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Ivonne Pena Cabra works at NETL

Dr. Ivonne Pena Cabra is an energy analyst at the National Energy Technology Laboratory, passionate about the different dilemmas countries are facing in their electricity sectors: making them more climate-resilient, meeting a more active and larger demand, reducing its carbon intensity and ensuring both affordability for consumers and revenue sufficiency for the production and delivery related agents. 

She holds a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University and the Technical University of Lisbon on Engineering and Public Policy and is currently working as a Senior Engineer for KeyLogic Systems. She has worked for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the U.S. and the Colombian Energy and Gas Regulatory Commission in Colombia. She holds a Master’s of International Development from University of Pittsburgh and a Bachelor’s in Electronics Engineering from Universidad Javeriana (Colombia). She is a native Spanish speaker and fluent in French and Portuguese.

What inspired you to work in STEM?

I was fascinated by the simplicity and elegance of math. I wanted to tap into human creativity using applied math, i.e. engineering. Since electronics seemed to me like magic (how a calculator works, or a cellphone), I felt I really wanted to learn how to speak that language and play that music.

What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?

That I am involved in what I consider the most fundamental sector of modern life: energy transformation. I see that all of what we do and have comes from the energy we receive from the sun over the past 3-4 billion years -the oil and gas we extract from underneath the Earth and that we use for transportation and for lots of products, the electric power we use to power all our devices and search the internet, the food we buy from the supermarket aisles. All these are forms of energy, and understanding how we can innovate into these processes so we can ensure a sustainable future is exciting to me.

How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?

By providing hands-on and fun activities. By encouraging exploration and creativity, and recognizing that STEM is a tool regardless if women, girls or others want to be artists, or writers, or a stay-home parents.

STEM is just another language to understand our world, and can be played beautifully when is used to boost your own passion. Say you want to be a musician. What we can do is to show that STEM can help you create an instrument of your own. Or to record your own music by understanding the different signals that come into play and that look like a Fourier series. What we not necessarily need is to present STEM only as a standardized test that has no practical meaning and that does not encourage creative thinking. That is boring.

Also, we need to make sure STEM is not seen as the ultimate goal of a successful professional. The world does not need only engineers or scientists. But surely, if all of us learn a bit more STEM-related subjects, more consciousness of the beauty of life and the beauty of what the human has created can arise, which in turn can lead to more sparkling ideas!

Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?

Read a lot and make diagrams of the concepts that interest you. Maintain a journal with the questions you have. Check what your city is doing in the areas that interest you and learn about what others are proposing for the problems you see. Connect with people. Share your ideas -with your family, with your friends, with your neighbors.

When you have free time, what are your hobbies?

I like exercising -walking, pilates, biking. I love to maintain a digital journal, I love to teach (I am currently volunteering as a Spanish teacher), to play with digital photos and to bake cookies and cakes.

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