The Minnesota Women in Energy series highlights influential women who are part of our state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy industries. CERTs is highlighting these leaders during the month of March in 2017, which is Women’s History Month.
As part of the series we interviewed Katie Retka, Sustainability Coordinator with the Department of Military Affairs, to learn more about her work, what inspires her, and how other women can get involved in the industry. Read on to learn more!
Can you tell us a little bit about what you do in the energy world in Minnesota?
I work as a Sustainability Coordinator for the Facilities Management Office (FMO), Environmental section of the Department of Military Affairs (DMA). The FMO is responsible the planning, design, financial contracting, and maintenance of over 200 facilities at Camp Ripley and throughout the state. My role provides direction and technical planning assistance in support of sustainability initiatives. Strategies that are examined and developed for implementation run the gamut from sustainable infrastructure design, renewable energy generation and energy use reduction, to waste stream diversion and water conservation.
The sustainability program has made great strides toward meeting state and federal mandates in each priority area. Efforts to date have materialized the adoption of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Sustainable Building 2030 (SB 2030) design standards, a private-public partnership with Minnesota Power for the construction and operationalization of a 10-megawatt solar power plant at Camp Ripley, the launch of an Energy Efficiency Challenge for over 90 facilities which resulted in cumulative energy use intensity reductions of 13%, the launch of an organics recycling pilot project at Camp Ripley to determine feasibility and potential expansion, the construction of catchment basins and emplacement of cisterns for rainwater capture and reuse.
How did you get into this work?
My interest in environmental science was first sparked years ago as a student at Little Falls Community High School. Camp Ripley, where I now work, had developed education and outreach partnerships with area schools to showcase the research being conducted with gray wolf and black bear populations. Later, as a college undergraduate at St. Cloud State University, I returned to Camp Ripley to complete an internship. In hindsight, these formative experiences stand out as major influences upon the trajectory of my future endeavors.
What is a typical day like for you?
Sustainability initiatives are cross-functionally integrated within our organizational structure so there is a lot of variety in day-to-day activities. Data collection and analyses, environmental quality reporting, and internal/external coordinating efforts make up the majority of my daily tasks.
What are the best and worst parts of your job?
The best? It’s a privilege to work for an organization at the forefront of sustainability initiatives taking place in the heart of Minnesota. Leadership support of sustainable infrastructure and innovative renewable technologies alongside targeted reduction goals for energy consumption and water conservation have been pivotal to the achievements of the program. The worst? The biggest challenge I face in my work is navigating through uncharted territory where there is little or no precedence. There is a dynamic interplay that exists between advances in renewable energy technologies and government policies and regulations. Sometimes I like to imagine I’m a pioneer in the Wild West!
What about your job inspires you?
I enjoy having the latitude to meld creativity into analytical tasks. I’m sort of an etymological geek and for me, analyzing data is like translating a foreign language into an untold story. I think storytelling can be empowering and transformative in an organizational context.
What advice do you have for women who are thinking about working in energy?
Adopt a growth mindset and you will be able to find learning opportunities even in the face of challenges and obstacles. Seek out experienced mentors. Be curious about how things work and ask questions.
Katie Retka has worked as a Sustainability Coordinator for the Facilities Management Office, Environmental section with the Department of Military Affairs since 2015. She administers the Energy Efficiency Challenge, a peer-to-peer incentivized competition with a goal of reducing energy use intensity per facility by 3% or more. In its first year, the Energy Efficiency Challenge achieved a 4% cumulative energy use intensity reduction across 41 facilities and was awarded by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Federal Green Challenge for outreach and education efforts. Katie earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Ecology from St. Cloud State University. She previously worked for Morrison County on environmental health issues, addressing regulatory compliance aspects of the natural and built environments. Katie and her husband along with their two children enjoy adventuring in the wilds, woods and waters of rural Minnesota.
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The Minnesota Women in Energy series highlights influential women who are part of our state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy industries during Women’s History Month.