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February 18, 2020
Engineers Week 2020 Spotlight: Jason Morgan, PE
We’d like to celebrate Engineer’s Week by sharing the story of one of Sun Light & Power’s team members, Jason Morgan.
Jason Morgan has been a valuable member of Sun Light & Power’s Engineering team since March 2017. He joined the team as a project designer and quickly earned the respect of his team members. In addition to contributing his technical engineering skills, he has also revised and authored a wide range of processes and procedures. Jason’s skills and easy-going nature gives the impression that he is a gifted natural talent who sailed directly into his position, but his journey to solar is complex and inspiring. His experiences prove that following your instincts, holding on to your dreams, working hard and supporting your friends will never fail to help you reach your goals.
As a high school sophomore in San Diego, Jason was concerned about the environment and his impact on it. He resisted consumer culture and embraced the punk music scene in the post-911 era. While some of his peers had dismissed school as a waste of time, he enjoyed learning and excelled in physics and advanced math. With many interests ranging from chemistry to biology, Jason found the pressure to select a single college major a frustrating process. After a disappointing SAT but a great ACT, he settled on physics, largely due to the influence of an inspiring teacher, Ms. Casey-O’Brien, and his love for solving puzzles.
Jason was accepted to several colleges, but by December 2008 he had yet to choose one. By New Year’s Eve that all changed, when during a cross-country ski trip to Yosemite with his dad, he happened to meet a group of California Polytechnic State University professors. Jason had already been accepted to the renowned college located in San Luis Obispo, and now he had the luxury of an extended candid conversation with faculty. Among them was Dr. Andrew Davol, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, who convinced him to attend.
In fall 2009, Jason set to work in the College of Math and Science as a physics major. But by the end of year one, he could not see a clear path forward. With no desire to spend the rest of his life as an academic, Jason sought the council of Dr. Davol in hopes of switching majors to Engineering. However, transferring outside of one’s college was categorically discouraged at Cal Poly, particularly given the extremely competitive admission requirements. Nevertheless, Jason was performing very well and had covered several cross-over breadth requirements applicable to the College of Engineering so his transfer request was granted.
Jason found the depth and breadth of the courses in the staunchly traditional engineering department daunting. He now had many more lectures to attend with almost no content overlap. The fast pace of the three-unit classes was exhausting. In this real-world project-based environment, he quickly began to see why this was a five-year program for most students. With his GPA falling but not wanting to give up, he persevered on pure stubbornness. Just when it seemed too much, Jason landed a rejuvenating summer job in Wyoming where he worked as a carpenter building log cabins. He returned to Cal Poly the day before classes started, still wondering where he was headed. Many of his peers had just wrapped up internships in the automotive or defense industries, but he knew that wasn’t for him.
Finally, in his fourth year, Jason was able to explore electives within certain concentrations. Jason was interested in renewable energy and was inspired by eight-year National Laboratory veteran Dr. Kim Shollenberger who challenged him and revived his interest in practical applications of physics. For his year-long senior project, Jason was unable to secure his first choice and instead found himself taking an in-depth look at solar. While very time-consuming, and in addition to his regular course load, Jason found the project very rewarding.
With only three quarters remaining, Jason suddenly received the heartbreaking news that his best friend had been killed in a car accident. By the time Jason returned to Cal Poly from San Diego, he was devastated, exhausted and over a week behind in his classes. Unknown to Jason, his senior project partner had informed his professors of the circumstances. Professor Davol intervened to smooth out departmental wrinkles and Jason was excused from attending classes. Grateful and relieved, Jason doubled down on his remaining classes and senior project.
In spring 2014, Jason graduated from Cal Poly. He was burnt out and facing bad job prospects in a field where nobody was retiring. His ever-supportive father asked him about his plans for the future. The answer was a trip to Mexico, where food, fun, and surf provided the necessary readjustment to plan the next move. He then spent a summer in Santa Cruz with his girlfriend before moving with her to Seattle in the hopes of starting a new life and a career in wind energy. However, as the polite job rejections kept coming and the romance faltered, he found himself back in San Diego with a sense of doom settling in as he feared his job applications would be overlooked in favor of more recent graduates.
Desperate, Jason was about to apply for any engineering job anywhere, when his brother’s old friend Joven, who had founded a bike courier business in San Diego, reached out to tap his Cal Poly racing team skills. Jason cycled downtown and in the blink of an eye, the two formed Courier Collective LLC. Their business delivering documents to lawyers and engineers by day and food after 5:00 pm grew quickly to 15 cyclists and 3 drivers. Success soon led to Joven’s wedding and among the guests was a talented Sun Light & Power Mechanical Engineer named Graham Lierley who bunked with Jason.
After the wedding, Jason and Graham kept in touch. Jason had told Graham that he was once again interested in pursuing a career in engineering. Just two months later, Graham informed Jason that Sun Light & Power was hiring, and without hesitation, Jason applied. Jason was interviewed over the phone by then senior engineer Ivy Dwiggins and was quickly hired. Ironically, as Jason was settling in, Graham departed for other work. Nevertheless, Jason began his career as a solar design engineer in a thriving department, albeit one in need of additional organization, a deficit that Jason helped to correct.
For the first six months, Jason worked on various aspects of solar photovoltaic system designs one at a time. After this transition period he began working solo on complete PV projects start to finish. He was also interested in solar thermal design, but the team had a full complement of solar hot water system designers so he absorbed what he could. After the first year, Jason began to coordinate projects directly with outside contractors and in fall 2018 he was promoted to project engineer.
By summer 2018 Jason had already started thinking about the national examination to become a licensed mechanical engineer. He would need signatures from four licensed mechanical engineers to recommend him, and fortunately Sun Light & Power already had them under their roof. In December 2018, he signed up for a review course and the following month he began attending three-hour evening lectures online after work on Monday and Wednesday nights - two of the busiest days in his weekly calendar. He studied virtually every night to prepare for the demanding eight-hour exam.
Jason’s intensive studying regime overlapped with a crucial transition period at Sun Light & Power. His boss and one of his mentors, Ivy Dwiggins, announced her departure after more than ten years in the department, leaving Jason not only without expert supervision but also with a large number of additional projects. Jason kept focused and sat the pass/not pass exam in April 2019. The next day, Jason and his partner Leah escaped to a remote cabin in the hills outside Santa Fe, New Mexico near the home of his brother where he could finally unwind.
After the well-deserved break in New Mexico, Jason still had to endure an excruciating month awaiting his results. After a couple of weeks, he slowly returned to normal but he continued to study until he was convinced that he had mastered the material. About a month after the exam the happy news arrived and with the exam and results behind him, he was finally able to submit the time-consuming California engineers’ application. Jason then settled into his new role, ever thankful for the training, encouragement, and letters of recommendation that he had received from his mentors; Ivy, Graham, Rachel Davis, and Blake Gleason. By late Sept 2019, he was officially a licensed mechanical engineer – just like his dad.
The story could easily have paused here, but for Jason, Leah and Sun Light & Power, it was only shifting gears. During Jason’s climb to Mechanical Engineer, his partner Leah had been going through her own challenging search for a new job. She unexpectedly found her dream job in, of all places, Santa Fe. Without hesitation, Jason gave his full support to Leah and began the laborious process of moving both of them to New Mexico. When Jason explained that he would be leaving, Engineering Director Koralie Hill immediately offered him the novel opportunity to work remotely. Jason accepted, and now with the support of his team, he is leading the way to Sun Light & Power’s migration to cloud-based solar design and coordination. Given the many uncertainties facing the modern world, the timing could not have been better for both parties to adopt a reliable remote solution.
When asked what advice he would give to aspiring engineers, he explained that identifying one’s learning style is crucial - and the sooner the better. He found the structured learning in high school and college frustrating. At the time, he didn’t know why he would struggle with one course and not another and instead just endured it thinking it was his problem. These days, Jason asks anyone he trains to explain how he or she learns best. He recognizes that learning strategies fall along a spectrum which includes hands-on, lecture, and learn by example to name a few. He urges students to drop the ego from their equation and not let shyness prevent them from communicating their learning needs. He is convinced that once you know your own learning style, you can learn anything.
Jason is passionate about working in solar. For him, solar is a very important piece of the renewable energy solution. He is excited about all of the things engineers can do with the technology, while recognizing there is always room for improvement. Jason feels good about his work and being part of a community which is not just doing a lot of good but also doing no harm. We are proud to have Jason on our team and look forward to his invaluable input on both photovoltaic and solar thermal systems moving forward.
Seamas Brennan is the Marketing Coordinator at Sun Light & Power.
If your passion is solar engineering and management, please consider applying for our Manager of Project Engineering position open now.