Eva Reyes, Sr. Engineer, Distribution, was profiled in the El Sentinel newspaper regarding her career path, from her days as a university student in Puerto Rico to her time at OUC. The piece is translated below, and the full Spanish version can be viewed here.
El Sentinel Article (English translation):
“Throughout history there have been professions that people associate with men and others that were believed to be more appropriate for women. In a way, they assigned gender to jobs and the chances of someone entering the world of the opposite sex represented a challenge. Nowadays, many things have changed and the collective vision of the works has been refocused.
For the past three decades, Eva Reyes, an electrical engineer, has wrestled to evolve in an environment dominated by men.
During her professional career she has seen technology evolve, she has witnessed how women have been gaining ground in an environment formerly dominated by men and also noted the difference between practicing the same profession in Puerto Rico and in the United States.
Born in Texas and raised in Puerto Rico, Reyes ventured into engineering driven by her father, who had been part of the United States Army and when he became disabled they moved to Puerto Rico and worked in the Electric Power Authority (AEE), the only company in the Island that offers citizens the electric power service.
“I did not know what I was going to study, I knew I was good at math and science and Daddy suggested that I study electrical engineering and that’s what I ended up with,” said Reyes, who is currently a senior electrical engineer at the Orlando Utilities Commission of Orlando (OUC, acronym in English).
The engineer confessed that the best advice she has received in her career is that “You must expect to feel uncomfortable to feel comfortable. If you feel too comfortable, it may mean that you are falling behind or you are not looking for new challenges.” That has been lived in the flesh to show that women have the same ability as men to develop in various jobs.
Reyes completed a bachelor’s degree at the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico and said that unlike when she studied, “now there are more females in the field, but for many years I was the only woman. I was the only woman engineer in the electrical concentration, later on more came in, but I was already at the end of the core classes. That I remember there were two more, “she said.
In the case of Reyes, the determination was key to becoming a successful woman in an environment in which females did not predominate. Also, in addition to being a woman, she faced the challenge of entering the industry when she was still in her twenties.
“I started as an engineer assistant in Puerto Rico. It was a summer job, and I obviously had the help of my dad to get the job. Once I got in it was not easy because I was a young woman entering a men’s environment and then I had the “dad factor” that created some negative attitude toward me, “recalls Reyes about her beginnings in PREPA.
“I had to prove I could do the job. Little by little I began to apply for positions and gradually I became a supervisor, which is the manager’s position equivalent in here, “she added.
But getting better positions was not enough. The engineer already recognized the importance of preparing well academically and proposed to obtain the professional engineering license [PE, the acronym in English], the highest level of competence of the engineering profession, a symbol of achievement and quality assurance.
“I passed my professional license certification in Puerto Rico and because there is reciprocity between Puerto Rico and the United States, I was able to transfer it to the United States. Not many engineers have it here at work (it is not required); it’s like a pride. Puerto Rican female pride that I came here prepared with my license, “Reyes said.
Like thousands of other Puerto Rican families, after an offer of employment that Reyes’s husband received in 2000, they chose to move to Central Florida. Thus they expanded their professional horizons where, in the State of the Sun, Reyes has done very well in the workplace.
The descendant of a Puerto Rican father and a Spaniard mother said that it has been easier to work in the United States than in Puerto Rico. She commented that “you have the most concentrated “machismo” in the Island. In the supervisory position and I was not liked by many people, especially people who were older than me. It wasn’t easy; there were people of 25-30 years of experience and I was going up in the chain of command. But at the end of the day, I had my boss who was the director of the technical section and he said “you proved me that I was wrong to what I thought about the employee they were sending me.”
After the labor challenges on the island, she arrived in the USA. where she faced situations that also made her grow professionally. It began in the company that today is known as Duke Energy, “There it was very difficult also because I had to adapt to the language, it is not the same to learn English in a class room for 12 years than to have to apply it and speak it. It was a very difficult adaptation. I started from the beginning as a contractor.”
Adequate academic preparation and several years of experience led her to the position she currently holds. “She’s been here for 15 years now. And I’ve gone through several departments. I started in electrical distribution engineering working electrical designs for commercial, residential, industrial services, solar projects. The electric vehicle charging stations project for electric cars is also mine. For the last one I have contractors that I manage and we do the equipment installation from the beginning to the end, “explained Reyes.
The mother of two children also says that at OUC everything is different. We work as a team. This group here is the best I’ve had within the three utilities where I have worked; this is the best and this is where I want to stay. Here, the whole atmosphere is very family oriented. OUC is characterized by that. The fraternization is very good and everyone is here to help you and we help each other. If there is information you need for a particular situation or something you do not know, all you have to do is ask. We have about 20 people here and someone has had the experience or simply knows the answer,” she said.
Reyes says she is fortunate that in her current job “there is no such rivalry of different genders, sexes, nationality or anything related. It is a very diverse group and very good to work with. Even the administration; we all get along very well. ”
When Reyes was asked how she describes her work she said “50 percent is design and the other 50 percent is customer contact.”
The engineer is responsible of designing electrical distribution facilities for new and existing services, including projects related to residences, subdivisions, commercial, industrial and renewable, such as solar and electric vehicle charging stations. “It’s office work mixed with field work,” she said in an interview provided by OUC. The field work includes providing support to clients, development of projects for new constructions of aerial or underground distribution, and evaluations of electrical infrastructure for new projects, reconstructions, maintenance, among others.
But perhaps one of the most challenging parts of your job is to face the aftermath of weather events, whether in hurricane season or winter season, because although in Florida the snow does not exist, part of OUC’s responsibilities to the community is to offer support to those states that face emergencies due to snowstorms.
“Here comes a hurricane and we have to prepare the family, protect the house, pass the emergency and as soon as the winds die down to 30 miles, leave our families safe and off we go to report to work, “she said.
In October of last year Reyes was part of the team of professionals that OUC sent to Tallahassee to support work after the passage of Hurricane Michael. At that time the engineer said that “Here in Florida we are the ones who mostly receive the help from different states. We do not have many opportunities to help many states because obviously hurricane emergencies happen here most of the time. This week we will be able to return that favor.”
Because of the type of work she does, monotony is not something that Reyes is used to. She emphasizes that each project is different and that it is a huge satisfaction to see any type of project, whether commercial or residential, finished meeting the client’s specifications.
Perhaps due to the diversity of projects she is exposed to in her work, she is always willing to learn and evolve within an environment that she already dominates. “I do not stay working in the same type of work for many years. If you stay with the same, you restrict yourself from continuing to learn. If there is an opportunity in other positions within the same company (which is where I want to stay), well.., why not? Why not learn more? Moving within the company has given me an advantage. When I returned to engineering, it gave me an advantage because I brought the knowledge of renewable energy from another department. That gave me a higher experience level among the other engineers.”
Although the collective opinion has evolved and probably the professions are already associated much less with a certain gender there are things that have not changed. Prepare academically and work hard for what you want are the two constants when it comes to standing out in a profession.
‘You have to have the desire to excel in the profession and you have to have the desire to have the maximum qualifications needed and all the certifications available for your line of work. That is basically what is going to put you at the top of the gender category within the profession. You have to be well prepared. That will be the biggest difference. As any other profession, those two letters at the end of my title bring respect. When I hand over my business cards, the PE can change the tone of the conversation,” Reyes said.
For this reason, she urges other young women who aspire to enter the electric engineering to never give up, believe in themselves and reach for their dreams.