GRID's "How I Got Here" Series: JoJo Collins


December 26, 2017

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An individual wearing a black shirt and flashing a smile holds up a desk; the individual's companion, who wears a white shirt, is working on securing something underneath the desk
We're excited to share a profile of Project Designer, former Team Leader, and all-around problem-solver JoJo Collins!

This is the latest in a series of regular profiles introducing the GRID Alternatives Greater Los Angeles staff. In their own way, each member of our team brings a passion for renewable energy to the day-to-day work of Los Angeles' most socially-minded solar company. Here's how one of them got to that point: JoJo Collins, Project Designer.

When a young clean energy enthusiast named JoJo Collins realized his career goals led to this team, he wasn’t on a roof with GRID Alternatives – he’d already finished that part of his day an hour earlier, at the 2014 Solarthon. Nor was he in the Project Management Department, where he’d eventually become the careful design mastermind who does hundreds of single-family solar system layouts. As it turned out, JoJo realized that he was the right man for GRID Alternatives to hire when he was getting ready for a post-installation “Solarthon wrap party.” It was a moment of thinking about his values that led him into his profession.

Having already made Team Leader before the 2014 Solarthon in Santa Ana, JoJo had training with good Construction staffers (Sal, Allen, Norm, and several others he recalls). The “classroom on a roof” trainees get through GRID Alternatives increased his hirability very quickly in an industry that was hungry for workers, and he had already proved that he could handle other solar jobs: the sort of jack-of-all-trades construction jobs many mom-and-pop shops offer. Now, JoJo wanted his future to head in a direction that had as much in common with his brief time as a teacher (in the library by his home, near Crenshaw, Los Angeles) as it did with mom-and-pop installers. He was looking for values that would animate his work ("I was just basically coming from the heart"), and he wanted a team with a unique approach to the bottom line of a project. JoJo decided he wanted to work for the organization that had trained him and traded his orange T-shirt for a nice button-up right before he went out to celebrate with GRID Alternatives' community – to almost treat that Solarthon party as a informational interview. “I got suited and booted, ready to see Michael Kadish,” he remembers; after that, the game plan he’d designed to end up in GLA Project Management fell into place.

Months later, JoJo became the “tip of the spear” that GLA’s PM Department needed, a new SolarCorps Project Fellow. As a designer, he sometimes switched his computer’s screen on before sunrise and kept fine-tuning new designs for residential systems until the sun went down. JoJo left good impressions on his coworkers from the start, naturally good at calculating details while keeping one eye on the big goals of maximizing system efficiency. He studied with Vivi Fuentes during his first few months in Project Management, and Vivi was able to give him plenty of insight into permits, software, and just “how to get your work done” in her Design 101 class (that all happened before he started SolarCorps). But JoJo's SolarCorps year still had a steep learning curve. Even for someone whose background qualifications at Los Angeles Trade-Tech and the East Los Angeles Skills Center were impeccable, there was a lot of technique to learn.

The first nine months in PM gave JoJo a chance to educate himself—a chance to work through rough spots—and a chance to make peace with mistakes. “Making mistakes that year taught me what you can maneuver. What you can design. What your perfect tactics are. My thing was that at the end of the day, I initially always wanted to make the homeowner save ninety-nine percent, 100 percent … do it big,” he recalls. JoJo had fallen short once taking the NABCEP his first time in 2010, and yet bounced back in instructor Brano Galuza’s classroom and worked his way to succeed, so ambitious goals made sense. But a SolarCorps term with PM was a chance to developing his craft to another level, which meant really concentrating on design full time.

“It would take me two days to do one project when I was trying to think of every perfect scenario. But as long as there are obstructions – roof space, shading – even if the azimuth is, like, 282, if there are hella vents everywhere we’re not gonna maximize it. And then? I just take the scenario for what it is. You choose acceptance, to just do what you can do: Be thorough, be concise.” Nine months into the fellowship, he could export designs from SketchUp that he was proud of. Seeing his name under the GRID Alternatives logo gave him the assurance that he made contributions to PM, helped the team implement better practices. When JoJo was able to circumvent inefficiencies in the PM process, and management recognized it. (JoJo sometimes takes note: “I just try to follow my heart at the end of the day.”) The second year was more fun than his first at GRID Alternatives, and the third year more fun than the second

The individual who’d entered the Photovoltaics program at ELASC as a hoops-shooter became a solar "coach" by the third year. JoJo taught his first PM classes in design and helped GRID Alternatives interns prepare for the industry throughout 2017. Like most of us, JoJo had worried about his public speaking … but he overcame it in his new role as a design teacher for GLA Workforce Development who could demystefy trainees' design challenges with practice and skill (enough skill to finish three roof designs a day, sometimes!). His treasure trove of PM wisdom included some of the tips he'd learned from Vivi, some of the processes that his first mentors like Professors Larry Calderon and Edward Ruiz taught, and some ideas of his own. Everything that he had learned about his craft, from the days when he walked through Lincoln Park after ELASC classes to his days at GRID Alternatives, was something he could pass on.

Evaluating setbacks in design and in life empowers people to change their mentality. JoJo, like many successful people in the solar industry, knew that he had come far on his journey. To this day, he can still remember the first time he ever heard about renewable energy – it came up when he had first spoken to a case worker who wanted to help him get job skills. That GR case worker had more of an impact than she could have imagined: "She gave me a little bit of game, telling me about some career opportunities," JoJo says. For America's solar industry to thrive, it's going to need to see the potential and proficiency that more people like JoJo possess. In the meantime, he's creating new opportunities for others by perfecting his craft, reaching new goals, and sticking to his plan to follow his heart.