John McDonald: ‘Teach by Example’

Oct. 5, 2011
One of John McDonald’s personal philosophies is to teach by example, not just by words.

One of John McDonald’s personal philosophies is to teach by example, not just by words. McDonald does just that. He teaches several courses including a SCADA/EMSDMS course at the Georgia Institute of Technology; a Modern Grid: Substation/Distribution Automation course at GE Energy’s Learning Center; substation automation, distribution SCADA and communications courses for various IEEE PES local chapters as an IEEE PES Distinguished Lecturer, and this upcoming “SCADA, Feeder & Substation Automation in Electric Utilities” course.

McDonald has 37 years of experience and examples he can take into the classroom: 20 years with suppliers and 17 years in consulting. His supplier experience has given him the real-world experience of building, testing and implementing the technology. His consulting experience has given him the broader perspective of the technology across all suppliers.

He has taught many different courses in electric power engineering since the late 1970s and is currently director, technical strategy & policy development for GE Digital Energy.

“No matter what position I have had or whom I worked for, teaching has always been very important to me,” McDonald said. “I find great satisfaction in taking a complex, technical subject, boiling it down to simple-to-understand steps, and explaining to someone new to the field so that they understand.”

In teaching by example, he encourages students to challenge themselves with new experiences, to get involved in outside organizations and to build an extensive network of industry colleagues. McDonald has done all of the above. To name a few of his industry activities, he is on the IEEE-SA (Standards Association) Board of Governors; CIGRE USNC (US National Committee) VP, Technical Activities; NIST SGIP (Smart Grid Interoperability Panel) Governing Board Chair; IEEE Medal of Honor Committee; IEEE Public Visibility Committee; IEEE PES (Power & Energy Society) Past President; IEEE Division VII Past Director; and IEEE PES Substations Committee Past Chair.

On Oct. 25 and 26, McDonald will be presenting the SCADA, Feeder & Substation Automation in Electric Utilities class at GE Digital Energy’s Advanced Training Center in Markham, Ontario, Canada. The course will cover modern/intelligent grid technology, more specifically its SCADA, substation and distribution automation applications, designs, technical issues and benefits. The intelligent grid, its real value, and a summary of its architectures will be introduced.

“The Smart Grid industry initiative consists of all the automation components I teach. These are important to the industry because of the tremendous value they bring to the electric utilities,” McDonald said. “There are untapped potential benefits available to electric utilities that can be ‘unleashed’ with the right technology, organization and business processes. The more the students know about Smart Grid and its components, the more important a position they will play in shaping the future of their organization.”

McDonald enjoys being in the high-growth environment and being involved in molding GE Digital Energy’s Smart Grid solution strategy and offering. As long as he is involved in electrical engineering, he is happy. He has known since “middle school” that he wanted to be an electrical engineer.

“For Christmas and my birthday I wanted electronic kits to make, and I made walkie talkies, a short wave radio, a code oscillator, fixed televisions (put in new picture tube), and later on a stereo AM/FM tuner and a separate stereo power amplifier,” McDonald said. “I took electricity classes in high school. One of the first merit badges I got in Boy Scouts was the electricity merit badge.”

He received his BSEE and MSEE (power engineering) degrees from Purdue University and an MBA (finance) degree from the University of California-Berkeley. He continues to learn by experience and by teaching.

“No matter how much you think you know about a subject, you will always learn something new about it every day,” McDonald said. “I also feel you need to teach a subject before you can say you are an expert in that area. I have taught the same subjects worldwide and learn from every audience.”

McDonald has accomplished many professional successes, but said he has truly been blessed with a wonderful family. He has been married for more than 31 years to Jo-Ann. His daughter, Sarah, is 31, married Shawn in June 2010, and is expecting a baby girl, Ashley, in August 2011. His son, Mark, is 26. Sarah went to the University of Alabama and teaches moderately autistic third to fifth grade kids in the county where she grew up, and has a passion for teaching special needs kids. Mark graduated from Georgia Tech in electrical engineering in December 2007 and started work with GE in the Energy Consulting group in Schenectady, New York, in February 2008.

McDonald spent 12 years playing competitive tennis in the Atlanta area on two different teams, and he tries to play more golf—and ping pong—now. He works out in the mornings with a personal trainer. He also enjoys walking their dog, Skye, which he and his wife adopted from the humane society six years ago. “She is the center of attention at home,” he said.

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