Back to School Flashback with Trevor & Kathryn: What ATC team members wanted to be when they grew up
Editor’s Note: Now that students across the country are back in the classroom for a new school year, we asked American Transmission Co. team members to reflect on their youth and what they wanted to be when they grew up. Their stories represent paths to careers that ultimately help keep the lights on, businesses running and communities strong.
Trevor Stiles, Senior legal counsel
At the age the photo was taken, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an archaeologist, spending half my time studying Middle Eastern ruins and the other half of my time lecturing at the University of Oxford. For the life of me, I can’t remember why I decided on Oxford, but that was my childhood dream.
As a 7-year-old boy, my twin loves were history and digging holes. My three brothers and I lived in Florida for a few years where the soil was sandy and easy to dig in. We were constantly digging holes to bury treasure, build traps or construct fortifications of various sorts. At one point, I asked my mom what job I could have if I liked history and digging holes, and she recommended archaeology as a way to combine both of those loves.
How did you end up in your current career?
I entered undergrad as a pre-med biology major. We were required to take a broad slate of electives, and I was in a class studying Islamic history my freshman year when the Sept. 11 attacks happened. At that point, my elective course became much more of a focus for me. I changed my major to religious studies, with an emphasis on Islamic Gnosticism. While I considered pursuing a Ph.D. and teaching, my mentor recommended professional or grad school to evaluate other options—law seemed like a natural fit and has always been an interest of mine. So I applied to law school and attended Northwestern University.
As to why energy law, my dad is an environmental consultant who owns a small business. I grew up seeing pictures of power plants on the walls of his office, and I spent my college summers climbing smokestacks across the Midwest to do emissions testing.
Given that background, energy/environmental law made sense, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.
I love working at ATC—the people are great, the culture is incredible, and I enjoy the variety of work that I get. I didn’t quite end up doing what I dreamed about as a farm kid in rural Ohio, but I’ve never regretted it for a second!
Kathryn Erdmann, Consultant regulatory project manager
At the age the photo was taken, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I had no idea.
At that time (in the late 1960s), from my perspective and based on my limited exposure, the career choices for girls seemed to be nuns, nurses, teachers, and secretaries – and I wasn’t really keen on being any of those.
How did you end up in your current career?
I was the second oldest of seven kids, and had no idea what to do after high school. My family did not have adequate funds to help me go to college. Yet, somehow I always knew I would eventually go to college at University of Wisconsin-Madison, because that is what my older sister did. After high school, I moved out to a ski town in Sun Valley, Idaho, for a couple of years. When I returned to Wisconsin, I qualified as a self-supporting student and was eligible to receive government grants and loans for higher education. Still now knowing what I wanted to be, I started a curriculum in the occupational therapy program at UW-Madison.
During my second semester, I had a major crisis, as I realized I had a great fear of public speaking and was starting to fall behind in the class. So, I decided to drop the class and change my major. A classmate on my dorm floor was studying to be a geologist, which I thought sounded really cool, though I was clueless about what a geologist really did. Coincidentally, my boyfriend at that time (and now husband), was taking an introductory class to geology and was constantly sharing his excitement about the lectures and the field of study. So, I switched things up and soon found myself heading down the path to become a geologist.
I also worked in the geology lab at Madison for many years processing glacial till samples. I conducted tests for grain size analysis, carbonate content and X-ray diffraction. I loved that I was finally connected with the outdoors again and participated in every field trip I could possibly afford.
After graduation, I worked in the field as an on-site geologist for a company doing uranium exploration in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Later, I moved back to Wisconsin and worked for 18 years at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources – first as a water supply specialist, sampling and inspecting private and public water supply wells and systems, and then as a hydrogeologist-project manager in the remediation and redevelopment program, focusing on the clean-up and remediation of contaminated soil and groundwater and the redevelopment of brownfields. One of my colleagues there was exploring new job opportunities and was offered a position at ATC in the environmental department. Soon after, I found myself submitting an application to ATC, knowing that a window of opportunity had opened. The idea of learning a whole new industry had me rapt. The next thing I knew, I was offered a position at ATC in the state regulatory affairs department, which paired well with my nearly 20 years of experience at a regulatory agency.
I love everything about ATC and am proud to say I work here. I feel blessed to work in an environment where the values of the company have always and continue to reflect my personal values.
A late September day in Wisconsin seems reminiscent all things fall: changing leaves, cooler temperatures and the awareness of evolving seasons. For those who consider themselves “green thumbs,” it is also an ideal time of year to plant for the following spring. Unfortunately, the thermometer on Sept. 21, 2017 read a stifling 84 degrees. And on that day, a team of ATC employee volunteers had planned to put 3,300 native plants in a half-acre section of our transmission line right-of-way near the entrance of Mequon Nature Preserve.
Months earlier, our environmental contractor, Cardno, designed a site layout, that included a walking path throughout the vast garden, featuring selections from our Grow Smart® pollinator planting guide to demonstrate how the plants would eventually look. Cardno transported the 3,300 plants in small plug form to the preserve. Once there, they reassured ATC volunteers in the early morning of the sweltering heat that our efforts would eventually produce rotating blooms of vegetation throughout the seasons – attracting pollinators when they needed the habitat – and creating visual interest for the time in between. Our goal was to establish a habitat that would provide a contiguous flight path for these pollinators within our transmission line rights-of-way that runs through the length of the preserve. We also wanted to showcase the garden at the upcoming Mequon Nature Preserve donor event. Since the donor event was scheduled months in advance – heat or not, we had to get the plants in the ground.
Planting in the hot sun wasn’t the only challenge. Much of the soil in the Mequon, Wis. area is so hard that locals dub it clay. Fortunately, Cardno had the brilliant insight to pack two pieces of unusual but essential machinery: AUGERS. Yes, the gas-powered tool most people associate with ice fishing turned out to be a welcome piece of planting equipment for these conditions.
As the day wore on and volunteers followed the augers’ holes that zigzagged through the parameters of the orange flags, we scratched our heads. How could these delicate little plants ever thrive in such conditions? Once the auger spun out the rock-hard cylinder of dirt and we got the plants in the ground, would their roots feel comfortable in such hardened conditions? Was the preserve’s sprinkler rotation really going to be enough to keep them alive? All of these little plants are meant to help pollinators, but how were they really going to thrive, much less survive?
The Mequon Nature Preserve reassured us that their constant watering would aid the plugs through the unusual heat spell. “Before you know it, they’ll be covered in snow and go dormant,” said the director of education and research, Jason Nickels. “When they wake up in spring, then they’ll grow feet–or, more accurately, start to root.”
Melinda Myers, nationally renowned gardening expert and horticulturist who speaks on behalf of ATC’s Grow Smart® program, echoed that reassurance to a curious group of Mequon Nature Preserve donors two weeks later on Oct. 5. “They’re clay-busters,” said Myers of the thousands of little plants now living under a transmission line. “Part of the reason these plants were selected for this location is because of their ability to root in this dense soil and thrive in it, even if it feels like rock to us.”
Myers led event attendees along a new walking path of fresh wood chips, pointing out the barely visible species in a sea of orange flags, then transitioning to her presentation indoors. There, hundreds of attendees heard from Myers about ATC’s Grow Smart® program and our new initiatives statewide to help pollinators.
Since that time, temperatures have become more reasonable and seasonal. Leaves have finally taken notice of the shift and lost their chlorophyll, casting a fiery hue across the tops of the preserve. And below the transmission line, thousands of plugs sit and wait – ready to go dormant, ready to settle into their new surroundings, and we hope – ready in the seasons to come to help out those pollinators.
Will it work? Stay tuned.
The Grow Smart® pollinator garden at the Mequon Nature Preserve is the first landscaped garden of its kind in ATC’s service area. The purpose for establishing the half-acre garden is to provide a contiguous flight path for monarch butterflies and other pollinators within ATC rights-of-way. Using a custom layer for GIS mapping called the POWR model (Pollinator Opportunities Within Rights-of-Way), we analyze monarch migration paths in areas where our rights-of-way exist and determine locations to improve the pollinator habitat within that region. Other ATC partners for similar pollinator-attracting projects include rights-of-way at the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary in Green Bay, Wis. and the Woodland Dunes Nature Preserve in Two Rivers. Additional pollinator-attracting habitat is located within various rights-of-way where we have recently completed construction or have rebuilt transmission lines and then spread a custom seed mix. Watch Melinda Myers on TMJ4’s The Morning Blend talk about the Grow Smart garden at the Mequon Nature Preserve. For more information, visit www.atc-GrowSmart.com.
American Transmission Co. just made the Best Medium Workplaces list for the fourth year in a row. In the Great Place to Work survey, our employees rated ATC one of the best out of 74,000 surveys done at hundreds of companies across the country.
We asked some of our employees why they think ATC is a Great Place to Work. Here is what some of them said:
“ATC stands tall when it comes to supporting its employees with work/life balance and I truly believe that is key in today’s business world for retaining great, high-quality employees.”
“Whether employees utilize the matching gifts program, participate in volunteer opportunities or work with outside organizations to explore sponsorship possibilities, our management encourages us to get involved in our communities.”
“ATC is a great place to work because of the people. It’s each individual that makes up our One Team. What everyone brings to the office every day inspires me, supports me, makes me laugh and challenges me, all while advancing the business.”
“Our values are what has made me love working here for the past 15 years. Since our inception, our company values – whatever words we have used – have emphasized treating employees and all the various stakeholders with whom we interact with care, respect and transparency. The way we treat people is a key part of our strong corporate reputation. The values also have set the tone for us as employees. Our people are awesome; and everyone takes such genuine pride in their role in powering the lives and livelihoods of all the people we serve.”
Without a doubt, ATC is truly a Great Place to Work.
American Transmission Co. released 50 line construction contractors to help restore electricity after Hurricane Irma. Contractors from M.J. Electric and Henkels & McCoy are assisting Florida Power & Light Company.
Crews left the Midwest for Florida early Sept. 7. They have been working in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. area since.
ATC also offered resources to help ahead of Hurricane Harvey, but those resources were not needed. Instead, contractors geographically closer to Texas were called to action.
ATC commends the efforts of all working to ensure safety and restore power after both hurricanes.
It’s rare to find Senior System Control Operator Victor Cardoso without a glass jar full of homemade salsa. He makes batches in bulk at his home in Illinois. Then, he brings the jars with him wherever he goes – to American Transmission Co. in Pewaukee, Wis., where he helps maintain and operate the electric transmission grid; to his favorite Cheers-style restaurant and bar near his home; to visit his children and grandchildren.
He calls himself Salsa Claus. The labels glued to the lids of his glass jars feature the moniker, along with a photo of Cardoso with a large sombrero and a superimposed white beard. Instead of garland on his Santa Claus t-shirt, it’s a jalapeño. The text on the bottom of the label reads, “Good or Bad even the naughty deserve to celebrate!”
His salsa, though, isn’t for sale. That’s because for Cardoso, it’s not just about the salsa. It’s about the conversation and spreading kindness.
“I give it away, and I just say, ‘Do something nice for somebody. I don’t care what you do, just do it.’”
Cardoso’s outlook is rooted in his past. His parents and four brothers and sisters emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico in 1959 when Cardoso was 11 years old. They had no money, and didn’t speak English. They made their home in East Moline, Ill., where Cardoso went to high school and excelled in math.
“I came to this country, and this country was really good to us. So this is my way of sharing.”
Years later, Cardoso found the utility industry a good fit for his personality and proclivity for numbers. He worked as a substation electrician for 20 years before becoming a system operator. He started with American Transmission Co. in 2001 when the company formed. As a system control operator, he works 12-hour shifts on a rotating schedule, splitting his time between work in Pewaukee, Wis., and his home in Illinois. He says it’s a schedule that works for him and allows him the flexibility to spend hours in the kitchen.
“I don’t like routines. Being a system operator allows me to not have a routine. Making my salsa is not a routine; I do it when I feel like it or when somebody wants it,” he said.
Cardoso’s salsa recipe has evolved over the past 40 years when a friend first gave him a recipe for fresh salsa. Today, he draws inspiration from friends and family, customizing the ingredients and heat level to whoever he’s making it for. There are three spice levels – “Naughty Hot,” “Original” and “Nice Mild” – but he says he will make the salsa any way upon request. He once stayed up all night to create a new salsa verde with green tomatoes for a friend who is allergic to red tomatoes. He doesn’t look up recipes, instead opting to try new flavor combinations on his own.
“It’s a hobby. It’s a way of meditating. So when I start experimenting with flavors, I’m in my kitchen for hours; I just get wrapped up in my own world, and I just start making it. It’s a form of relaxation for me. I’ve had people tell me it’s the best salsa they’ve ever had. What a compliment.”
Over the years, he has served on the boards of a number of charitable organizations, and his family was a foster family. He has donated his salsa to help with fundraisers, like one for the Youth Service Bureau of Rock Island County. He says his salsa is for everyone.
“I don’t care who they are. I’ve given my salsa to multimillionaires. I’ve given my salsa to people who don’t have a whole lot. If you like it, I’ll give it to you.”
Today, Cardoso uses his salsa as a way to start conversations. He says he just wants people to talk to each other and learn about each other. He says salsa is one way to make that happen.
“There’s a lot of ugly things going on in this world. There are issues that people are upset about. People are antagonizing each other. There’s bad feelings. I don’t want to have anything to do with it. I just want to do something that’s fun that’s not harmful, and it turned into this.”