Solar Project Engineer SLP
February 27, 2020

Rabiah Harrison is Sun Light & Power's Senior Solar Thermal Project Engineer. Her achievements are a testament to the value of hard work, perseverance, and self-respect. Rabiah has set an excellent example for others to follow both professionally and personally. She consistently embodies Sun Light & Power's primary Core Value - Act with dedication and passion, and, our first Guiding Principle: Do the right thing even when no one is looking. We benefit from her meticulous nature, discipline, technical skills and kindness every day. We are very grateful to have her on our team. I had a chance to speak with her recently about her journey to reach where she is today.

Rabiah grew up in Chicago, Illinois where she was raised by her mom. She learned from an early age not to expect any favors from the world. She knew the outcome of her future was up to her and that hard work was the only path to success. Fortunately, she had the encouragement of her parents, grandparents, and aunts who instilled in her that she could succeed at almost anything to which she set her mind.

The arts, music, and acting exerted a strong influence on Rabiah, but she was also the family "fixer." She applied her technical problem-solving skills to restore old devices and help others with new technologies. Rabiah took getting her education seriously and studied hard in school. However, by the time she graduated from Riverside University Prep High School, she needed a break. Rabiah encourages all high school graduates to take a year off before college so they can work in the real world, gain perspective, and plan their future with a clear mind. Although she always wanted to go to college, she studied to become a journeyman electrician first. It was during this experience that she discovered solar. After Rabiah became a certified electrician she decided she could not work in an industry that simply accepted fossil fuel power generation as a necessity. Instead, she applied to college with the goal of becoming an engineer and making a difference.

However, after her first year of college, Rabiah's inner artist took the upper hand. She dropped out, bought a Volkswagen van, and headed to California where she became a guitarist in a metal band. She landed a day job at EHDD Architecture where her interests in sustainable design and solar were reignited. Before long Rabiah started attending college part-time at City College of San Francisco and she later transferred to San Francisco State University.

Rabiah financed her Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering with hard work, a few scholarships, and some student loans. In spite of the fact that Rabiah satisfied many of her basic requirements at City College, she pointed out the days when intensive summer employment could cover tuition and books - even at a State University – were already long gone when she was an undergraduate. Nevertheless, she kept her goal in sight and made the experience worth it. She encourages would-be students to identify education as an investment in their future and one which necessarily includes sacrifice and some risk.

Engineering college was a wonderful and exciting experience for Rabiah. She loved the labs and the interdisciplinary approach to sustainable energy solutions. She encourages undergraduates to investigate other disciplines and to learn each other's respective languages in order to see the bigger picture. She is convinced that communication is the key to innovation and success.

After college, Rabiah took a few months off to regroup. She wanted to work with sustainable design and technology related to solar and found a job with a solar thermal collector manufacturer. The company was prototyping lightweight thermal collectors from PVC which were ideal for emerging economies. Unfortunately, the company did not secure funding as expected and she was laid off. Undeterred, she went to work as an office manager for a construction firm specializing in high-end kitchen and bathroom remodels. She was able to steer back toward her ultimate goals when she found a job with a thin film manufacturing company that needed a manufacturing associate. This was not solar photovoltaics, but she gained valuable skills that strengthened her engineering knowledge.

Sun Light & Power had come upon Rabiah's radar early after graduating from college. She had applied twice without success, but when she saw an opening for an Engineering Administrative Assistant, she correctly identified it as an ideal way in and was hired on the spot. In fact, she was Sun Light & Power's first dedicated admin in the Engineering Department. Rabiah spent her first year standardizing and organizing files and work-flows. Her dedication transformed the way her team managed project data and trained new team members.

Recognizing her wide-ranging talents, her boss, Ivy Dwiggins promoted Rabiah to Project Designer at the end of her first year. Rabiah was ecstatic and learned as much as possible every day from her tight-knit team of mentors. When Ivy moved on, Rabiah stepped forward and accepted the responsibilities of Project Engineer. She has met this challenge head-on, and after a year in the trenches, she is now training the next generation of ST engineers.

The one regret Rabiah has is that she did not sit the Engineering in Training (alias Fundamentals in Engineering) exam soon after college - when she had more time. Nevertheless, she now has the goal in sight and we have no doubt that sometime soon she will begin the review course in preparation to become a licensed engineer. Meanwhile, she is also expanding her knowledge of new evacuated tube solar thermal systems and all aspects of solar photovoltaics.

I interviewed Rabiah during Engineers Week, which is in Black History Month, followed by Women's History Month. With these important celebrations in mind, I wanted to know what kind of advice she would give to young black women dreaming of making their way in what remains a world dominated by privileged white men. In 2015, less than 1% of all graduating college undergraduates were African American women. Rabiah explained that during her freshman year the engineering students were roughly split equally by gender, but by graduation, only about one in eight of the women remained.

Rabiah's advice was inspiring. She insisted, "Pursue your interests unapologetically. Don't let anyone deter you. If you are curious and want to learn a new skill or pursue an interest– don't be afraid! Join groups, be active, and learn as much as possible. Sometimes you may feel alone but forget about those who don't accept you. It is up to you to forge your own path."

We talked about racism in America. Rabiah witnessed institutionalized racism and police brutality growing up and throughout the 1990s. The difference now, she said, was that social media has brought it all out in the open. Rabiah called for action and explained that "Denial is not possible anymore and does not help – we have to challenge it. Citizens need to be responsible. ... We have been too lazy and have allowed racism to metastasize in this country. We need to build alliances and get past our fears because all people are at risk."

We also discussed the greatest challenge facing life on earth today - climate change. Rabiah characterized the emergency as "the great equalizer." She sees a direct connection between climate change, corporate greed, white male privilege, and racism. She believes the systematic destruction of America's loyal, hard-working, and law-abiding middle-class citizens has empowered wealthy white men and the corporations they dominate to "limit the rights of everyone else and break the social contract." She insists that all people need to understand that in order for our country to prosper we need to be as inclusive as possible. She insisted, "We need to stop categorizing people. We are all more alike than [they] can possibly imagine." She insisted that men, in general, need to accept that the promotion of anyone outside of their exclusive club need not be perceived as a one-to-one reduction of opportunity for their own.

From day one, I have been grateful for Rabiah's professionalism and patience as well as her ability to stand up and fight for what is right. When she provides her assessment, whether it pertains to one of our solar projects or an aspect of our daily lives, it is not based on emotion or a personal grievance. Instead, her positions have been crafted from carefully considered facts and first-hand knowledge. Rabiah is an inspiration and a nurturing force in our Department of Engineering, and a great example for all of our team members at Sun Light & Power.

Seamas Brennan is the Marketing Coordinator at Sun Light & Power.

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