Ajilli Hardy is driven by changing the way the world uses energy. For more than two years, she has pursued this mission as an energy systems engineer for the Energy Systems Laboratory at General Electric’s Global Research Center in Niskayuna, New York. It’s the perfect job for the self-described analytical dreamer who creates models for large-scale water, oil, and gas systems. “I learn how complex energy systems work with the goal of envisioning how to make them better,” says Hardy.
It’s a fast-paced environment where she may work on five projects at a time with teams varying in number from five to 15. Her projects range from redesigning a U.S. geothermal power plant to recycling water for human consumption in the Middle East. Identified by be as one of our 40 emerging leaders of the future, the 32-year-old also spent a great deal of time improving natural gas consumption and greenhouse gas emission by processing Canadian oil sands. As a result, Hardy and her team have been making oil extraction from the earth more eco-friendly.
She has access to resources that will enable her to be one of the next major innovators in the field. GE global research has a $555 million research and development budget ($4.3 billion for GE total) with facilities in India, China, and Germany. Hardy, however, is one of a small community of African Americans engaged in such groundbreaking work. Of GE global research’s 1,800 engineers, roughly 25 are African American. And Hardy is the only African American female engineer in the entire group.
She’s used to blazing new trails. Hardy attended MIT at the age of 17. Twelve years later, she became the first African American female to earn a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree in mechanical engineering there. It was at MIT that Hardy took advantage of a variety of career opportunities, including highly coveted internships at Sandia National Laboratories and the Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics in Novosibirsk, Russia. She also interned at Procter & Gamble, Boeing, as well as a few years in the automotive industry working on fuel emission efficiency—three at Ford Motor Co. and one at BMW in Munich—prior to her current position.
“This is an industry where there is a lot of room for impact,” says the Philadelphia native. “What we have witnessed in the past couple of years is that the people who can find their way to relevancy even in the most difficult and challenging economic climates are the most stable. One of the benefits of pursuing a career in the energy field is that you will always be relevant.”
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