Behind the Scenes: Interview with Jannelle James USAID/Jamaica’s Energy Guru

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Wednesday, February 9, 2022
USAID's Energy Guru Jannelle James
Jannelle James

In celebration of  International Day of Women & Girls in Science 2022, we recently chatted with our very own Jannelle James who is the project management specialist for energy and the mission environment officer for USAID/Jamaica. In this male dominated field, Jannelle spoke about her journey and obstacles she faced as a female while pursuing her dream in engineering, science and energy.   

Jannelle, what exactly does your role at USAID/Jamaica focus on?

My portfolio primarily focuses on Disaster Risk Resilience that looks to make the electricity more resilient to shocks and diversify the energy supply.

What is your background of study and how did you get into this field?

My background is Electrical Engineering and I got into the field by happenstance. I went to an all-girl high school (Westwood High)  and they  didn’t offer a wide range of technical subjects.  After graduating, I initially wanted to do a Pre–Engineering Course at Browns Town Community College but ended up doing A Levels in Math, Physics and Geography.

The following year my brother was applying for admittance to the University of Technology (UTECH) and my mother encouraged me to apply for an area that I was interested in.  I applied for the Engineering course and was accepted to the three-year diploma course. I completed year 1 in Montego Bay and then moved to Kingston for the remaining years.

My first job was at a telecommunications company and while there I returned to UTECH to pursue my Bachelors Degree in Electrical Engineering. After completing the degree, I was offered the position for an Engineer at an Electrical Company. This was where I was  introduced to Renewable Energy and Energy efficiency. My job entailed designing solar systems and managing the installation of energy efficiency and solar pv projects.

This job led to more jobs in the Energy field.

 Did you face any obstacles as a female working in this field? 

Yes, there were obstacles along the way. Mainly when I started to work fulltime. My classes from the Diploma up to the Masters were all male dominated, but the guys respected me and I had a group of friends that always looked out for me.  Also, they tended to want to be placed in groups with women as we generally got better grades and produced better quality assignments.

While working at the electrical company, I was asked to take over the supervision of a project as they had encountered some issues with the person who had closed the deal.  I initially received resistance from the gentleman when I requested information to get the job done.  However, I did not let his hesitancy intimidate me, so I just went around him and got the information needed to complete  preparation for the installation. I completed it in time and under budget.  I later found out that he didn’t want to play a part in the installation as he did not believe that he could learn anything from me, a young woman. Even though I was far more qualified and experienced in the area than he was.

What is your greatest accomplishment thus far in this field of work?

I supervised the installation of over twenty solar pv systems across the island. These were done at various Jamaican schools and government agencies. I was also a part of the project team that installed the stadium lights at Sabina Park.

Completing my Master’s Degree was a major accomplishment for me as it entailed a lot of work and occurred during a time when I  was the only one in my unit and I was under a lot of pressure to complete some projects.

What advice would you give to young girls who are aspiring to be future leaders in Science?

Don’t be intimidated by being in a male dominated field. Keep upgrading yourself,  be prepared  so that you are ready when opportunities come your way.

Last updated: June 21, 2022

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