Shoot for the moon, and if you miss you’ll likely land in the sun. Although this variation of the saying is not typical, in the case of Solar Energy International (SEI) Instructor Kelly Larson, this version is more accurate in describing her journey into solar. As the industry grows so rapidly, stories like Kelly’s exemplify that there is no single path into solar, there are many opportunities available.
From the National Guard to NASA, Kelly’s professional repertoire radiates with the accomplishments of a woman determined to achieve her goals. She joined the National Guard in Nevada right after high school and continued serving for nine years. As a private, she started off as a radio operator for a helicopter unit. “What I wanted to do was fly,” she explained.
And after persistently applying to a male-dominated program, she did. Kelly made it into the combined officer/flight school program and completed a year-long training program before going on to work as a flying pilot for 7 years.
Through the GI Bill, Kelly pursued the opportunity to go to engineering school and further her technical education after her service. This path ultimately led to her exposure to the renewable energy industry.
Kelly ventured into the solar industry nearly 20 years ago when she took her first class at SEI. As an engineer, her employer at the time offered her an opportunity to branch into renewables through solar training at SEI. Just three years later, she was asked to come back and teach a women-only course in Tucson, AZ.
“Coming from the military and engineering worlds, the presence of other women in solar was most delightful and encouraging for me. The first class I taught was a women’s PV 101, and I was hooked into a network of gals that offered advice and support that sustained me. I strive to pass the inspiration I received on to my students,” Larson explained.
Kelly attributes her success in the solar industry, and in all aspects of her life, to steadfastly committing to her goals. “I wouldn’t be where I am without persistence,” Kelly explained. “Know you have a mission and just keep going.”
With the solar industry growing so rapidly, Kelly offered advice for others looking to make the leap into a new career path, “There are lots of possible positions in solar, including everything from technical, (like installing and designing systems), to business, (like marketing and sales), and beyond. Whatever skills you have, solar can likely use them. Cross-training is always important, since solar has different terms and it is essential to know the technology to be effective.” She added, “If you know what you want to do or who you want to work for, be persistent! If you are presenting yourself when they need someone, you will likely get the job!”