The Dancing Engineer

Nov. 8, 2013
Can a tap-dancing, music-loving Texas woman find meaning and fulfillment as an electrical engineer?

Can a tap-dancing, music-loving Texas woman find meaning and fulfillment as an electrical engineer? “You bet I can, and I do!” says Kelly Joeckel, a transmission planning engineer at Oncor in Dallas, Texas, U.S. Joeckel is the area planner of the Dallas and surrounding east metro area. She’s in charge of all planning in Dallas, Ellis, Kaufman and Rockwall counties.

“In addition to running planning studies, communicating with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, and checking load and other data in my area, I was also put in charge of rating all 176 autotransformers on our entire system,” Joeckel explains. “That has been an exciting challenge that includes a mix of technical skill and interaction with people in several other departments.”

No other state has deregulated its power supply as extensively as Texas. Cooperation between the various agencies, power providers, utilities and other players is absolutely necessary to make the system work as well as it does, and that cooperation requires a high degree of technical and interpersonal skills. Joeckel is obviously the woman for the job, perhaps helped by her interest in areas not associated with power engineering.

Joeckel has been studying various forms of dance since she was three years old. There was the obligatory ballet, but what really excited her was tap. “I loved the complex rhythms and syncopation that I didn’t find in other dance forms, except maybe some jazz. I like that also, but tap is my favorite,” she says.

When it came time for college, Joeckel thought she’d study performance arts, but her dad nixed that idea. Though not a graduate engineer, he had worked in the civil engineering division in the Air Force. He knew the value of learning a trade that would yield a decent paycheck. So he suggested she check out engineering of some form at Texas Tech in Lubbock.

Joeckel took her dad’s suggestion and was surprised in her first few weeks. “I fell in love with mathematics. I also began to see that tap dancing and math have a lot in common; the complex tap rhythms are mathematically precise. In fact, when you get down to it, music itself is a mathematical paradigm. No wonder I loved higher math, the more complex the better,” she laughs. “I wound up in the most mathematical branch of engineering: electrical. It was the perfect choice, and I’ve never looked back!”

Ask Joeckel why she joined Oncor right out of college and she’ll tell you that Oncor is a great company providing great service to the community that she deeply cares about. And she’s still close to her parents in Arlington. Ask her how it’s worked out so far, and Joeckel will enthusiastically tell you about the way Oncor cares for and develops new employees.

Joeckel recently graduated from Oncor’s New Engineer Development Program (NEDP), which gives new Oncor engineers a kick-start for their new career through a three-year comprehensive program. New hires work with field crews and get a feel for the system as a whole. Each new engineer is appointed a mentor, an engineer who’s been around for a while and knows the ropes. The program also includes a curriculum of internal broad-based electric utility training classes. Electrical engineers are mixed in with mechanicals and civils. As a result, rather than the traditional strictly siloed skills and company knowledge, Oncor is building an organization of flexible resources to meet a challenging industry future.

“Keep in mind that all of these activities are ‘on the side’,” Joeckel points out. “All members of NEDP are working at their regular Oncor positions. The challenge of learning a new position along with participating in all the NEDP activities is difficult at times. But the enthusiasm is high; we know we’re advancing our careers and rapidly gaining new skills. It’s totally worth it!”

During her time in NEDP, Joeckel was the social chairperson responsible for the off-hours events that provided a lot of fun and built fellowship among the 30 or so members of NEDP. “I particularly enjoyed working with the summer interns, having myself interned with Oncor while I was at Texas Tech,” she says. “Being part of their development means a lot to me. The fun part is helping put together a big picnic for everyone just before the interns head back to school.” Now that she’s graduated, she serves on the planning committee as an advisor.

Joeckel continues to dance as much as she can and to share the sheer joy of the art. She’s a member of the Texas Association Teachers of Dancing and teaches at Miss Persis Studio in Arlington. She helps 4th through 12th graders put on dance shows, and she brings performances to nursing homes.

When at home and not tapping out rhythms as her husband accompanies her on his guitar, she enjoys her second hobby: cooking. “I like to prepare savory dishes, not sweet,” she explains. “I like to taste as I go, being inventive on the fly, enjoying the complexity.”

That’s just another example of the innovation and exuberance that’s found in Ms. Joeckel’s dance style and in her approach to her career and life in general. 

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