Jennifer Charles

Civil Engineering, B.S. (2003)

Leader, ND Environmental Services - Great River Energy

Hometown: Mandan, ND

Now lives in: Bismarck, MD

Career path: After graduation, I moved to Minneapolis-St. Paul to work for an engineering firm with my main responsibility being land development. Four years later I accepted a position at Great River Energy (GRE) in the engineering department at their Coal Creek Station power plant and moved back to North Dakota. I provided technical support for the plant with some of my projects involving environmental compliance. Over time more of my projects were environmental in nature. After about five years I transitioned to the environmental department to focus on permitting, operations and compliance of GRE’s ND generation assets. I have been promoted to my current position of Leader, ND Environmental Services where I lead the ND generation environmental group being responsible for the evaluation, interpretation and compliance of current and proposed environmental laws and regulations relating to GRE’s ND generation assets and operations. 

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in engineering?

My parents inspired me to pursue a career in engineering. I was familiar with the engineering field as my dad is a civil engineer. Because of their encouragement and support, along with observing my mom’s professional success, I found the confidence and inspiration to pursue engineering. 

What’s it like being a woman in a male-dominated field?

It’s very rewarding! I have become very confident and not afraid to speak up to be heard. I also had a great female supervisor and mentor for many years. Diversity is important in a team and in a corporation. Women and men tend to process ideas differently and being able to bring a different perspective to situations is key to being successful. 

What advice would you give to young girls interested in engineering?

Go for it! It is a very rewarding, challenging career that is ever changing with so many opportunities. You won’t regret it!

What’s your best memory from NDSU?

There are so many! My best engineering memories were the late nights spent studying in the Civil Engineering building that occasionally led to chair races and other shenanigans rather than studying. I’ll never forget the friendships and life lessons I experienced during my time at NDSU. 

How did your NDSU education prepare you for your career?

My education at NDSU gave me the technical base I needed to pursue an engineering career. But it also established a strong problem solving and troubleshooting work ethic, along with teaching the importance of communication and relationship skills.

What first got you interested in engineering?

Math and science have always peaked my interest. Growing up, my dad, uncles and family friends were in various engineering fields so I decided to give it try. During my freshman year I wasn’t sure if engineering was right for me, so I talked to my dad. He asked me to research everything I could do with an engineering major versus what I could do with the another major I was interested in. After realizing all the different engineering options, I stayed in engineering which was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

What’s the biggest misconception about your job?

That it is an 8 to 5, 40 hours a week job that is purely technical. Many of our internal stakeholder’s work shift and outages so being available at their time frame is very important. While there are a lot of technical aspects to my job, I also lead a professional group and work with various internal and external stakeholders daily. Building relationships and having strong communication skills, along with being adaptable and having the ability to see the broad picture, are all key to being successful.    

What advice would you give to female college students just getting started in the NDSU engineering program?

Be you, be strong and embrace the successes and failures. Be you - while engineering is a male dominated field, don’t feel you have to mold to certain standards. Use your unique qualities to set yourself apart and achieve your goals. Be strong - engineering is challenging and you will run into some very challenging situations. Stay strong and persevere, it will all be worth it in the end. You will succeed and you will fail - celebrate the successes, learn from the failures and always keep moving towards your goals.   

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