Throughout childhood, I was often found tinkering with the old radios and transmitters my grandfather had around the house. When it was time to start my bachelor’s studies, I found myself wanting to be close to science and choose between medicine and engineering. That’s when I settled into the idea of electrical engineering based on my interest and aptitude. By the time I completed my bachelor's degree, I had narrowed my interests to the realm of circuits, specifically power systems.

After moving to the U.S. and completing a master’s in electrical engineering, I joined the consulting world for an adventure. Today, I work as an owner’s engineer for a utility in the southeastern U.S., where I manage a team of distribution engineers and designers for a grid improvement program. In the future, I hope to have an opportunity to return to India and lead advancements on the grid.

In all that I do, I am focused on leaving the world better than how I found it. In my current position, I strive to balance decision-making responsibilities with knowledge sharing, to both improve the grid today and equip the utility with the resources and tools needed for tomorrow.

Throughout my entire career, I have been held up as a professional and pushed by my leaders to do unique and meaningful work. This work has given me experiences I never expected, such as the chance to rappel down to a tunnel under the Chicago River to inform a project proposal or hike for several days through Texas hill country for a field survey. These powerful experiences, coupled with the ability to see influential women leaders in action, have driven me to where I am today.

People develop into leaders in a variety of ways. I strive to be a leader that pays it forward. Motivated to make a positive difference in whatever way possible — whether it’s mentoring team members, advancing a project or bettering the planet we live on — has led me to success and professional fulfillment. I also am unafraid to make mistakes because these mistakes become learning opportunities. When individuals put themselves out there to lead, others can learn from their strengths and failures in significant ways. Like others before me, I also seek to share my work and other professional development with others so they can gain similar exposure and knowledge. And just as was done for me, I push my colleagues to take on new opportunities whenever they arise.

Even with the guidance and encouragement from respected leaders, there are still days where I find my optimism waning. On those days, I always think, “Keep swimming, even if it’s against the current for now.” This advice from a mentor helps me refocus. It reminds me that as long as I’m paying it forward and working to make something better — a project, a team or the community I’m working with — it will all be worth it in the end.

Madhu Bhargava is a distribution modernization section manager at Burns & McDonnell. In this role, she directly supports a large utility in the southeastern U.S. Previously, Madhu worked to support large utility projects in the Midwest on public improvement, reliability projects and overhead-to-underground conversions.