Embracing math adds up to future success

From medicine to manufacturing and from sports to hospitality and beyond, mathematics is central to our economy and the foundation of every industry. That’s a point worth acknowledging following Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month in April.

Consider America’s energy industry. At its simplest level, everyone understands that you employ math when calculating how much it will cost to fill up your car’s 17-gallon gas tank at $2.50/gallon. However, for those that embrace math and seek employment in the energy industry, the combination equals rewarding careers with limitless potential. Pennsylvania’s young people (and parents) should take note, especially given the commonwealth’s leading role in the development of energy resources.

Energy development, delivery, generation, storage, efficiency, and its ever-expanding use is driven by the women and men of the energy industry. These exciting jobs are achieved by pursuing STEM-related (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degrees.

UGI Energy Services is a STEM company that constructs and operates natural gas pipelines, operates power plants, designs and manages liquefied natural gas storage facilities, installs solar arrays, helps businesses increase their energy efficiency, and much more. These activities and our growth would not be possible without a next generation of STEM-focused individuals.

Over the last couple years, we’ve hired dozens of millennials in many math-driven roles. They include engineers, project managers, operations managers, environmental project managers, finance managers, accountants and financial analysts.

Here’s a look at how these young people (my colleagues) used their proficiency in math to become part of Pennsylvania’s energy economy:

• Rena Heim, an engineer on our team, became interested in chemistry while in high school. Thanks in part to the encouragement of a family friend, also an engineer, she majored in chemical engineering at Bucknell, where she was also on the water polo team. A rigorous academic and sports schedule helped her set priorities and learn to work with different personalities. Today Rena works on projects like the recently completed Sunbury Pipeline, where math calculations range from figuring out natural gas volumes and pressures to cubic yards of mulch and soil pH and so much more.

“You can’t work in finance without knowing a little bit about math,” jokes Jorge Moreno, another young, talented member of our team. Jorge studied industrial engineering at Panamerican University in Mexico City and received an MBA from the University of Virginia. He joined UGI Energy Services following a few years with a management consulting firm. Jorge credits his success to his parents’ influence (both accountants), and encourages other parents to help children relate school subjects to different occupations.

• Environmental Project Manager Amber Holly also credits her parents as spurring her interest in science, as she grew up regularly peppering them with questions. It was because of a 10th-grade biology class that Amber first knew she had to pursue a career in science. Amber went to Millersville University, majoring in environmental biology. She stresses the importance of internships for young people. In Amber’s case, her internship exposed her to permitting. “Internships put you in real-world situations, provide skills you can’t learn from a textbook and help make you attractive to future employers,” says Amber.

• Internships were equally powerful for Marco Calderon. While at Cornell, Marco taught vector mechanics to inner-city students, an experience that led him to continue to this day serving as a mentor for Berks Youth. While pursuing his MBA at Carnegie Mellon, a school trip took him to the Middle East where his passion for energy was born. Marco has worked on solar installations, liquefied natural gas projects and pipeline projects, and he now helps find new markets for Pennsylvania’s abundant natural gas. Whether he’s mentoring students or younger colleagues, Marco advises to never stop asking questions and always keep learning.

Rena, Jorge, Amber and Marco serve as examples that there are many pathways to enter the energy industry, along with some common themes. Concentrating on math and science in high school is one. Another is to challenge one’s self both in and outside the classroom, whether on a playing field or in an internship. Additionally, the role of adults (parents, extended family, teachers and others) as mentors is vital to helping spark an interest in STEM.

With summer ahead, now is a great time for families to explore STEM summer camps. Many Pennsylvania technical schools, colleges, universities and other organizations offer programs for children of all ages.

As we observe mathematics and statistics month, let’s help the next generation recognize that math is important all year long. A rewarding career and high quality of life can be attained when upcoming professionals position themselves to join Pennsylvania and America’s energy industry. We look forward to having them help us find new ways to efficiently power the country for the next century and beyond.

Witmer is vice president of government affairs for UGI Energy Services.