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Professional Life

Career Voices feat. The Honorable LaDoris “Dot” Harris
Oct 27, 2015 - 9:31:21 AM

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Remember the name LaDoris "Dot" Harris. She runs one of the most powerful offices in the U.S. Department of Energy. Harris and her staff have participated in more than 300 events across America focused on energy economic development, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, research and development programs.

Through publications and community events, she has reached over 80 million people on the topic of diversity, economic development, and sustainability in the STEM workforce.

"I lead the agency's offices of Minority Economic Impact, Minority Education and Community Development, Minority Business and Economic Development, Diversity and Inclusion, Civil Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity," Harris explains.

Additionally, she leads the department's Minorities in Energy and My Brother's Keeper initiatives, serves on the White House Council on Women and Girls, oversees funding strategy for minority-serving educational institutions, develops and implements minority business opportunities; and advocates for and protects the civil rights of employees and recipients of multi-billion dollar funding from the energy department.

Seamless narrative

By 2011, when President Barack Obama picked Harris to direct the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity at the DOE, she had the respect of her industry.

Harris had served as synergy leader for General Electric (GE) Energy's $7 billion Energy Services business. She was also focused on sharing best practices to increase effectiveness across the $54 Billion GE Infrastructure businesses. Prior, she was a regional service director responsible for a $500 million Power Service business.

She joined GE in 2000 as the e-Business leader for Engineering Services.

During the GEIS/Honeywell integration, she was profit and loss operations leader for its $2 billion Enterprise Solutions Service business.

Before GE, Harris was vice president of operations and production for ABB Service, Inc. As an officer of the company, she was responsible for all operations in the U.S. with nearly 450 employees. Harris was the highest-ranking African-American woman in ABB during the time when ABB was the world's largest electrical engineering firm, with annual revenue of nearly $40B and over 230,000 employees.

In many ways, she encapsulates the best of a seamless narrative.

Engineering a career

As a sophomore in high school, she had been planning on majoring in English, but that all changed after a teacher took her class on a field trip to the Savannah River Site.

The Savannah River Site is a nuclear reservation in South Carolina, located on land in Aiken, Allendale and Barnwell Counties adjacent to the Savannah River, 25 miles southeast of Augusta, Georgia.

The site was constructed during the early 1950s to produce materials used in the fabrication of nuclear weapons, primarily tritium and plutonium-239, in support America's defense programs. Five reactors were built to produce these materials. Also built were a number of support facilities including two chemical separations plants, a heavy water extraction plant, a nuclear fuel and target fabrication facility, a tritium extraction facility and waste management facilities.

"After we traveled there from Denmark, South Carolina, and I heard directly from engineers at the site about their jobs and other job possibilities I knew I was destined for an engineering career." Harris told the Department of Energy's Women @ Energy.

"Ms. Crum knew that the trip might have that impact on me and others, and I am forever grateful for her for that influence," she added.

The Energy field

How, we ask, did she enter the Energy field?

"I decided to enter the Energy industry during my senior year in college when I accepted one of thirteen job offers.

Harris earned a bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of South Carolina and a master's degree in Technology Management from Southern Polytechnic State University. Over the years, she has obtained extensive engineering, project management, and leadership training.

"This education and training led to a successful career as the co-founder, president and CEO of Jabo Industries - and engineering and management consulting firm; an executive at General Electric Company; the first African American female officer and vice president of operations and production at ABB, Inc., the world's largest electrical engineering firm, and a field services engineer with Westinghouse Electric Company where I was the named youngest manager in the history of its Nuclear Services Division," Harris noted.

. Director, Office of Economic Impact & Diversity, U.S. Department of Energy
. President & CEO, Jabo Industries, LLC
. Synergy Leader/Service Director, GE Energy
. Vice President, Operations & Production, ABB Service Inc.
. Operations Manager/Field Services Engineer, Westinghouse Electric

"Blazing trails, being an African-American female engineer in the conservative Energy industry certainly provides me that opportunity," she said.

At the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, Harris's
job allows her to impact the lives of Americans in historically underserved communities.

"In my current position, the work I do can help small businesses, Minority-serving Institutions, and communities across America, who are seeking access to the Energy Department's resources. I enjoy giving back to students and communities through my work, and working on problems that have national impact," she said.

How about decisions that affect her?

"I was nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. I serve in an Assistant Secretary level position at the Department of Energy governed by the federal protocol that affects senior officials like me," Harris observes.

But as with all political appointments, Harris is aware that her time in office is limited.

"Which hinders me from seeing some of our key initiatives, actions, and plans come to fruition," she confesses.

Something else she finds difficult about her job?

"One of the most difficulty duties of my job is the inability to reach the broad audience of stakeholders in our minority communities needed to be educated and informed of the urgency, opportunities, and challenges these demographic shifts and energy industry opportunities offer," Harris said.

"With the increasing demographic shifts in this country toward a more diverse population and the growth of energy development, the mission of the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity becomes even more important."

Tips, advice, and next steps

Harris started her career as a field service engineer with Westinghouse Electric where she spent the first 12 years of her career.

Are there any tips and advice she would give a successor?

"Energy is an issue that is at the front and center of this country, and we have a responsibility to mine the potential of young people to create a STEM and energy-literate citizenry.

"The Energy industry is one of the biggest influencers of our nation's economic wealth. One should enter this field well equipped with domain expertise that can bring added value to the company or organization," Harris said.

After leaving office, she plans to return to her company, Jabo Industries, LLC and continue to build its legacy along with her sister, Lillie G. Reid, a co-owner.

"Jabo is named after our deceased father, William "Jabo" Guess who instilled in us a strong foundation of faith, integrity, loyalty, and excellence," she said.

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Promoting STEM

The development of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers is integral to America's advancement. Career Communications Group publications--US Black Engineer & Information Technology magazine, Hispanic Engineer & Information Technology magazine and Women of Color magazine--offer a blueprint for continued growth and success in STEM fields by highlighting progress and people at all stages of the STEM pipeline; from the college student taking his first engineering courses to the senior executive managing the projects that will change the ways we live.

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