Meet Desirée Wolfgramm, Manager of Regulatory Affairs at Energy Northwest and Notable Woman in STEM
Can you explain to us what you do?
I am the Manager of Regulatory Affairs for Energy Northwest at Columbia Generating Station. At Columbia, we produce energy through nuclear fission. To be able to operate our nuclear reactor we need permission, or a license, to do so through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), a government agency, and we need to follow a lot of regulations, or rules. The NRC ensures through inspection that we meet all safety, design, and operating requirements to keep the public and environment safe. My team interacts with the NRC through inspectors who come on-site to verify we meet these requirements and through requests to update or modify our license.
What was your education and/or career path? How did you get where you are now?
I grew up wanting to be a ballerina, an astronaut, then an engineer. I got my undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from Brigham Young University in Utah. My husband grew up in Kennewick, WA, a place I had never heard of before, and his dad worked at Columbia. Both of us were Mechanical Engineers and got jobs at Columbia. I found that I really loved working in nuclear power. I started in Design Engineering and moved to Systems Engineering. While working, I got my graduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from Washington State University. I loved engineering but wanted to try something different and utilize my people skills, which led me to Regulatory Affairs.
What/who were some of your most important influences that guided you to STEM?
My father is the one who encouraged me to pursue STEM. He was a lawyer but was always building and creating things growing up. I loved helping him and was myself very mechanically minded. My favorite part of Christmas was assembling the gifts, my own and my siblings! I grew up north of Detroit and General Motors had an Exploratory Engineering program for high school students. I participated my sophomore year and knew I wanted to be an engineer after that.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I love being a part of creating clean, reliable energy for the region. Nuclear power is so fascinating to learn about and will be a big part of the world’s clean-energy future. I love the professional and technical environment that we work in. My job is never the same from day to day. There are always new questions and new challenges that arise that require solving.
What do you consider your biggest achievement in STEM?
In 2012, I attended a STEM day for kids in Yakima and loved the hands-on activities that were there. Being extroverted by nature, I found the organizer and chatted with him about the event. I wanted to create that event for the Tri-Cities. The next year, I involved Energy Northwest’s chapter of Women in Nuclear and hosted our first Kids Engineering Day. It started small, but we held the event every year until 2020 and it grew each year, with more local companies and STEM chapters hosting activities and more children and parents attending. I love seeing the excitement in a child when they discover how interesting and fun science can be. I look forward to bringing the event back in 2023.
Are there any stereotypes about women in STEM you’d like to personally dispel?
It is cool to be in STEM!!! Some of the brightest and most amazing women I know are in STEM fields. Many women think that they aren’t smart enough to be in a STEM career. That is not true. If you have the passion and desire to learn, you will succeed. Find a mentor or a woman in STEM who you admire and create your support system. Also, you can have a family and be in STEM. I have six children, ages 13 to twin 3-year-olds. It can be difficult, but you can do it.
What unique qualities do you think girls and women bring to STEM?
Women bring balance to STEM industries. For example, the nuclear energy industry is largely run by former navy men. Without others weighing in, their perspective can become myopic. Women offer different opinions and views that need to be heard and sometimes would not otherwise be addressed. Girls and women in STEM are invaluable for what they bring to an organization.
How do you see science, technology, engineering, and/or math working together in your current job?
Although it’s been a long time since I have done true engineering work, I use my engineering background to be able to understand the complex issues being discussed by the experts. My engineering knowledge enables me to offer my thoughts and opinions on regulatory impacts.
What would you like to say to young women thinking about beginning a career in STEM?
Start with what you are interested in. Find someone you can talk to who does something interesting in that field and shadow them, or even just have a cup of coffee with them. Realize that a career in STEM is varied and you can do so many different things with a technical background. Try it. You won’t regret taking that first step.
What do you think is unique about Washington and the STEM careers in our state?
Washington has so many STEM careers all over the state. It is a wonderful place to be, on the leading edge of technology, whether you are on the west side or the east. The Tri-Cities, where Columbia is located, has the highest number of scientists and engineers per capita of anywhere in the nation. Being an engineer myself, I love being around engineers and scientists. I love the logical, sensible way they think.
Can you share a fun fact about yourself (something that couldn’t be found via a Google search)?
I grew up doing music and theatre and still have a passion for the arts. My classmates were initially surprised when I studied Engineering. I still find playing the piano to be relaxing, and love when I get the opportunity to play, even though now I’m rustier on the ivories than I was 20 years ago.
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