Judy Gates is a local retired physicist/engineer with a career that spans 30 years, primarily in technology development. As a developer and technology transfer engineer with Hewlett-Packard Company, she contributed to industry electronic interconnect standards that enabled rapid emergence of small footprint electronics that are still in use. After taking early retirement from HP, Judy joined Woodward, Inc. where, among other things, she managed their contribution to the execution of a grant to the City of Fort Collins through the Department of Energy Renewable and Distributed Systems Integration program. This work demonstrated the feasibility of using a decentralized network of power sources such as solar panels and wind generators to provide reliable electricity to Fort Collins residents and businesses. Judy’s educational background includes a Ph.D. in Physics from Indiana University and a B.A. double major in Mathematics and Physics from Lake Forest College.
Retirement has provided an opportunity for Judy to shift her focus to helping halt global climate change and encouraging women to become involved in the technical aspects of the clean energy industry. She is currently a Volunteer Presenter for Citizens’ Climate Lobby in addition to joining the C3E Steering Committee. She values being part of the She’s in Power program because of its emphasis on mentoring and reducing energy demand in local communities.
How does your current work impact clean energy?
Citizens’ Climate Lobby, for which I am a volunteer speaker, is dedicated to building political will for a livable climate. We advocate for legislation that will reduce national emissions by 90% before 2050. Besides replacing current energy sources with clean energy sources, the legislation incentivizes clean energy technology development.
What was your first experience in the clean energy space?
I managed Woodward’s contribution to the Department of Energy’s Renewable and Distributed Systems Integration (RDSI) grant to the City of Fort Collins. Woodward contributed the hardware and installation needed to connect existing power generators at various city locations to a system that would supply power wherever it is needed on the electricity grid.
I also volunteered for Grid Alternatives by assisting with solar panel installation for low income citizens.
What sparked your interest in clean energy as a career path?
I was fascinated by the challenges of the grid control system — seamlessly connecting and disconnecting energy sources in a way that electricity users would not see any changes. We will have to use control systems like this for clean energy sources because solar panels and wind generators do not generate energy continuously.
How have your educational experiences informed your journey?
Experimental physics provided me with a general background in many technical fields.
What role has mentorship played in your career?
Mentorship was not emphasized or even articulated until very late in my career. However, there have been a few people who helped me a great deal in learning how to work in teams, navigate the corporate world and advocate for my ideas and findings.
Have you encountered any challenges as a woman working in a technical field? How have you addressed those challenges?
Being different in a team of people can be a challenge. Because I think we all tend to want to interact with people we are comfortable with, the only woman in a team of men can feel ignored or left out. My best strategy has been to become more assertive by entering conversations and recognizing that, in general, men don’t intend to leave me out.
What one thing would you change about the clean energy workplace to make it more equitable for women?
Increase the number of women leaders.
What advice would you give to young women who want to pursue a career in clean energy?
I would advise women in any field to try to understand the people they work with so that they can be assertive in non-threatening ways and understand how to be recognized for the quality of their work.
What is your proudest achievement in the industry to date?
I am proud of my advocacy of national legislation to address climate change and incentivize technology development. It will be exciting to see new, emerging technologies for electrical grid redesign, energy storage, carbon dioxide sequestration and storage, and other areas required for a carbon-free future.
What would you like your legacy to be, in clean energy or in life?
My goal is to have an impact on making the future better than the past. Currently, this means helping increase the number of women in technical fields addressing climate change so that these women can have long, productive careers.
How do you think educators can inspire more girls and young women to enroll and stay in STEM-related studies?
It would be great for educators to provide exposure to women in STEM fields in order to break stereotypes that some girls may have. Also, showing girls that engineering is important even in fields that are associated with women such as clothing design and pattern making, mathematics of knitting, etc. Also, teaching skills that they are less likely to learn outside of school but can put them behind in entering a technical field in college would be very helpful. Examples are use of mechanical tools, metal or wood working, operation and repair of common objects such as bicycles, faucets, solar panels, wind generators, etc.
How do you think clean energy professionals can encourage more women to pursue careers in clean energy?
Professional women can reach out by participating in STEM and mentorship programs sponsored by high schools and colleges.
What role should Colorado C3E play in advancing women in clean energy?
Through She’s in Power, C3E is performing a great service by exposing girls and young women to real projects and giving them the opportunity to see the results they can achieve.
I am particularly interested in actual career paths of women in the workplace for the first five to ten years after college graduation. Early career mentorship may be a great direction for C3E in the future.