Jessica Vogel is about to oversee a project close-out meeting with first responders, a contractor and facilities personnel at a New Jersey high school where a rooftop solar array has just been installed. But there is a problem: The first responders are a no-show. Without them, the meeting becomes a get-together, and Vogel is left to make another trip to the school for a run-through with them about how the system works and what to do if there is an emergency. The 28-year-old mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineer takes it all in stride, however, as she is used to changes. That's a good thing because her career has been full of them.
"It happens," she says of the no-shows, an attitude cultivated first as an MEP at PMK Group and next as senior energy engineer at Birdsall Services Group (BSG), which acquired PMK in 2009. Just weeks ago, after BSG filed for bankruptcy, she became senior project manager at Luthin Associates' energy services unit. Flexibility, she says, goes with the territory.
At PMK, her time initially was spent behind a desk working on HVAC design, for example. However, less than two years into her tenure, PMK phased out its MEP unit and entered the energy market. Moved into that business, Vogel used her skills to conduct energy audits, procurements and renewable-technology work.
But not long after the BSG acquisition and just as New Jersey's solar market began to take off, Vogel's job description, once again, shifted. BSG was growing its market share in the state's solar program, and Vogel was tapped because of her electrical-engineering skills. Her clients have been mostly counties that embark on massive solar projects, usually by aggregating installations from many sites, like the high school. Vogel has acted as their eyes and ears in the field, project-managing and visiting multimillion-dollar jobs to install solar on ground mounts, rooftops and parking garages—most recently, throughout Somerset County, N.J.
One thing she has learned is that "youth does not always help" in a profession heavily populated with senior workers who typically second-guess the qualifications of a young woman dressed in jeans showing up at their sites. She recalls advice a senior female colleague once told her before setting out for a new project: "Before you get there, get your new boots dirty."
She laughs and says that, most of the time, she is able to gain trust quickly. "Solar in New Jersey has been around only for about seven years," she says. "I've been here for five, so I know a lot more about it than most people." Most people quickly catch on to that, she adds.
That point was echoed back at the high school by one of the school's facilities personnel when he bemoaned the fact that he would have to explain his job to several women who were hired at the head office. "Jessica," he said, shaking his head. "They're not engineers—they're not you.