James Burke: ‘Don’ t Settle’

Dec. 15, 2010
If you like what you do, you’ll do it well, James Burke tells students in his many courses.

If you like what you do, you’ll do it well, James Burke tells students in his many courses. “Find something you really like; don’t settle,” Burke says. He is executive advisor with Quanta Technology and teaches courses in many power industry topics, from system stability and circuit analysis to overvoltage protection and economics. He is recognized as an expert in lightning and overcurrent protection, grounding, design, power quality and reliability.

“I like my job and always have,” Burke said. “My projects have always been challenging, and right now, I really like working with young engineers.”

He did not “settle” when he started out in his career. He majored in semiconductor theory, but said that GE’s power program was too big an opportunity to pass up. He began his career in 1965, training and taking courses in generation, transmission and distribution as part of GE’s Advanced Utility Engineering Program. In 1969, he accepted a position as a field application engineer in Los Angeles, responsible for transmission and distribution analyses. Now he has more than 45 years of experience.

Burke will draw on his overvoltage and overcurrent protection experience when he teaches a seminar on Distribution Neutral Grounding and Stray Voltage on Feb. 9-10 in Chicago. He has served as chair of IEEE on Distribution Neutral Grounding, which he said has helped his learning on this subject tremendously.

The purpose of the two-day course is to give the distribution engineer an understanding of when grounding is important and when it is not, as well as to address current concerns with stray voltage. The agenda includes a distribution system overview, system grounding classifications, substation grounding, ground resistance testing, the impact of grounding on electromagnetic fields and stray voltage.

“I think grounding is very misunderstood and because of this, utilities waste a lot of money dealing with it,” Burke said. “I also believe that ‘stray voltage’ issues that utilities have with customers are primarily caused by a lack of understanding of the topic and can unnecessarily cost them millions.”

Despite Burke’s broad knowledge and experience in the power industry, he tries to limit his course topics to two per year, the next course possibly being distribution engineering. He has also published more than 130 technical papers and is the author of the book, Power Distribution Engineering: Fundamentals and Applications, now in its 16th printing. He is also the author of two revisions to the distribution engineering chapter in the Standard Handbook for Electrical Engineering. He is a Life Fellow of the IEEE, the 1996 recipient of the IEEE Excellence in Distribution Engineering Award and the 2005 IEEE recipient of the Herman Halperin Award for T&D.

But the most rewarding professional activity of his life is teaching. “I think the best thing about teaching is that I always learn something and I take great joy and pride in seeing the students learn. The students are a great lifetime joy,” he said.

In his personal life, he has many hobbies (ham radio, electronics, woodworking, camping, target shooting, etc.) but “quite frankly, at my age, my biggest hobby is walks with my golden retriever,” Burke said. “We walk every morning at a local lake at 4 a.m.”

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