Climbing into Cleantech with Kristen Palughi
Carving out a career where you truly live your purpose is crucial for success within any industry, but particularly in cleantech. It was this desire to be passionate and invested in her work that pushed Kristen Palughi, a Thermal Mechanical Design Engineer at Modern Electron, to make the switch to cleantech. By taking this step, she has found newfound confidence in her engineering skills, allowing her to drive towards her professional goals in a role she truly loves.
In this conversation, Kristen shares her thoughts on living her purpose as an engineer within cleantech, the work her team are doing within clean energy and her advice for anyone looking to pivot their career towards cleantech. This conversation is an insightful look into Kristen’s journey to become a passionate cleantech engineer!
Hello Kristen, it is such a pleasure to talk to you today. Could you start by telling us about yourself?
My name is Kristen Palughi, and I’m a Thermal Mechanical Design Engineer at Modern Electron. My academic background is in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas in Austin. Immediately after graduating, I started working for Chevron as a facilities engineer, on a rotational programme which I really enjoyed because it included so many different things! I was there for over five years, until last year when I made the move into cleantech. I started working for Modern Electron which is a sustainable heat and power company that helps building owners and homeowners save money, reduce carbon emissions and increase resilience during power outages. Outside of work, I relax by climbing which has become a big passion of mine!
Did you always want to be an engineer?
I didn’t always know I wanted to study engineering so it was helpful that my dad was an engineer too. My parents recognised that it was a great opportunity for women to get involved in the industry so they encouraged me to take engineering courses in high school and talk to engineering students at different schools. Through this, I realised that there was massive potential for creativity and growth within the field, and it was at this point I decided I wanted to pursue it as a career.
When did your interest in cleantech begin?
I started to gain an interest in cleantech when I was in college. My friend got me onto a programme called Project for Underserved Communities. The programme combined engineering students with social workers to implement a project tackling a specific need in a disadvantaged community. I helped install a solar water pumping system in Papua New Guinea and it was an incredible first exposure to both the challenges and rewards of cleantech. It helped me to believe that as an engineer I am in an incredible position to be able to have a positive impact. I struggled to feel invested in my work at Chevron, so when I was looking for new opportunities, I knew I wanted to work in a company whose cause I believed in. Now I can use my educational background for an important mission that I am invested in.
Why is cleantech a good solution for disadvantaged communities?
Access to cheap and reliable energy has a huge impact on the quality of people’s life. Providing a technical solution to communities everywhere not only helps the environment by reducing carbon emissions but also drastically improves communities' quality of life.
Would you say your entry into cleantech was in any way unconventional?
I would say the biggest change I noticed was from moving from a large corporation that mainly works with established technology, to a combined heat and power start-up with a purpose. Although two very different companies with very different missions, I felt I had a number of transferable technical skills as I moved to another engineering role.
What are the biggest lessons you have learnt from your time in cleantech?
I would probably say realising that being passionate and invested in my work is critical for me. I now feel so much more capable of developing and attaining my professional goals. This has given me a lot more confidence in my engineering which I don’t feel like I had before. I have also found that I can easily adapt to new situations in my current role because the work environment is very different here. In a large engineering company, processes and structures are already set out for you, whereas at Modern Electron I find myself taking initiative, thinking of solutions and tackling challenges by myself which stretches my skills in the best way.
“being passionate and invested in my work is critical for me. I now feel so much more capable of developing and attaining my professional goals”
What are you currently working on at Modern Electron?
My team are working on producing a combined heat and power furnace for residential use. A huge proportion of a household's energy usage goes into home heating and a large majority of homes use a gas furnace meaning the infrastructure is already in place. With our solution, there is no need to change this installation, we can implement our technology which uses the energy used to heat a home to also generate electricity. It is so effective that there is enough to keep it on even if there is a power outage which makes it a reliable energy source, too.
Thank you for such an insightful conversation, Kristen. Just before you go, I wanted to finish with what would be your advice for anyone looking to pursue a career in cleantech?
I would encourage anyone looking to transition into cleantech to not compare themselves to anyone and allow these comparisons to hold them back. Every single experience matters, it is not just the type of experience. but rather how and what you have learnt from the experience that counts.
Stay in touch with Kristen and her work at Modern Electron here.
To discover how Brightsmith can help you climb into cleantech and live your purpose, get in touch with the team today -
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