Engineering Professional Makes Major Strides as a result of GRID Training Programs


August 28, 2017

San Diego resident Kathy Nicholson first learned about GRID while attending a Solar Photovoltaic (PV) class at Cuyacama Community College where she heard a presentation by a GRID staff member and decided to sign up to volunteer.

Kathy says she has a great time volunteering at GRID and always learns something new when attending a solar build. “I was particularly motivated to become more involved in the Women’s Build Initiative. I also was interested in the Team Leader program as it provides a unique leadership opportunity,” she said. “GRID’s training gave me a level of confidence to lead a team.”

After successfully completing both Installation Basic Training (IBT) and Team Leadership Training, Kathy now has expertise as both a Roof and Ground Team Leader. GRID’s training was instrumental in helping her to obtain her NABCEP Certification. Kathy obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering from the University of San Diego in 1985 when the solar industry was in its infancy. She later earned her Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from the same university.

Participating in GRID installs became a family affair when Kathy’s daughter Megan Ochoa noticed how much satisfaction Kathy received from her volunteerism. The family has always been environmentally conscious so when Kathy learned about GRID, becoming a volunteer was a natural fit. Now Megan is also a volunteer, participating in two installations.

Kathy has seen renewable energy and the solar industry evolve over these last three decades. Although Kathy was a busy stay-at-home mom, she later decided to reenter the workforce. She worked for Southern California Edison with a focus on energy-efficiency consulting and was excited when she saw the solar industry take off. She currently does consultant work and helps people with do-it-yourself projects. Recently she completed a project in Tustin where she not only designed the solar system, but also helped build and consult her client through the process. Aside from her consultant business, Kathy was also instrumental in helping Team Orange County in the 2015 Solar Decathlon with the installation of their solar entry as well as making sure that the system was code-compliant and met all the proper requirements.

When asked about challenges she has faced as a woman in the solar industry Kathy responded, “Women still have room to grow in both engineering and solar. Women still struggle to embark on careers in engineering and STEM fields. I saw a recent statistic that women in this country hold only 13 percent of engineering jobs.” Kathy recalled being the only woman in several of her classes and throughout her engineering career. “It does feel a little intimidating at times,” she admits. “Especially in a culture that is so male dominated.” Kathy has seen men promoted and women overlooked, but says it is all worth it. “I am willing to undertake the struggle because of my love for engineering,” she said.

The advice Kathy provides to women considering a career in solar is to stay open-minded and adaptable to change. She also recommends to stay well informed about the direction the industry is headed. Although Kathy appreciates and emphasizes the importance a degree holds, she says there are many successful solar professionals without advanced degrees. GRID’s free hands-on training is invaluable to anyone who has a strong desire to succeed in the solar industry. She appreciates what she has learned from GRID and greatly enjoys giving back to the community. Over the last three years since joining GRID, Kathy has earned over 600 hours.

If you are interested in gaining skills to become a solar professional, visit our website or call 951-471-7043.