“Welcome lady and gentlemen.” Valerie von Schramm still recalls hearing those words from some 40 years ago when attending conferences with her graduate school peers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. She also remembers those awkward moments immediately following that cordial greeting, when everyone would turn to look at her, the only female in the room.
Those sometimes a bit intimidating, Valerie didn’t let those uneasy moments define or deter her. Instead, she powered forward. After earning a bachelor’s degree in applied chemistry from McMaster, she went on to become the first woman to graduate from the university with a doctorate in chemical engineering!
As we continue celebrating Women’s History Month, today we shine the light on Dr. Valerie von Schramm.
Valerie came to Texas in 1987. Her first full-time job in San Antonio was with the Texas Air Control Board, where she was the sole engineer and performed environmental tests and inspections across 30 South Texas counties. During her time with the Air Control Board, she worked closely with CPS Energy’s Environmental staff. Fast-forward 13 years, Valerie came to work for CPS Energy as part of the Environmental team in September 2000. Her 22-year career at the company has centered around technology and innovation, beginning with that assignment with the Environmental group. There, she managed the company’s Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) portfolio and began research work in Distributed Generation, which is power generated at or near the site where it’s used.
Through 2014, she served on innovation teams at the company and successfully obtained federal funding for research projects related to fuel cells, combined heat and power, energy efficient homes and a microgrid. She later joined the Products & Services team, working with energy efficiency and thermostat vendors as part of our successful Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP) program. Valerie next worked in the Grid Transformation & Planning area, primarily managing the Electric Vehicle Action Enabled Strategy. In recent weeks, she rejoined the Products & Services team, where she’s part of a new innovation group that will be evaluating new technologies for potential adoption by CPS Energy or its customers. Along with this work, Valerie serves on several state and federal technology advisory committees.
Keep reading to learn more about Valerie, her experiences and achievements, including some impressive EPRI awards!
Q: Was there anything in particular that drew you to the field of engineering?
Valerie: My dad liked to tinker and build things. I had no brothers, so I was his helper when he was working on the car engine or updating the electrical/plumbing system in our 100-year-old home. In high school, I had a wonderful chemistry teacher as a mentor. When I entered McMaster, engineering never crossed my mind – in the early 70s, it was just something that most women didn’t do. I took one engineering course as an elective and discovered I exceled at it and loved it. My professors encouraged me to transfer into engineering, so I finished out my applied chemistry degree taking all my optional courses from engineering and then earned an advanced degree in chemical engineering.
Q: Have you and/or your team received any special awards or honors in the past few years?
Valerie: I’ve been on teams that received two EPRI Technology Transfer Awards. Last year, we were recognized for research work on Next Generation Heat Pumps. Conventional heat pumps are efficient but have difficulties producing sufficient heat when temperatures drop below 35 degrees. Advanced heat pumps are able to produce heat at temperatures as cold as 0 degrees, which would benefit our grid by reducing electric consumption during severe cold snaps.
In 2016, we earned the award for research work related to Day-Ahead Solar Forecasting, which helps determine how much power can be expected from solar energy the next day and can aid in generation planning.
Q: What changes have you seen at CPS Energy over the years?
Valerie: When I joined in 2000, many of the technologies that we are implementing today, such as solar panels, were in their infancy. The pace of technological change in the industry is accelerating and this is changing our work environment. Our new work environment will require us to be flexible, adaptable and have strong communication skills.
Q. Tell us about how your legacy of service to CPS Energy is continuing.
Valerie: My son Nigel works for CPS Energy, in Overhead Construction Services as a Metrics Program Manager. He’s assisting overhead construction with improving financial tracking systems. Nigel earned his bachelor’s degree in business finance from Texas State University.
Q: In 3 words or less, how would you describe yourself?
Valerie: Innovative, resourceful, honest.