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Pipeline for the Future

Starting young in energy builds futures

By Patricia Guadalupe

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“As early as possible.”  That’s the mantra Maria Pia Tamburri stresses when she talks about the work being done between Richmond-based Dominion Energy and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU). It’s called the Building Hispanic Talent Initiative with a goal of helping grow the pipeline of Latinos in the energy sector by reaching young people before they start college.  

“One of the things that we want to do as a company is increase the representation of Hispanics and be very involved in the community. That is something I take to heart. Increasing the representation of Hispanics not only at Dominion Energy but also in the energy sector in general is vital, says Tamburri, Dominion’s Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).

A proud native of Argentina, Tamburri is a graduate of Florida International University (FIU) with over twenty years experience in corporate communications and DEI. She is a passionate advocate for the Building Hispanic Talent Initiative, which supports seven higher education institutions in Virginia, North Carolina, Connecticut, Utah – four states where Dominion has a presence – and also Puerto Rico. The energy company has had a long relationship with the island’s University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez campus, which is known for its strong engineering and sciences programs. 

The idea for this initiative began in 2020 when Dominion Energy identified a need to increase the number of Hispanic employees in the energy sector workforce. It involves a three-year, $2 million investment. Each higher education institution develops a seven-week Summer Bridge Program with support from HACU for STEM-oriented students in 9th to 12th grades to explore the energy industry.

In addition to UPR at Mayagüez, the participating schools are George Mason University, Northern Virginia Community College, Sampson Community College, the University of Connecticut at Stamford, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and Utah Valley University. 

Students enroll at no cost and earn college credit in engineering, business, cybertechnology, and biotechnology. Mentoring and tutoring are provided. Additionally, the students get to experience life on a college campus. Of the 295 students who participated when the program began last year, 68 percent are first generation students (whose parents did not attend college).

“We really need more young people to be involved---building knowledge on what the energy industry is all about,” says Tamburri. “It’s life-changing for these young people and I think it’s very important. As a company, we need to build a pipeline for the future, to have the best talent available to fill the jobs that our company will need in the coming years. Our industry is evolving with new exciting opportunities like solar energy and offshore wind . The energy industry is changing and adapting to the world that we live in, so we want to educate students  and provide  them the opportunity to learn more about the energy industry an  industry they would enjoy being part of.” 

Tamburri describes a recent visit to a career day at her daughter’s 5th grade classroom:
“The first thing I asked all the fifth graders was, ‘Do you like to play video games?’ Well, we are the company that makes sure you have the power to do that. You like to come home to a warm house and turn the lights on at night, so it’s important that you have a reliable company making sure that you have electricity every day so you can do that - and they were surprised . It was incredible how excited and curious those fifth graders were. Our company hires hire communications people, majors in political science, lawyers, engineers, pretty much any career we have an opportunity to work at Dominion.”

That’s why it’s important to spark their interest as early as possible, says Eric Falcón, STEM Student Success Program Manager at HACU. “Research shows that if you help students build a college identity before they go to college especially when you’re dealing with many first-generation students, they’re more likely to be successful once they reach college. The earlier the better. HACU’s mission is championing success for Hispanic college students, so that means that we have to start thinking about it before college, before they become freshmen. The relationships they’re building with these institutions will help them be successful once they get there.” 

Sonia Martínez, HACU’s Assistant Vice President for Advancement and Member Services, adds, “HACU is interested in creating new pathways for students to get degrees and in partnering with Dominion Energy we’re preparing them for the energy industry workforce. HACU works on two levels, with the institutions and with the students, so if we can help those institutions develop programs we create viable pathways for them to pursue these opportunities, and working with the students, a lot of our students are first-generation and some may not be knowledgeable about the college experience so we want to give them an early start in doing that.” 

Actions speak louder than words and that’s why Dominion Energy is involved, says Tamburri. “Starting in high school is incredibly important to us. It’s a chance to give these young people the opportunity to learn about the industry, hear about the opportunities and explore different jobs we have from accounting to engineering, renewable energy to nuclear energy, communications to information technology. There are so many unique opportunities in the energy industry.” 

The Building Hispanic Talent Initiative seeks to develop the future workforce in the energy sector and build a talent pipeline to increase Hispanic representation. Reaction to the program has been very enthusiastic, according to HACU, and the new session starts this summer.

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