FirstEnergy Offers Hands-On Learning and Career Guidance to Ohio Students

Jan. 4, 2024
The utility developed a Smart Grid trailer and more to educate the youth in the local community.

As a nearly 40-year veteran of FirstEnergy, Mark Vallo has seen vast changes within the electric utility industry, including the evolution of technology and automated equipment. With that comes the need to recruit future generations of employees who can operate it. 

That’s why Vallo, a smart grid performance manager, is committed to exposing youth across northeast Ohio to STEM-related fields through his involvement with the FirstEnergy Academy of Emerging Technology and Design at Akron Public School’s (APS) Garfield High School. 

Through this program, Vallo and his colleagues provide students with hands-on learning experiences in diverse fields of the electric utility industry, such as engineering, business management, environmental protection, information technology and more.

Most recently, dozens of APS students from Garfield High School, Ellet Community Learning Center and STEM High School in Akron, Ohio, spent the day at FirstEnergy’s Fairlawn Service Center to hear from a variety of FirstEnergy employees about what happens behind the scenes to keep their lights on and see firsthand how the electric grid operates. 

“FirstEnergy provides a lot of career paths for different types of individuals, not just engineers and line workers,” said Vallo. “I encourage students to take a variety of different courses throughout high school to see what interests them most, and then see how those skills and interests can apply to a role within the electric utility industry.”

Students kicked off their day with FirstEnergy employees giving them a tour of the company’s distribution control center, which serves as the command post for utility system operators to manage the electric grid and communicate with field personnel, like line workers.

Line crews also gave students a live safety demonstration to depict some of the most common causes of power outages, such as animals contacting equipment or tree branches falling on power lines. The presentation not only showcased how a system operator in a control room addresses these types of outage events, but also depicted some of the hazards first responders and the public could face when approaching scenes where vehicles or other objects may be in contact with live wires.  

Students concluded their visit by witnessing the practical application of the company's latest smart grid technology depicted on a new smart grid trailer. The smart grid trailer features real-life scenarios and demonstrates advanced electrical equipment used in the field, providing a controlled environment for training and education.

“When I look back at the experiences that I've had here at FirstEnergy, it's been a fun and rewarding career,” said Vallo. “I encourage youth to explore opportunities in this industry because electricity is the lifeblood of our communities. It’s fulfilling to provide this essential service, whether it be on the front lines or behind the scenes.”

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