Susan Dunham started her career in the nuclear power industry nearly 30 years ago. But, after 24 years in administrative support positions, she “got out of her box” and enrolled in a power engineering technology course at her local community college in Saint John, New Brunswick. “There came a time when I realized I could do more,” she says.
She made this realization when she moved to a position at the head office of NB Power in Fredericton. Within a year, she had learned a ‘completely different job’ and designed and built her own home. Taking on so many new tasks showed Susan just what she could accomplish, she says. As the walls of her house rose around her, her confidence grew. Soon after in 2001, she decided to go back to college.
“When I went to tell the Vice President of Human Resources that I wanted to take a leave of absence, he just said, ‘You don’t know how much you just made my day!’ ” she says. “He even guaranteed me a position after graduation.
Susan was the only women out of thirty students enrolled in the program. Although she went through an initial culture shock of being in a younger, male-dominated learning environment, “all went well.” The support Susan had from family and friends, and especially her daughter, helped her to complete the program.
“At one time my teenage daughter and I were studying the same chemistry,” she says. “That was kind of fun!” Her daughter, who her mother says has a natural ability in math and science, may follow in her mother’s footsteps and also complete her diploma in power engineering.
Susan says she sees herself as someone who is self-motivated and who loves a challenge. These traits, inherited from her father, have helped her achieve her career goals.
Today Susan is training for a position as a senior power operator. This job involves testing safety systems and drawing up plans for the maintenance staff during shut downs, among other tasks.
“I could flick a switch and shut the whole plant down,” she says. “In this job you need concentration.”
Susan has two mentors. They are the two women who have completed the licensed senior control room operator training at NB Power. “I am so proud of them,” she says. “They have to do three to four years of in- house training. It’s quite a lot of education.”
Susan is called the “poster child of NB Power” because of the determination it took to go back to school. She wants to be a mentor to others to help them accomplish the same, she says. She hopes that her participation in Women in Nuclear may spur more young women to enter science and trades professions.
“It would be nice to foster a program to educate kids in the area using science fairs,” she says. “We need to let girls know that they have these capabilities and get them involved at a younger age.”
She wants these girls to realize, just like she did, that “they can do more.”
Created on May 22, 2008.