Landing a Job in the Wind Industry: Wind Powering America Lessons Learned

Jan. 28, 2013

Wind Powering America interviewed Marilla Lamb, a 2012 graduate of Northern Arizona University (NAU), in January 2013 while she attended her first Wind for Schools Summit at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. Lamb holds a B.S. in environmental engineering and is now employed with Westwind Solar Electric Inc. and EN3 Professionals as a project engineer. Although a major in environmental engineering isn't a traditional path for individuals entering a career installing small wind turbines, Lamb found ways beyond the conventional classroom education to learn about wind energy and renewable energy, topics she has been passionate about for a long time. While attending NAU, Lamb worked with more than 1,000 K-12 students and more than 100 teachers in Arizona, leading wind energy discussions and activities as part of the Arizona Wind for Schools project. Lamb also assisted with five Wind for Schools project installations in the state, providing her with hands-on project experience. The following interview excerpts share Lamb's lessons learned from her educational and professional experiences with wind installations.

How did you acquire a job in the wind industry, and what does your job entail?

"I got involved with Westwind Solar because they did all of the wind turbine installations for our Wind for Schools program in Arizona. They are originally out of Tucson, but I heard they were opening an office in Flagstaff. When I heard that, I went to the owner of the company and asked if I could have a job. As a firm, we don't do anything related to the engineering. We have a structural engineer and an electrical engineer that we contract. I help in the field with wind turbine and solar installations. It's really fun and cool to be there for the initial site visit with the client and to learn what they want and to start to design a system based on their needs. I actually put together the site plans and electrical diagrams for the company. So we go from the initial idea to creating the plans and then bringing those plans to the electrical engineer and the structural engineer. We get feedback from them and I make the changes. At that point we do the installation."

How did you begin working with the Wind for Schools project?

"One semester I was in an environmental policy class and I was researching wind energy and any internship or a job I could have in that field, if there was research being conducted on the NAU campus. I came across something called the Landsward Institute and realized that the person in charge of this institute on campus was the professor for my environmental policy class. I noticed a little blurb on their website about Wind for Schools. This was before the program had officially started. I believe we had submitted our proposal. I talked with my professor and he put me in touch with Karin Wadsack (state facilitator for the Arizona Wind for Schools project), and luckily I was able to start working with her. She's been the most amazing person to work for, the most amazing mentor. I've learned so much from her. I feel like a lot of the opportunities that I've had are thanks to her."

What do you do for EN3 Professionals?

"This firm does primarily environmental engineering, specifically water and air quality projects, but recently they started an energy division. They have clients now who want to install a PV array but don't exactly know how to go about it. We're not necessarily doing engineering for them, but we're kind of coordinating between them and the public utility and finding a contractor to do the work, finding an engineer to do the design, helping them submit applications for incentives, things like that. Two people who were previously my professors own the firm. They contacted me because I have the environmental engineering degree so I can work on the other projects, but I also have this energy background, so they asked me to start working for them because now I'm fairly well-versed in energy topics. I've been sort of leading these projects, working with the clients."

Did you attend any wind energy-related courses while at NAU?

"I did take a wind energy engineering course while at NAU. There were prerequisites, but I had to take them for environmental engineering, so I was able to be in that class. It was a little bit of a struggle. It was definitely geared more toward mechanical engineering students. There were a lot of projects that had to be done in MATLAB. Mechanical engineering students have to take MATLAB as a course, and I had to figure it out, which was fine. I did it, but that made it challenging."