What does a career in water power look like? And where does one start? The U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) chatted with several attendees at the National Hydropower Association’s (NHA) recent Waterpower Week to gain insight from professionals in this watery world. Dive in to learn how they ended up in water power and get inspired by their everyday impact!

Camille Ellsworth smiling while wearing a name tag.

Camille Ellsworth speaks to university students during the “Connecting University Students to Young Professionals” panel at Waterpower Week in Washington, D.C.

Photo from Taylor Mankle, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Camille Ellsworth, Hydro Development Associate at rPlus Energies

“I love my job. My first few months, I would wake up every morning in a daze like, ‘Is this my life? This is amazing, what I get to do every day,’ and that excitement carries on to today. rPlus Energies is building a legacy through solar, wind, battery, and pumped storage power facility development. We're working on these massive pumped storage hydropower projects that will stand as fixtures in communities for 100+ years, supporting them and the transition of the power grid to clean, reliable energy. These projects are a keystone of that transition and recognizing that I have a part in this great work, that I can make an impact—there is a lot of energy there.

"I grew up around renewable energies, like solar, so that's really where my passion for renewables and sustainability comes from. My interest in renewables led me in a roundabout way to the Hydro team at rPlus. When I came into this job, I had no idea what pumped storage hydropower was. An unexpected career twist, I now manage the development of pumped storage projects, coordinating the engineering, environmental, permitting, transmission, etc., that goes in to getting these projects ready to construct. I came in without an industry-specific background, but what really mattered was having project management skills and being committed to continuously learning on the job.”

Marycella Dumlao smiling and wearing an name badge.

Marycella Dumlao listens in to the “Connecting University Students to Young Professionals” panel discussion at Waterpower Week in Washington, D.C.

Photo from Taylor Mankle, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Marycella Dumlao, Meeting Planner and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Lead at the National Hydropower Association

“I think a lot about my career journey. I am the daughter of immigrants, and my mother came here with basically nothing except the clothes that she owned. I think about all of the obstacles that I felt I had to face on my own, like applying to college and writing my resume. My role at NHA is deeply rooted in diversity, equity, and inclusion, and has led to creating the Future Leaders of Waterpower group. Starting this group has given me the opportunity to think about other young professionals with similar stories, and I don’t want them to face the same hurdles I did. If I can help them learn soft skills, such as negotiating for themselves or public speaking, then I will feel so much better about the impact that I have been able to make.

"There is so much going on in water power—more funding, infrastructure improvements, and overall growth—all of that means there is a ton of opportunity to get involved. The future has space for everyone, and part of what I have been given a platform to do is make sure that young professionals and historically excluded groups have a voice in that future. We are working really hard to transform the space of hydropower, and I’m so excited about what NHA is doing, not only giving folks a platform, but also giving them the experiences they need to become leaders in this industry.”

Kristi Terrasal speaking into a microphone.

Kristi Terrasa speaks to university students and young professionals about her water power career journey and shares her advice for overcoming challenges as a young professional at Waterpower Week in Washington, D.C.

Photo from Taylor Mankle, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Kristi Terrasa, Business Development Associate at C-Power

“I went into college thinking I was going to do medicine. I got to organic chemistry in my second semester and took a hard right out of there, and then went to the humanities and social sciences side, which I still love. I started my first job in 2020, right in the middle of COVID-19, at a real estate law office. It was interesting and challenging in different ways, but I felt like creativity was lacking in my day-to-day. I felt like I had lost that humanities and social sciences side that I had loved, and that was something that really drew me to C-Power. When I heard that my day-to-day would look really different, touching legislative work, marketing work, communications work, and all sorts of fields and sectors, I was like, ‘Yes, I want my day-to-day to vary and be adventurous and fun and kind of scary,’ and I took that leap into water power. Today, I help recruit people to work at C-Power, develop materials to engage with potential partners and investors, and investigate how we can best showcase our work in marine energy for the public as well as our stakeholders.

"I think early on, I was a little hesitant and scared of, ‘Oh, this water power thing is kind of new and upcoming. I don't know.’ That was scary for someone like me. I'm pretty risk-averse, but that kind of adds a little edge to each day. It makes me feel more competitive. It makes me feel like I'm driving toward something, that I'm growing, that I'm challenging myself, that I'm expanding in a way that I don't think I could really do in any other space.

"What keeps me coming to work every day is feeling like I'm working toward something bigger than myself. This job creates an opportunity to help millions of people and to have an impact that could change the world and the future.”

Karen Heinold talking with two others in a presentation room.

Karen Heinold with her WPTO colleagues at Waterpower Week in Washington, D.C.

Photo from Taylor Mankle, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Karen Heinold, Communications Contractor for the Water Power Technologies Office

“Growing up, I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to be Diane Sawyer. But in college I decided to focus on communications. Then, I coincidentally discovered this world of doing communications for technical subjects, which I ended up loving. I liked talking to engineers, researchers, scientists, and other experts, learning about the cool stuff they're working on, and helping them share it with people. Eventually, I landed at WPTO, supporting the office’s communications and getting to learn all about hydropower and marine energy.

"For me, it's the people who make this job inspiring. Some folks get so excited talking about the projects they’re a part of, what they’re researching, and it's hard not to get excited about it yourself. I also love learning about different technologies and the incredible opportunities for them to help drive the clean energy transition. That's what gets me excited and keeps me coming to work every day.

"Water power, whether hydropower or marine energy, is so important for that energy transition. So, getting young professionals and students of all ages excited about water power and its potential really sets us up for success in the future. And they can choose whether they want to be an engineer or a scientist or whether they want to take a different path, like I did. Just showing them all the opportunities that exist will hopefully spark some curiosity and inspire them to get involved in the water power industry.”

Colin Sasthav talking.

Colin Sasthav chats with Hydropower Collegiate Competition students about his role in hydropower and learns about their interests at Waterpower Week in Washington, D.C.

Photo from Taylor Mankle, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Colin Sasthav, Hydropower Engineer and Technology Manager at the Water Power Technologies Office

“When I was in middle school, my family took a trip to India, where my grandparents live. As soon as we got off the plane, I noticed the smog-colored sky—the car exhaust and cigarette smoke, all of it was just baffling. But when we traveled south, the landscape was lush with natural waterfalls, and it made me think about how ecosystems respond to human impact. It made me curious about sustainability and clean energy, and I knew I wanted to do something with renewables.

"In grad school, I learned that I’m more interested in how renewable energy research applies to industry and society at large. So, I really enjoy what I do right now, which is finding the most impactful ways to invest government funding into hydropower research and development. I kind of see myself as the link between the research and industry needs.

"One of the most interesting things about hydropower is that it’s so integrated into the natural environment. You're not only producing renewable power, but you’re also managing entire ecosystems, which is what inspired me to choose this path. What excites me most is that hydropower can be a part of the climate solution, not just a source of renewable power.”

Samantha Quinn laughing with another person in front of a poster of an island.

Samantha Quinn chats with fellow water power experts at Waterpower Week in Washington, D.C.

Photo from Taylor Mankle, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Samantha Quinn, Program Manager at Pacific Ocean Energy Trust

“There are so many different facets that go into this industry, into this sector, and I realized that there was a place for me even though I'm not an engineer, which is something I try to instill into younger people nowadays. There is a need for people in addition to engineers, and that was a need that I could fill.

"My area of expertise is project management, but I also really enjoy learning about the science and engineering behind water power technologies, which has kept me wanting to learn more. That interest has allowed me to explore where I want to be professionally, and now I run the University Marine Energy Research Community and Testing Expertise and Access for Marine Energy Research programs. I spend a lot of time meeting with people, informing people of opportunities, and planning each program’s cycle. No day is the same, but I really like that every day is different.

"I really believe in the work that we're doing, and I really want to see this sector succeed. I left the sector for a little bit and did something that I wasn't very passionate about, but it gave me the respite I needed at the time—and now I’m back. Because for me, it's about having a purpose and making an impact (as far as climate change goes) for, hopefully, future generations. That is definitely the underlying reason for me staying in this industry for as long as I have, which is almost 15 years.”

A group of people in business attire and name tags in front of the U.S. seal.

Jennifer Daw (front row, center left) celebrates with students during the Hydropower and Marine Energy collegiate competitions awards ceremony at Waterpower Week in Washington, D.C.

Photo from National Hydropower Association

Jennifer Daw, Senior Researcher for the Accelerated Deployment and Decision Support Center and Workforce and Energy Systems Transformation Group Manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory

“What is my journey? I think what I've heard this week is that no one has had a direct journey to get to water power. That's a takeaway I have right now, and that's also true for me.

"My role involves wearing many hats—I have a broad background in engineering. I’ve also been involved in policy work at the national lab, but my technical work right now focuses on workforce development for the water power industry, both hydropower and marine energy. Before this work, I didn't know a lot about hydropower myself, so I've learned a lot and have become a big advocate for it, especially the role that it plays in building a clean energy grid. Hydropower is also at this intersection of various competing needs, like recreation, drinking water, irrigation systems, let alone generating power from water. There are a lot of different sustainability factors there that speak to me and my background.

"It’s really interesting to see what is happening in the hydropower world these days. We have other pressures that are factoring in, like climate change (not knowing how much water we're going to have and when we're going to have it) as well as increased emphasis on local environments and on communities. It’s an exciting time to be part of an industry that’s not static, that’s changing, and that’s trying to do all the right things, and they're looking for people who can help advance that. This industry needs people who like complex problems, who are creative, and want to make a difference.”

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