Humans of IEEE WIE highlights a dedicated WIE volunteer who is well known for his/her notable contribution to IEEE WIE.

Noel N. Schulz, PhD, IEEE Fellow and ASEE Fellow
Bob Ferguson Endowed Professor
Inaugural Director, Institute for Northwest Energy Futures (INEF)

IEEE WIE: Please give us a brief introduction about yourself and your family.

Hello! I am Dr. Noel Schulz from Washington State University (WSU). I’ve been a faculty member in electrical engineering for over 30 years working at six different US universities and hold the Bob Ferguson Endowed Professorship. I also serve as the inaugural Director for the Institute for Northwest Energy Futures (INEF) I have been active in IEEE since I was an undergraduate student and served on the IEEE Power & Energy Society Governing Board for 12 years, serving as PES President from 2021-2013.
My husband, Kirk and I met as undergraduates at Virginia Tech. Kirk’s background is Chemical Engineering and he is a university administrator at WSU. We have two grown sons, Timothy and Andrew. Timothy is a computer scientist working in cybersecurity and Andrew has his PhD in Mechanical Engineering and is doing a post-doc in Germany.

IEEE WIE: What is your specific area of STEM?

My STEM area is electrical engineering with a specialization in power engineering. My activities involve the modeling and simulation of electric power grids including smart grids, renewable energy, storage and microgrids. One of my recent research projects included working with partners from India to design and implement a solar/storage/biomass microgrid for two villages. I had a chance to meet with the women of the villages to learn how reliable electricity was changing their lives. It reminded me of the impact of engineering solutions.
My second STEM interest area is the recruitment, retention, and promotion of women within STEM. This includes STEM students, faculty, and professionals. I was honored in 2023 when my efforts in this area were recognized with the IEEE Women in Technology and Leadership Award. My parents were able to celebrate with me as shown in my picture.

IEEE WIE: Please tell us something interesting about your life that may be why you chose the STEM field.
My dad was an electrical engineering professor, and my mom was an elementary school teacher, so I was interested in engineering education from an early age. When I was in middle school, I built a TV with my Dad from many parts. I had resistor earrings that I helped solder. I loved science and math so engineering was a great pathway for me. I became interested in power engineering because I thought there was an opportunity for me to help provide clean, reliable power solutions.

IEEE WIE: As an empowered woman, please share how you plan to empower other women. How do you encourage them to take leadership positions?

I believe networks are a key part of empowering women. I helped develop a Women Power Faculty network in PES, that started with five faculty in the mid-1990s and now has over 30 women invited annually to our get together during the IEEE PES Annual Meeting.
As a faculty member, I like to meet with early career women faculty and graduate students to discuss their opportunities and challenges and provide suggestions based on my experiences. I love connecting women engineers and engineering students with other women to network and learn from each other.
I also think it is important to encourage women to reach for the stars. Sometimes we all feel a little “imposter syndrome” and it is important for someone to encourage us to apply for an award, try for a leadership position or push ourselves out of our comfort zones. This can also be done by promoting the accomplishments of women to a broader audience as sometimes we do not like to promote ourselves.

IEEE WIE: How do you think diversity and inclusion help in boosting creativity and better problem-solving strategies?
In 1999 at a “women in engineering” conference, I heard the National Academy of Engineers President discuss how the engineering teams that had the most diversity would come up with the best engineering solutions. He discussed this as diversity in many areas including background, experiences, age, gender, nationality, and ethnicity. This really stuck with me that diversity and inclusion are getting a wide range of perspectives to consider many different possibilities for solving problems. Diversity of thought is essential for innovative engineering solutions.

IEEE WIE: In your opinion, how can everyone ensure that technological advancements are used for the betterment of humanity?
Ethics are a key part of engineering solutions. Often for technological advancements, it is not the advancement but how we use that advancement that can be a benefit or detriment to humanity. It is essential that we speak up in situations where we see risks or problems with the advancements of new technologies. As engineers we should brainstorm about unintended consequences that technological advances may create as well as the impacts on the environment and people’s way of life. It is key that we make sure technological advances help advance all people and not just those in specific parts of the world or at higher socio-economic levels.

IEEE WIE: What is one piece of advice you can give to young professionals who are IEEE WIE members?
I suggest that people have three networks – one where you want to go, one where you are and one where you have been. We think of a mentor to help us prepare for future opportunities, but we often do not think about our peer network. Often our peers have a wide range of skills, and we can learn from them. Sometimes we teach them something and they teach us something. Finally, we should be giving back to the next generation so sharing our knowledge, insights, and best practices to those who will follow us.

IEEE WIE: How do you challenge the status quo or how do you identify problems in your field and propose solutions to bring positive changes?
As a leader, it is important to identify solutions to challenges we see and not just bring problems. Some people complain about many things but do not offer solutions, only problems. It is important to understand details about the problem and work to find solutions that address the depth of challenges. Some problems are large and must be divided into parts to be able to make progress towards an overall solution.

IEEE WIE:  An empathetic leader helps promote a better work environment. Would you agree?
The best work environment is where teams are created by leveraging the strengths of team members and helping advance the greater good and not individuals. By understanding that team members are humans with complicated lives, needs, desires and talents, a leader can help provide the support and resources each individual needs to help advance the team overall. One size does not fit all and an empathetic leader will find ways to motivate each member to their fullest potential.