Engineers face challenges on the job
By Patricia Guadalupe
Houston native Yvonne Trejo calls herself a problem solver, and that’s exactly what got her and her family through the deep freeze in February that left many in the dark and with no water for several days.
“We already had an emergency plan, since we have hurricanes around here. We stocked up on bottle water, fruits and vegetables that can last longer and we also have a small generator. All of that is what we used to hold us over during that time,” says Trejo. “Math and science are fascinating to me, and I use those skills to solve problems. Always having a challenge has been one of my motivations.”
While the storm was certainly a challenge for Trejo and many other Texans, stepping up to the challenge is one of the skills she uses in her job as an engineer with Houston-based Apache Corporation, an oil and gas exploration and production company with operations in the U.S., Egypt and the U.K, and exploration activities offshore in Suriname.
Trejo, 37, is a graduate of the University of Houston with a degree in mechanical engineering, and is a Reservoir Engineering Lead at Apache, where she works with a team of engineers and geoscientists to develop natural gas and oil projects in Texas and New Mexico. Trejo is passionate about working on solutions to energy issues: “I live in the energy capital of the world and the opportunities are here. The problem solving aspect of it is important. We’re still working on getting people reliable and affordable energy and it’s so important for global progress and to help people live healthier and better lives.”
Finding and developing natural gas and oil, and how to get it to people all around the world, is what she does every day since joining the industry in 2006 “Natural gas and oil is affordable. Natural gas is clean and abundant and a great resource to use, and cleaner than coal,” she says. “Nearly three billion people — roughly one-third of the global population — live without electricity or without clean cooking facilities. We are committed to providing energy in innovative and more sustainable ways to help raise the standard of living for those living in energy poverty, and to meet the ongoing demands of people and economies around the world. The products we deliver power increasingly cleaner electricity across the globe, fuel tractors and trucks, make fertilizer to keep the world’s food supply on the table, and heat our schools, hospitals and businesses.”
Trejo speaks very enthusiastically about her work at Apache and says she thoroughly enjoys her job, crediting not only her education and interest in the field but also the work of mentors who helped her along the way. “Having people there to help you navigate things; it gives you a competitive advantage. Early in my career I was contemplating an international assignment in the U.K., and my mentor guided me the whole time, she was a fellow engineer and gave me the nudge that I needed, the confidence to be able to take on the challenge. She provided a lot of support for me.”
Trejo ended up taking that opportunity to work overseas, spending time in Aberdeen, Scotland. She calls it one of the best things she’s ever done, and doesn’t rule out doing it again, especially with the chance to take her family – including four young sons – on what they would likely consider to be the adventure of a lifetime. “I would love the opportunity to take my kids and live in another country. If the opportunity presented itself, I would definitely consider it.”
Trejo stresses that being proactive, whether it’s to further education goals or finding mentors and others who can lend a hand, has been key to her getting where she is. “Seek people out – I was the one who was asking ‘would you mentor me.’ Every time, they said yes. There were things that I wanted to try but I wasn’t sure how to navigate things, so I reached out and asked for the mentoring. More often than not folks want to lend a helping hand, they want to give back, they want to coach you.”
Both a mentor and a mentee, Trejo is involved in Apache employee resource groups (ERGs). She is president of the Apache Women’s Network, and the company implemented a parental leave policy she recommended. The ERG provides professional and personal development opportunities to employees at Apache and matches employees based on several areas, including career development, work-life balance, and networking. “I’m very proud of our mentoring program,” she says.
As the first person in her family to graduate from college, she tells young people, especially Latinas interested in less traditional fields such as engineering, that it is indeed possible. Trejo herself attended the University of Houston with scholarships, and doing so opened an entire world to her personally and professionally.
“Focus on your education – it’s the key that unlocks all the opportunities. The industry needs your voice, your view, your perspective to solve the world’s modern-day energy challenges. You can have a role. There is help out there, there are scholarships out there. I would not let cost deter you from that. Never give up and push forward and the rewards are amazing. Take risks. Pushing through barriers and boundaries may lead you to some unknown territory, but what I’ve learned over and over again is that it’s so worth it,” she tells LATINO Magazine. “Just go for it!”