Treating life as an adventure has brought perspective to Consumers Energy’s Vangie Harvey. Listen as she talks about the importance of taking control of your career and how mentorship helps.
Bill Krieger: The views and opinions of the guests of the “Me You Us” podcast do not represent the views and opinions of Consumers Energy.
Bill: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Me You Us, a well?being podcast. It’s another well?being Wednesday here at Consumers Energy, and I’m your host, Bill Krieger. Today my guest is Vangie Harvey. She’s a principal engineer lead here at Consumers Energy. Vangie, if you’d introduce yourself, we’ll get the conversation started.
Vangie Harvey: All right. Thank you, Bill, for inviting me to be on your podcast today. I appreciate the opportunity. My name is Vangie Harvey. I am a principal engineer lead within substation design at Consumers Energy.
Bill: Let’s talk about that a little bit. Many of our coworkers don’t always know what it is we do, and how we make a living. As a principal engineer lead, how do you make a living here at Consumers?
Vangie: Within substation design, I oversee the department. I am responsible for setting our strategic goals, aligning the team on projects, we discuss projects that are created within SAP, what does it mean, how do we scope out the projects, what barriers we’re going to have or that we need to overcome in order to be successful with these projects.
We also align with our operations team on their challenges so that we can incorporate those into the design. Then we just share our story, whether that’s with the planning team as far as our status, project managers, we also will share our status, costs. We also contract out work within substation design. We do oversee that contract work.
We also have major equipment department within our team, where we order large equipment, whether that’s transformers or closers, cat switchers. We also have a software team that helps just make some of those human challenges easier by creating applications to make our work easier.
Bill: You talk about substation design. Again, for people listening out there, could you talk a little bit about what a substation does? It’s an important part of our distribution system, for sure.
Vangie: It is. It really is. Within our substations, we are able to convert a voltage from one level to another. We may have a transmission line coming into the substation from ITC METC at 138,000 volts.
Then we’re able to lower that to high distribution voltage, whether that’s like 46,000 volts, or a distribution level. We can lower that voltage to the various distribution levels that we have on Consumers Energy system.
Bill: Something else that people might not know is that, we didn’t build our entire system. Some of it was systems that we had accumulated along the way. I remember, from my time in distribution dispatch, that the voltages in certain areas can be really different. It’s important to know all that when you’re putting the substations together out, I would imagine.
Vangie: Yes, because we have to order equipment for those voltages, just to make sure that we’re able to meet the capacity and the demand needs of that circuit.
Bill: Things have come a long way since I first got here. I have to ask this question. I remember when I was a little kid and thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I picture little Vangie Harvey riding her tricycle, saying, “I want to be a principal engineer lead when I grew up.” Is that how that worked?
Vangie: It is not how it worked. I wanted to be an international lawyer. I wanted to represent corporations and travel worldwide. Throughout my education, I attempted to learn several languages, and I can speak zero.
Vangie: My fallback plan, I realized that I was good in math. Then I decided that I wanted to go into programming, and go that route. I took my first computer science class. It took me about a week, when at one of my programs that I was working on, I had an error. It took me about a week to find where I had two periods next to each other.
I realized that this is not this area or the space for me. I decided to go an easy route into electrical engineering.
Bill: [laughs] It’s interesting that you would say electrical engineering was the easy route. I can relate. Back in my navy days, I was a computer technician. Part of learning to be a computer technician was learning. We had a programming section of our coursework. It wasn’t a very long section.
I remember exactly what you said. It could be just a misplaced period or an extra number, and it throws the whole program off. It is not easy to find that problem for sure.
Vangie: It is not. Especially when you’re looking at the code or the sections of code over and over again that you begin to see what you expect to see versus what’s actually there.
Bill: At what point in your life did you recognize that you were good at math?
Vangie: I don’t know when I recognized that I was good at math. I do know that growing up, my mother had me participate in DAPCEP, that’s Detroit Area Pre?College Engineering Program. I took a lot of extra math class, science?type classes throughout elementary and middle school, and so I did realize that I had a knack for it.
I know probably didn’t study as much as I should have in school, but I will always get good grades. I did have to try harder in English or history, and so I just gravitated more towards the math and science?type courses.
Bill: You mentioned being part of DAPCEP. Could I safely assume that you went to Detroit public schools?
Vangie: Yes, I went to Detroit public schools. Parker Elementary for kindergarten, then over to George Washington Carver, then graduated high school at Cass Technical High.
Bill: DAPCEP is no joke. That is a great program. I’ve done a little work with them in the past. The motivation of, honestly, every single student just blew me away. Usually, when you’re working with school kids, there’s that range from not really interested to really getting it, but everyone there was really getting it. They have a pretty strict program, don’t they?
Vangie: They do. It was a really great program because it allowed me to be introduced to other students outside of my elementary schools. It allowed me to see that there’s more opportunities, and even that you can expand your knowledge base, and give you, like you say, that drive or that motivation to do better.
Bill: Another question that comes up a lot of times when I talk to folks who have been involved in the DAPCEP program, as an example, is how representation really matters. That sometimes it makes it easier if we see people who look like us doing something that we’re not sure we can do, it might help motivate us. Did you feel that as well as you were going through that?
Vangie: I would definitely agree with that. I had the opportunity of having, not only within DAPCEP and working with that program, but having an aunt that was an engineer, and then my mother was a computer science major.
Watching them go through their programs, it seemed that you can succeed at anything that you put your efforts to, and you could be successful with hard work.
Bill: That’s another common theme, too, with a lot of successful people, is parents who are involved or who led the way, and also, relatives. It sounds like you got all of that in one spot. Was your mom pretty good at helping you anytime you felt like maybe you didn’t want to do this, helping you get through that?
Vangie: Absolutely not. [laughs] My mom and I, we would fight. We’re too much alike, and so we would definitely have our challenges. One of the things that she did do was make sure that I had the support that I needed, and would get me tutoring if I needed or find another individual, whether it’s in the family or someone within the school system, to be able to provide support.
I probably have to go back on one of my answers and say that I probably started getting interested in math because of my mother. She was actually going to school at the University of Michigan when I was about three or four years old, and she would take me to class with her.
One of her favorite stories to tell is that one day, we were in her calculus class and the teacher was presenting. I raised my hand and asked a question. My mom was trying to hush me and tell me to be quiet. The teacher encouraged me to ask questions. She said they were actually relevant to the topic that they were asking. I was probably paying attention without even realizing it, and developing my love for math.
Bill: That’s a great story. It’s funny because, as a parent, I feel like I spent the first part of my kids’ lives, teaching them how to walk and talk and the second half of their lives telling them to sit down and shut up.
Bill: Sounds like the professor was on your side with, “Let’s get these questions answered.” As you were going through school, you graduated from Cass. Where did you go from there?
Vangie: I went to Michigan State University, where I got my Bachelors of Science in Electrical Engineering, and I’m currently at Walsh College, obtaining my Master’s in Business Administration.
Bill: Did you go to Michigan State just to aggravate your mom?
Vangie: No. I did not go to aggravate her. I did follow my sister. That was probably one of the main reasons that I chose to go to State. It was an excellent program, and a really good time to develop my skill set as an engineer.
Bill: It sounds like you had a good experience at Michigan State, then.
Vangie: I did it. At first, I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. I do recall going to my first engineering session, where they brought all of the minority engineers together. They told us to look to the left and to look to the right. They said, “One of you will not be here.” I remember we all left that session thinking like, “This is discouraging.”
We made a vow that we’re going to assist, and help each other, and make sure that we all make it through the program. We did have some of our classmates not make it. One of the things that did come out of that was a strong community of people that work together so that we can each be successful.
When one didn’t understand a topic, we would train or tutor the others. They also helped us learn at the same time. To this day, we’re still friends and get together.
Bill: That’s great because those relationships you make during that time are so important. You brought up something, you talked about how you all worked together to help one another out.
I know that when I talk to people, a lot of the times, we’re in a place where we’re at, but it isn’t all just necessarily the magic of what we’ve done, that there’s always been someone along the way that’s helped us out. Do you have any mentors that you can recall that really helped you through a difficult time?
Vangie: Yes. I do. I have several at Consumers Energy. When I first came to Consumers Energy, I remember this gentleman called me up to his office. It was actually Rufus Gladney. He was asking me about my career. I was just thinking like, “This carpet is really nice in this office. Who is this person?”
I eventually learned who he was and his role, and him investing in what our desires were, where were our goals for work, working with us to ensure that we had the tools needed to be successful. Then Rufus Gladney, along with Frank Johnson, and Paulette Boggs would coach us on the side, and give us career guidance just to make sure that we’re successful.
There was a time where also I had some difficulty within the workplace. I have other people like Pam Bolden, step in and be able to provide support and guidance to help me overcome those challenges within the workplace. Even today, I think about the individuals that gave me guidance that allowed me to make mistakes, that coached me so that I can be successful.
I wouldn’t be here without them, and their belief in myself, and their support. That’s one of the things that I try to do is give back to other employees and to share my losses, the challenges that I’ve had throughout my career, what I did, what I could have done better to improve that situation.
Then mentor them, so that they can be successful coming along and not necessarily telling them exactly what it is to do, but allowing them to make decisions for themselves. Then, if needed, giving them guidance to address any issues that they may have and assist in the organization.
Bill: I know three out of four of those names are people whom I have worked with in the past. We always want to make it better for the next folks that are coming up after us.
I think about people like Frank Johnson, who started out in this company as a meter reader, which a lot of people started out as, and became a senior vice president. He was even CEO of our international work that we were doing many years ago. Then Rufus Gladney. I don’t know if it’s legend or not, but Rufus Gladney started here as a janitor.
Vangie: Right. Yes.
Bill: I remember him telling stories about having to make sure that when he got done vacuuming the carpet in the C?suite at the time, that the carpet had to all lay the same way. When I think about two people who could mentor me through struggles, I think about those two, gentlemen, definitely.
Pam Bolden, I’ve worked with in the past, and I’m still good friends with her and great mentors, to talk with you. I like what you said there that you make it a point to help mentor others.
The point I was trying to make is when you see folks like Frank Johnson and Rufus Gladney and others that came to this company, in those capacities, and when I see that you came here after college with a degree as an engineer, you can just see how we’ve slowly left it better than we found it.
Vangie: Yes. We have. I hope that I contribute to leaving it better than we found it. I did have the opportunity to participate in the engineering entry program, where we look to recruit interns and engineers for the company, and look to find qualified engineers to bring into Consumers Energy, and then provide them with mentorship and career guidance.
Hopefully, all of those employees definitely have faith that they’re going to make it better than how we found it. [laughs]
Bill: A lot of that through your guidance and your expertise, and selecting the right people for those roles. Another thing I find on the podcast is many of the people that I talk to, while a lot of them came up through meter reading, a lot of them started out here as interns as well.
That says a lot for how we treat and mentor and grow our interns is that they want to come back and continue to work for us.
Vangie: Yes. One of the things we tell them is that we’re not offering you an internship, we’re offering you to start a career with a great company. When we allow or tell them about the experiences they can look forward to having here at Consumers, a lot of them select to come and work for us.
Bill: Another great point that you make, too, is when we talk to them, we don’t talk about an internship or a job. We talk about a career. I think we’re one of the last companies where people really come here, and they stay.
Vangie: Agreed. Yes.
Bill: It truly is a great place to work. Well, Vangie, we are coming up on the end of the podcast. Before we go, I would just like to ask if there’s anything that you would like to leave our listeners with?
Vangie: If there’s one thing that I want to leave our listeners with, it’s that you are responsible for your own career. A lot of times we see limits within our life, but if you equip yourself with different skill sets, network, really become successful at your current role that you’re doing, you’ll find that those limits will be removed, and that you have an unlimited number of opportunities to find success here at Consumers Energy or anywhere in your career.
I just want to encourage people to be brave, to continue learning and to continue working on building relationships, because those relationships that we develop helps us overcome challenges in the workplace. My motto is that life is an adventure. If you’re on this adventure of your career, I want to encourage you to have fun and make the most of it. Thank you.
Bill: I love that. Life is definitely adventures. Thank you for sharing that with us. Thank you for taking the time out to come talk. I really appreciate it.
Vangie: Thank you, and you have a wonderful day.
Bill: Thank you to the audience for listening today. The Me You Us podcast is proudly sponsored by Consumers Energy. Leaving Michigan better than we found it. Remember, you can find the Me You Us podcast on all major podcasting platforms. Be sure to go out, find us, and subscribe.
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