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Alumni Spotlight: Jenny Pate

A Decade of Energy Improvement and Advocacy

An undergraduate internship at ExxonMobil led Brigham Young University alumna Jenny Pate to a position with the company right after graduation. During her 10 years in the engineering industry she has worked to improve communication between teams and advocate for gender equality.

At 23 years old, Pate had the opportunity to fly around the world on one of her first assignments for ExxonMobil. The company had recently implemented new software and systems, and Pate was sent to offices in Australia, Hong Kong, Budapest, and others to introduce and incorporate them.

Through that initial impactful experience, the mechanical engineering graduate found her niche. She developed the skillset and reputation for translating technical concepts to all team members — engineers and non-engineers alike.  

“I’m not the strongest on the technical side, but I’ve worked to build communication channels between technical and non-technical teams,” Pate said. “Communication has allowed us to get through projects and break barriers between executives and engineers.”

Her work with ExxonMobil focuses on natural gas and natural gas markets. Some of Pates’ most interesting assignments have been on liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects. Natural gas in its liquid state is about 600 times smaller than its volume in its gaseous state. This makes it possible to transport natural gas to places that pipelines can’t. Pate enjoys learning about the complex dynamics of energy markets and all the factors that affect them.

“Working with large companies, assets and policies with so much geopolitical drama behind them is fascinating. It’s an opportunity to be engaged in international communication and cooperation,” Pate said.

One important aspect of her job has less to do with engineering and more to do with the people in it — engineering is a very male dominated industry.

“Engineering is a field that definitely favors one gender. It’s usually unintentional, but I’ve seen too many times that my friends’ and colleagues’ opportunities have been limited because of it,” Pate said.

She has tried to learn more about why this disparity developed and influenced changes to address it.

“At Exxon I’ve attended conferences, collaborated with employee resource groups, and worked with executives to help people understand how we are limiting career trajectory and progress,” Pate said.

The young mother is encouraged by the progress she has seen at the company. Since Pate started in 2011, ExxonMobil has implemented a parental leave policy, and a childcare program that her two sons have participated in.

Though she’s found success in the field, Pate wasn’t originally interested in mechanical engineering — she came to BYU intending to become an accountant. However, with a father, brother, and sister all engineering graduates, she felt pulled toward it. She determined after a few courses that she liked the types of challenges engineers worked on.

Pate emphasized that the many undergraduate opportunities she had at BYU were critical to shaping her career.

“I did research in biomechanics for Dr. Charles during my last year at BYU. Even though I never worked in that specific field after graduating, it was real life experience in seeing how the engineering world works. As I’ve talked to friends in the industry I’ve learned that research opportunities are not common for undergrads. BYU does a great job of allowing students to experience that early.”

Research wasn’t her only undergraduate opportunity. Pate met her husband, an aerospace engineer himself, in the mechanical engineering program while they attended BYU.

Continuing to learn and contributing to society are both super important for Pate, but a big ambition of her career moving forward is maintaining balance. She’s grateful for a job that provides the opportunity to enjoy her work, her family, and her several hobbies — including sewing, cycling and the outdoors.

“That’s the great thing about engineering; it provides a really nice balanced life where we have time to do things as a family, and I have the option to build my skills and industry through my career,” Pate said.

According to Pate, engineering skills can help you be successful outside of formulas, projects and prototypes.

“A methodical approach to solving problems, using experimentation or applying a theory, it’s not just for engineering,” Pate said. When a challenge comes up, addressing it with an engineering mindset can help with finding solutions faster. I like the framework that engineering provides.”

Story by: Larissa Beatty