What is your full name and job title
Cat Smith, Operations Support Trainee (Orion)
In which area of STEM are you involved?
Electrical Engineering, with a focus on control systems and electricity networks
What are your qualifications?
I studied the New Zealand Diploma of Engineering (NZDE – Electrical) at Ara 2017-18 and the Bachelor of Engineering Technology (Electrical and Electronics) at Ara 2019-20
What made you choose this study pathway?
Exposure to an electronics technology class at the start of high school, where I developed a fascination with circuits which would come to life with electricity. Being able to control an LED to turn on automatically when the room got dark was like magic.
When did you finish and what do you do now?
I finished my studies at the end of 2020, having worked part-time and studied part-time for most of my degree. I currently work at Orion [as at March 2021] on the digital operations side of the electricity network. My time is split between two primary tasks: solving problems that pop up in our digital, real-time network so that control staff can monitor and operate it, and projects to improve the software that gives us this remote control.
What do you love most about your work?
Electricity is one of many STEM industries where ‘you only notice it when things go wrong’. Majority of the time, our customers are being supplied with power and needn’t think twice about flicking a switch. I love being part of a team that is working behind the scenes and around the clock to enable that.
What are two highlights in your career so far?
I thoroughly enjoyed my time working on automation of buildings, schools, and facilities. I could start at the design stage, working out how the services (e.g. lighting and temperature controls) should behave, then would go to site to make sure the technology was working as expected, and by the end of the project we had created a space for people to work, learn, or play that would cater to their needs. It was like bringing structures to life by giving them a brain. For example, if the air at an indoor swimming pool became too hot then it would be our logic system that would tell the fans to turn on.
Working out and about on the electricity network made me feel like an ‘everyday superhero’ at times. The jobs were so dynamic and exciting. The team is out there, no matter the weather or time, fixing problems and preventing new ones from coming up. Any given day could have you: waist deep in a dirt trench in the rain, off-roading up the side of a hill, eating lunch with a lakeside view, or even being called five times in a minute because the power went off from where you were working… there truly were never two days the same.
What misconception about choosing a STEM career would you like to bust?
The misconception that creative work and STEM are two separate pathways. Mathematics and science are the foundations for all that we know about our physical world, and their concepts are just as beautiful as fine art. Combining technical and creative thinking broadens the possibilities of what can be innovated and created. STEM careers are so diverse – mechanical engineers are essential for the design of roller coasters, electronics engineers craft music production equipment, materials scientists develop fabric that can be used for extreme weather clothing. The possibilities are endless, and in my opinion – STEM is real-life magic.
What advice or words of encouragement would you like to offer young people considering a STEM career?
The ‘four-year university degree’ is a commonly shown pathway into STEM, however there are many other options which may be better suited to your learning style – and your life style! If every engineer had gone to the same school and learnt the same things, it would be hard to collaborate and develop fresh ideas. Apprenticeships, trades, and polytechnics all offer opportunities to learn about STEM fields with a hands-on component. If you move into a design-based role later in your career, that knowledge will be extremely valuable as you’ll have a more practical understanding of the concepts you work with.