Karen Bruce – CUP Leadership Board Spotlight – July 2012

What is your occupation and how did you come to work in this field? I am an Electrical Engineer working on Smart-grid development in New York City.  My background is in control and automation systems. So when I started to learn about climate change and the growing challenges with our nation’s infrastructure, I saw it as an opportunity to use my skills in an area of great impact—applying intelligent systems to make a smarter and more efficient energy grid.  I am also passionate about African Americans participating in the emerging clean energy economy.  I am an Executive Board member of the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) NYC Metro Area Chapter. And I sit on the AABE National Legislative Issues and Public Policy Committee, which advises national legislatures on energy policy issues and their impact on minority communities. In August 2010, I founded Black & Sustainable in NYC, a network for African Americans in the Green space, whose mission is to increase awareness among African Americans about opportunities for economic, environmental, and social change; empowering them to positively impact the community, through networking, service learning, advocacy and business opportunity.  Black & Sustainable reaches people of color all over the country, informing them on important news and events related to clean energy, education and sustainability.  I am acutely aware of the need for STEM education, an enabler to participating in a highly technology based economy.  This year I joined the founding board of the Harlem Engineering & Applied Science Charter School (HEASC).  HEASC is in the second application stage with the New York State Education Department to open a world-class STEM middle school and high school in Fall 2014.

What is the biggest challenge of your work? The biggest challenge of my work is that we are treading into new territory.  We are taking a massive infrastructure system that is a hundred years old, and making innovations so that it can serve us another hundred years. With respect to African Americans participating in the clean energy economy, I think the biggest challenges are very familiar: education & awareness and access to capital.  I enjoy working with other non-profit organizations and entrepreneurs to explore innovative funding models that create win-win value propositions for states, utilities and low income energy consumers so that our communities can further participate in and benefit from a cleaner energy economy.

What is your proudest achievement? In 2011 I developed a new electric distribution design and specification that saved almost $1 million in 2012 alone.   As the design is implemented throughout the system it is projected to provide hundreds of millions in savings over the next 40 years.

What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most? Don Rice of Rice Financial (and fellow alumni of Kettering University), Walter J. Edwards and Carlton A. Brown of Full Spectrum of NY, Carolyn L. Green of EnerGreen Capital Management, LLC, and Jill C. Anderson of NYPA.

Where do you see yourself in ten years? I hope to take advantage of all of the knowledge and skills that I acquire over the years in order to give back to my community through corporate leadership and non-profit board service.

What would be your advice to young people who want their careers and lives to have an impact? Pursue excellence in everything you do—work hard and work smart. Graciously take the criticism and the compliments moving—don’t let either distract you from your goals.  Finally, as you progress in your career, look for opportunities—or create opportunities—for the convergence of your skills, strengths and passions and you are guaranteed to have an impact.