By Siddharth Vodnala, intern, Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture

WSU senior Mary Ellen Martinsen’s drive to be an engineer came from nearby: her father.

She credits John Martinsen for inspiring her to major in electrical engineering and for helping her see the crucial role she can play in ensuring continuous, safe and reliable power supply to the nation.

Mary Ellen Martinsen holding a plate of cookies with her father John Martinsen.

“Our dad encouraged me and my siblings to pursue electrical engineering,” she said. “As far as he was concerned, being an electrical engineer was the best job in the world.”

Her father also motivated her to build the two main pillars of her success: internships and involvement in student clubs.

Martinsen worked internships with the Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD) in the Transmission Engineering Department for the last two summers.

She is also chair of the WSU chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and a secretary of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).

Immersive Internships

Martinsen landed her internship after meeting a PUD employee at a IEEE Career Fair and Networking Dinner.

She was assigned to the Transmission Engineering Department at the PUD. Martinsen had to travel around the county inspecting electric poles, checking to see that there were no clearance violations. This is to ensure electric conductors do not come into contact with other objects.

Telecommunications companies like Comcast often attach their lines to electric poles. Martinsen had to make sure these companies were following the pole attachment guidelines and code. She used a laser to measure the height of the attachments to ensure compliance. She also maintained the data she collected and used a modeling program to ensure the structures were not overloaded.

Martinsen was invited to go to construction sites to observe the setting of a 115kV (115,000 volts), 105-foot steel pole and took part in various workshops organized for interns working at the PUD.

Martinsen also sharpened her technical skills like learning how to use computer-aided design software like Power Line Systems (PLS) CADD. She said, “I can now make incredible models of transmission lines that reflect real physical lines, including all the attachments and properties”.

Her brother, Johnny Martinsen, a WSU electrical engineering 2015 alumni and substation engineer at PUD , taught her how electrical substations operate and how all the equipment, controls and relays work together.

Mary Ellen Martinsen at her internship location, the Snohomish County Public Utility District No.1.

After learning about the many components of the power system, Martinsen toured PUD’s Jackson Hydro Project and understood how the project ensures continuous power supply.

“It’s incredible how all these components connect together to such a vital service to our community,” she said.

The internship experiences also taught her how to contribute in meetings and socialize with her fellow engineers.

“This internship helped me enhance my technical and communication skills,” she said.

Club Connections

Growing up, Martinsen saw her father attend and plan IEEE conferences. He would also give her IEEE magazines for leisure reading.

“I was really excited to try to make IEEE more active at WSU,” she said.

She launched an effort to attract students with a combination of career-oriented events like the career fair and the largest-ever Hardware Hackathon, along with fun activities like pumpkin carving and soldering classes.

Martinsen said she took inspiration from other student clubs, like SWE.

SWE helped her find a helpful female mentor who is an engineering consultant at Power Engineers and gave her valuable advice about her career. She then started attending meetings regularly and helped set-up events like the popular Kids’ Science and Engineering Day.

“It felt like we had every kid from a hundred miles around Pullman attend that event,” she said.

Joining clubs is a great asset to any budding engineer’s career, said Martinsen.

Clubs impart crucial people skills such as communications, coordination, and leadership, she said. “I learned how to work with people and motivate them to work towards a common goal.”

Even if a student has a 4.0 GPA, being unable to communicate effectively with coworkers or participate in meetings professionally will be a big disadvantage in the corporate world, she said.

Martinsen is also a firm believer in the power of internships to prepare students for future careers.

“Internships give you a window into your possible future,” Martinsen said. “You need to know what you’re getting into.”

Martinsen hopes to work at a utility after graduation, a decision influenced by her internship experience. After working for a few years on the technical side she would like to move into management to motivate the team to keep providing electricity no matter the difficulties.

“I couldn’t have had this sense of purpose before my internships,” she said. “Now I know what a joy it is to help keep the lights on in someone’s home.”


Find an internship or job at WSU’s Career Expo and VCEA Technical Fair, Tuesday, October 2, at Beasley Coliseum. Learn more about IEEE at Washington State University on the organization’s website. You can also find information about the IEEE Career Fair, the Networking Dinner and the Hardware Hackathon there. You can also explore all the VCEA student clubs and professional societies on the VCEA website.