Many teenagers take a job at a restaurant or retail store, but Megan Dion got a head start on her engineering career. At 16, she landed a part-time position at FXB, a mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering company in Chadds Ford, Pa., where she helped create and optimize project designs.
She continued to work at the company during her first year as an undergraduate at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, N.J., where she is studying electrical engineering with a concentration in power engineering. Now a junior, Dion is part of the five-year Stevens cooperative education program, which allows her to rotate three full-time work placements during the second quarter of the school year through August. She returns to school full time in September with a more impressive résumé.
For her academic achievements, Dion received an IEEE Power & Energy Society scholarship this year. The PES Scholarship Plus Initiative rewards undergraduates who one day are likely to build green technologies and change the way we generate and utilize power. Dion received US $2,000 toward her education.
She says she’s looking forward to networking with other scholarship recipients and IEEE members.
“Learning from other people’s stories and seeing myself in them and where my career could be in 10 or 15 years” motivates her, she says.
Gaining hands-on experience in power engineering
Dion’s early exposure to engineering came from her father, who owned a commercial electrical construction business for 20 years, and sparked her interest in the field. He would bring her along to meetings and teach her about the construction industry.
Then she was able to gain on-the-job experience at FXB, where she quickly absorbed what she observed around her.
“I would carry around a notebook everywhere I went, and I took notes on everything,” she says. “My team knew they never would have to explain something to me twice.”
“If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it the best I can.”
She gained the trust of her colleagues, and they asked her to continue working with them while she attended college. She accepted the offer and supported a critical project at the firm: designing an underground power distribution and conduit system in the U.S. Virgin Islands to replace overhead power lines. The underground system could minimize power loss after hurricanes.
Skilled in AutoCAD software, she contributed to the electrical design. Dion worked directly with the senior electrical designer and the president of the company, and she helped deliver status updates. The experience, she says, solidified her decision to become a power engineer.
After completing her stint at FXB, she entered her first work placement through Stevens, which brought her to the Long Island Rail Road, in New York, through HNTB, an infrastructure design company in Kansas City, Mo. She completed an eight-month assignment at the LIRR, assisting the traction power and communications team in DC electrical system design for a major capacity improvement project for commuters in the New York metropolitan area.
Working on a railroad job was out of her comfort zone, she says, but she was up for the challenge.
“In my first meeting with the firm, I was in shock,” she says. “I was looking at train tracks and had to ask someone on the team to walk me through everything I needed to know, down to the basics.”
Dion describes how they spent two hours going through each type of drawing produced, including third-rail sectionalizing, negative-return diagrams, and conduit routing. Each sheet included 15 to 30 meters of a 3.2-kilometer section of track.
What Dion has appreciated most about the work placement program, she says, is learning about niche areas within power and electric engineering.
She’s now at her second placement, at structural engineering company Thornton Tomasetti in New York City, where she is diving into forensic engineering. The role interests her because of its focus on investigating what went wrong when an engineering project failed.
“My dad taught me to be 1 percent better each day.”
“It’s a career path I had never known about before,” she says. Thornton Tomasetti investigates when something goes awry during the construction process, determines who is likely at fault, and provides expert testimony in court.
Dion joined IEEE in 2020 to build her engineering network. She is preparing to graduate from Stevens next year, and then plans to pursue a master’s degree in electrical engineering while working full time.
The importance of leadership and business skills
To round out her experience and expertise in power and energy, Dion is taking business courses. She figures she might one day follow in her father’s entrepreneurial path.
“My dad is my biggest supporter as well as my biggest challenger,” she says. “He will always ask me ‘Why?’ to challenge my thinking and help me be the best I can be. He’s taught me to be 1 percent better each day.” She adds that she can go to him whenever she has an engineering question, pulling from his decades of experience in the industry.
Because of her background—growing up around the electrical industry—she has been less intimidated when she is the only woman in a meeting, she says. She finds that being a woman in a male-dominated industry is an opportunity, she says, adding that there is a lot of support and camaraderie among women in the field.
While excelling academically, she is also a starter on the varsity volleyball team at Stevens. She has played the sport since she was in the seventh grade. Her athletic background has taught her important skills, she says, including how to lead by example and the importance of ensuring the entire team is supported and working well together.
Dion’s competitive nature won’t allow her to hold herself back: “If I’m going to do something,” she says, “I’m going to do it the best I can.”