American Transmission Co. is home to some of the best and brightest engineering minds in the utility industry.
That’s thanks, in part, to a team that’s relatively small and rather new; but it’s a team that’s making a substantial impact – design engineering.
In just six years, ATC’s design engineering department has supported $100 million in projects. Still, Design Engineering Manager Nick G. says the department’s most valuable asset isn’t the projects – it’s the people.
The department has welcomed, encouraged and cultivated the talents of dozens of engineers and designers, many of whom started with ATC as recent college graduates.
Meredith J., project engineer, credits her time in the department with her growth as an engineer.
She graduated from UW-Madison in 2011 with a civil engineering degree. She joined ATC as a scheduler in 2012 after working briefly in the utility industry. Hoping to gain more engineering experience, she joined the design engineering team. After honing her skills in the department, she now works on much larger projects as a project engineer with ATC.
“The experience in design engineering has been incredibly valuable in my current role as a project engineer,” said Meredith.
Design engineering supports projects that play a vital role in ensuring ATC meets energy needs across its service territory. The team is responsible for designing repairs or replacements of infrastructure like wood poles, batteries, communication technologies and control devices. The team also works on line relocation projects, and projects connecting transmission lines to distribution substations.
The design engineering team formed in 2011 when ATC opted to bring formerly contracted design services in-house. Leaders at ATC thought the department could help train and cultivate newer engineers.
Six years later, the design engineering team atmosphere is undeniably positive with a focus on collaboration and creativity. Nick says it’s not just the newer engineers who benefit – it’s everyone.
“It’s fun. We learn a lot. The more experienced people learn a lot from the new employees, so it makes it a lot of fun to have that new, fresh creativity in the group,” he said.
Jerry C., senior civil designer, design engineering, was one of the more experienced employees to join the team. He transferred to the department after a number of years with ATC to fill a need on the team for more employees with a background in civil design.
“I feel very proud of what design engineering has accomplished in its short existence,” said Jerry. “We have trained young engineers that have now gone on to other positions within the company, and we have saved the company money by bringing some of the engineering back in-house.”
Tam V., team leader, design engineering, also joined design engineering to help mentor newer engineers.
“Working with the new engineers and designers in design engineering – watching them learn the business and develop their skills – has been the most rewarding part of my career,” he said. “They have a lot of energy and are eager to learn and make an impact. Sometimes the most difficult thing is to slow them down a little and help them learn to walk before they run. The goal is always for continuous and steady improvement.”
Going forward, the team is looking forward to bringing in more engineers and helping them learn to both walk and run with ATC.
2016 was a big year for American Transmission Co.
From new projects to new technologies, ATC is committed to being America’s premier energy delivery partner.
You can read all about our recent success in our 2016 annual report.
The report covers our commitment to excellence in power delivery, environmental stewardship, community partnerships and our financial health.
Tim Schmidt spends his days at American Transmission Co. helping keep the lights on for millions of people by ensuring electric reliability of the transmission grid as a senior system protection engineer.
He spends many of his weekends monitoring and ensuring the success of a completely different type of system – honey bee hives.
Schmidt began toying with the idea of becoming a hobby beekeeper five years ago. He and his family have always been environmentally conscious. They built their home in Brown County, Wis. with solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling. They planted wildflowers across much of their two acres.
“It just made sense that our wildflowers would do better if they had local pollination,” said Schmidt. “I’m always interested in being involved with my kids and having it as a learning experience. It combined our mindset of being green with our connection to nature.”
“People Thought I was Nuts”
After a considerable amount of research, Schmidt decided to start his first hive. Now, five years later, he has five hives and is well on his way to his goal of maintaining 12 hives.
Schmidt says it’s a hobby many people don’t understand at first.
“People thought I was nuts. They said, ‘You want to have an insect that can sting you?’ … When you first talk to somebody about bees, they think of the physical aspects and getting stung. But it’s not the honey bees that typically go after a person; it’s hornets and wasps. In general, honey bees will leave you alone unless you disturb their nest.”
Schmidt describes his role of beekeeper as a type of partnership with the queen bee, which ensures the health and viability of the hive.
“In the springtime, you’re making sure that the queen is doing her job and that she’s healthy,” said Schmidt. “You’re looking at several things within a hive as indicators of that queen, and you’re trying to check on it to see how she’s doing.”
Looking Forward to Spring
At this time of the year, Schmidt’s hives are quiet. The honey bees are living off the supply of honey they stocked away to make it through the winter. Three of his five hives have headcounts of roughly 8,000 bees. But soon, that will change.
As spring approaches and summer arrives, Schmidt says the hives will become much more active. The queen will begin laying more eggs, and the female worker bees will travel from flower to flower, collecting pollen. That pollen serves as the honey bees’ main protein source as they turn nectar and other enzymes into honey. At their peak over the summer, Schmidt hopes each hive will have around 60,000 – 80,000 bees.
After a healthy and productive year for the hive, Schmidt can begin collecting honey in the fall. He makes sure to leave enough behind for his bees to survive each winter.
He said beekeeping is something his entire family enjoys together, especially with his daughter, 9, and son, 7.
“They’re out there in their own beekeeping equipment, sticking their nose in the hive saying ‘Hey, what’s that? Hey, what’s that? Hey, Dad, look there’s the queen!’ They’ve picked up on those small things,” said Schmidt.
Schmidt says he’s looking forward to many more years of connecting to nature through beekeeping with his family as his children grow.
“I’m just at the beginning,” he said.
Planting for Pollinators
ATC works with our environmental contractors to plant seed mixes in the rights-of-way that generate vegetation beneficial to many species of bees, butterflies and birds. Low-growing perennials and grasses, such as those planted to attract pollinators, can grow and thrive within transmission line rights-of-way.
ATC is also helping people learn how to help pollinators in their own yards. Sustainable rights-of-way with compatible plant communities can help limit ATC’s long-term vegetation management program, which is needed to keep transmission lines safe and reliable.
In partnership with horticulturist and gardening expert Melinda Myers, American Transmission Co. has put together two guides to identify vegetation that will help attract pollinators like Schmidt’s bees. You can view or print the GrowSmart® Planting Guide and the GrowSmart® Pollinator Guide to learn more.
American Transmission Co. celebrated its recent commendation as one of the Best Workplaces for Giving Back with a company-wide volunteer day Friday. Last week, Great Place to Work and Fortune Magazine named ATC to their list of Best Workplaces for Giving Back for the second year in a row.
Employees at each ATC office worked on projects Friday that support local schools’ Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programs. ATC employees will also volunteer their time at the schools in the coming months. The volunteer day wrapped up a week of company-wide goal setting and discussions surrounding ATC’s Mission, Vision and Values.
Employees helped assemble wood tower kits for Fairview elementary students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Students will use the kits to explore engineering concepts and test the towers for strength.
Employees helped test model solar cars and provided feedback to teachers at Milwaukee Academy of Science.
Employees learned about the STEM projects students at Waukesha South Engineering Academy are working on and brainstormed more projects to support their curriculum.
Employees helped eighth grade engineering students at River Bluff Middle School in Stoughton, Wis. with a project to create a model of a simple transformer.
Employees helped test model solar cars and taught about soil resistivity at Rome Corners Intermediate School in Oregon, Wis.
Employees helped test a Solar Home Lab project for Ashwaubenon High School students.
Employees tested model solar cars for Kingsford Middle School. A group will later visit the school to speak with seventh and eighth grade students about ATC and careers in STEM.
ATC made a donation to support the La Salle High School robotics and engineering program.
To celebrate the designation, we are looking back on some of our favorite moments from 2016 spent in the communities we live in, work in and serve.