases comfort and confidence.”
We are thrilled to have Katie as a critical member of our team. Her bright smile, spirit to take initiative, sharp mind, and understanding of mechanical and electrical complexities are great assets to both the working environment and the cause of making renewable energy technology accessible to community members of all stripes in the north valley.