Celebrating women’s contributions in the electric cooperative industry
From day one, women have been a part of the rural electrification movement. During the first decades of rural electrification, while electric cooperatives were formed, women predominantly worked in clerical and administrative roles. Their dedication and collaboration advanced the electric cooperative industry, lighting up lives and communities across rural America. Through the years, more women began to perform in typically male-dominated jobs with passion and aptitude. In celebration of Women’s History Month, Oklahoma Living shares the stories of four women working for Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives who are making a positive difference and who dare other women to pursue their dreams. Theirs is a story of perseverance, determination and desire to serve. They represent pioneering women of yesterday, women leaders of today and future generations of women making a difference.
Amanda Christie, Right-of-Way Coordinator
Tri-County Electric Cooperative (TCEC) I Hooker,
Oklahoma | Eight years of employment
Growing up in Clinton, Oklahoma, Amanda Christie considered herself a “tomboy.” From fishing, camping and working on a truck, Christie enjoyed following her dad around. When she graduated high school, Christie and her twin sister decided to serve in the National Guard. The sisters were two of the first females in Oklahoma to hold jobs in the Guard, working repairs on the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS). Christie served for six years and decided to spend some time with family members in Guymon, Oklahoma. She got a job as a rodman for a land surveyor, working in the field every day as the only female. She worked in this role for 15 years before coming across a job opening at the local electric cooperative, TCEC, for a position as right-of-way coordinator. In this role, Christie is responsible for easements and land coordination procedures. She helps obtain permission from landowners for new or upgraded construction and manages the appropriate permitting for state lands, federal lands, highway crossing, railroads and more. She is involved in the process of purchasing land rights for substations and works closely with staking coordinators and substation and maintenance supervisors.
“One of the things I have appreciated the most in this position is the opportunity to become a certified right-of-way professional through the International Right of Way Association (IRWA),” Christie says. “I would like to pursue all three levels of certifications and become a senior right-of-way professional.”
Christie thrives in this role and enjoys doing research to learn more about the lineage of landowners in the panhandle. She enjoys the challenge of reaching out to members in the broad scope of land that is the TCEC service territory.
Her advice for other women considering more technical roles in the electric cooperative industry is not to be afraid to step in with everyone else in a field of interest.
“People in the co-op world are very encouraging and they will help you achieve your goals. Most of the men I have encountered in the industry have been impressed by a female willing to step out and develop the ability to do this type of a job,” Christie says.
Christie and her husband, Raymond, have two fur babies: Lucy, a beagle and Tucker, a silver half Labrador retriever and German shorthaired pointer.
April Chipman, GIS Coordinator
Central Rural Electric Cooperative (CREC)
Stillwater, Oklahoma | Eight years of employment
April Chipman considers herself privileged to build a career in her hometown, Stillwater, Oklahoma, using her college education.
“My entire education was dedicated to have a job just like the one I have today,” Chipman says.
Chipman, a graduate of Oklahoma State University, was unsure what direction to pursue when she began college. She took classes in animal science, geology, meteorology, literature and geography. Her strategy was to take several classes to learn what appealed to her the most.
“I enjoyed geography and learned that it encompasses many different fields,” Chipman says.
After this self-discovery journey, Chipman declared her major in geography and pursued a GIS certification, eventually earning her master’s degree in geography. A few years after, Chipman learned about a GIS coordinator position at Central Rural Electric Cooperative and didn’t hesitate to go after it.
“GIS is using computers to look at the spatial location of anything. The accountants know how much money we have in the field with infrastructure, and I know the locations of all the infrastructure the co-op owns, not just for electric, but now for fiber as well,” Chipman says.
In this role, Chipman helps co-workers with needed information about the co-op’s poles, conductors, transformers, fiber and more. This information is crucial during storm restoration efforts and can speed up response.
“I enjoy solving problems, spatial analysis and getting to make people’s lives easier by sharing geographical data,” Chipman says.
Not only have Chipman’s efforts significantly improved CREC’s asset management, her efforts have also changed the co-op’s daily operations for the better. A paper map was the product of choice when she first began her career, but now field personnel rely upon a digital map that is accessed via mobile devices. She accomplished all this while also being one of few engineering females in the industry.
Her advice for other women considering more technical roles?
“Don’t be intimidated by something you feel you’re not good at. Don’t let fear stop you,” she says.
Chipman and her husband, Carl, have two fur babies: Mazikeen, a whippet and Tucker, a boxer.
Stacy McElhannon, Dispatch System
East Central Electric Cooperative (ECOEC) I Okmulgee, Oklahoma | 17 years of employment
Stacy McElhannon grew up in the small community of Dewar, Oklahoma, and graduated from a class of about 20 students. At age 16, she got a job at a local grocery store. Her dad had bought her a car, and she had to keep up with the car’s payments. What she thought would be a temporary job turned out to last 15 years. During her tenure at her first job, she packaged goods, bagged groceries, became a cashier, a night manager and the store’s office manager. During and after high school she did some college work, but ultimately continued working and raising a family. A few years down the road, she felt the time was right for a change. She had a friend who worked at East Central Electric Cooperative who let her know of an opening in the dispatch department.
In her new position at the co-op, she learned to understand maps, legal documents and staking sheets and used radio to communicate with lineworkers out in the field. Over time, she was instrumental in the implementation of SCADA systems, AVL systems, modernizing the outage management systems and mapping systems, plus utilizing and training field personnel on mobile applications.
“This job never stops evolving. I enjoy the interaction we get to have with every department at the co-op that comes with working in operations,” McElhannon says.
Through the years, McElhannon’s knowledge continued to expand through the help of several employees she calls “mentors and friends.” When an opportunity became available for the supervisor position, McElhannon was selected to fill the role where she supervises three employees. Her department is responsible for keeping lineworkers well informed and safe in the field by operating SCADA and AVL systems while managing storms, processing new jobs from the engineering department, calling OKIE for job sites to identify any buried utilities, serving as liaisons with office personnel and contractors, calling members to follow up on service problems and outages and more.
“In my department, trust is two-way and very important. We value the lineworkers’ safety,” McElhannon says. “I’m truly blessed to have been trusted with the career I have.”
McElhannon’s advice to other women considering more technical roles is to have an attitude of gratitude and a lifelong willingness to learn.
“If you have the opportunity to join a co-op, you’re joining a family and something that will continue to grow and impact the future of your community and the members you serve,” McElhannon says.
McElhannon and her husband, Rick, who serves as the field operations manager at ecoLINK, ECOEC’s broadband subsidiary, have four children, Kassie, Lexi, Wyatt and Tanner and grandchildren Nevaeh, Brookelynn, Easton, Weston and Mattie Jo.
Kari Hollandsworth, President and CEO
Golden Spread Electric Cooperative (GSEC) I Amarillo, Texas (wholesale supplier for TCEC based in Oklahoma) | 14 years of employment
Kari Hollandsworth grew up on a wheat and barley farm in Montana on Sun River Electric Cooperative’s lines. It was then that Hollandsworth’s connection with the electric utility industry began: she and her sister would fight to see who would get the co-op postcard to log in meter information. Living in the country, Hollandsworth had a lengthy bus drive to and from school. Today, as she drives through co-op country in the vast service area of Golden Spread Electric Cooperative (GSEC), which encompasses approximately 25% of the Texas landmass, she reminisces about her rides in the school bus. She graduated a semester early from high school and started college at Binghamton University, later transferring to Cornell University and graduating with a bachelor’s degree in economics and applied management. Upon graduation, Hollandsworth was hired by Xcel Energy in Amarillo, Texas, as a financial analyst.
She worked for Xcel Energy for 12 years in several aspects of the business. During her tenure, Hollandsworth became familiar with GSEC.
“I liked the idea of working for a cooperative, staying local and being a part of an organization that I could see all pieces coming together to make a difference,” Hollandsworth says.
She was hired in 2009 as GSEC’s 14th employee. Today, the cooperative has 92 employees and Hollandsworth has been instrumental in that growth.
Her career at GSEC progressed through various roles. She started as an energy analyst, moved to resource planning administrator, market operations, manager of finance and forecasting and director of finance, forecasting and risk. She was serving as vice president of commercial and asset operations when she was approached by the GSEC board to consider the CEO position, and she became CEO in September 2020.
“On every position I held, I wanted to provide value to the organization. I’m constantly thinking about the value the co-op has and how we can make that stronger for our members,” she says.
Hollandsworth’s advice to other women wanting to pursue non-traditional roles in the energy industry is to realize no one is 110% qualified for a role.
“Maximize what you can learn in every role. You’re preparing yourself for when the next opportunity comes. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone,” she says.
Hollandsworth and her husband, Heath, who was her high school sweetheart, have a son, Harrison, a daughter, Karsyn, and two pets: Regal, a black labrador retriever, and Kodak, a goldendoodle.
Electric cooperatives in Oklahoma, across the nation and across the globe benefit every day from the contributions of courageous, determined and passionate women like the ones described in this story.