#BeThatGirl: Katie Speirs’ Journey from Liberal Arts Major to VP of Electric System Operations

Many girls harbor self-doubts about whether they are good enough academically to pursue a career in STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math, even if they excel in those subjects in school.

Katie Speirs, our vice president of electric system operations, recalled feeling that lack of confidence. In high school, she enjoyed physics and was told by her teacher that she was good at it. However, due to her doubts about her math ability, she  majored in English and History in college and went on to earn a master’s degree in African Studies before pursuing an Electrical Engineering degree.

Today, Speirs not only excels in her job keeping the lights on for 3.6 million people, she is an outspoken STEM role model for young girls. She is a champion of our company’s Inspiring Future Leaders program and serves on the advisory board of the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center’s BE WiSE (Better Education for Women in Science and Engineering) program.

Growing up in Small Town America

Speirs was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania and grew up in rural Smithfield, Virginia, a town renowned for its specialty Smithfield Hams. During her childhood, power outages were not uncommon.

Her appreciation for reliable electricity grew even more as a result of her experience in Africa.

Before her senior year at the College of William and Mary, she traveled with Operation Crossroads Africa to build bridges and roof schools in Tanzania and Kenya. Her work there and love for the continent led her to pursue a master’s degree in African studies at the University of California Los Angeles.

For a while she worked for non-profits involved in international development. Then her career took a turn when she landed an IT job with Qualcomm.

Going Back to School to Study Math and Engineering

As her interest and abilities in math, technology, and computers grew, she returned to school at San Diego Mesa Community College to study computer science while working at Qualcomm. To prepare herself and build her self-confidence in math, she started with basic algebra at Mesa to ensure that she had the proper math foundation to succeed.  When she transferred to San Diego State University, she realized her potential as an engineer and majored in electrical engineering.

In 2005, Speirs joined SDG&E as an electrical engineering intern. From there, she steadily worked her way up, advancing through all levels of engineering jobs and then a variety of managerial roles. She was director of electric distribution operations before being promoted to VP of electric system operations.

Inspiring the Next Generation

There is one set of statistics that gets Speirs all fired up, and it’s the statistics that show the under-representation of women in STEM careers and top leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies. While women fill about half of all jobs in this country, they hold only 24 percent of STEM jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. There is also a dearth of women in CEO positions.

Speirs is determined to help change those statistics. “STEM girls should be the norm. They should not be the exception,” she said. 

Editor’s Note: Through our new #BeThatGirl initiative, SDG&E is bringing our female STEM workforce front and center in our communities to expose young girls to successful women who may have come from similar circumstances. Our role models—women with careers in engineering, meteorology, environmental and computer sciences—will act as mentors and connect directly with young girls in an effort to spark a passion for STEM and show them that they, too, can be that girl.