Fariba Gartland leads plant upgrades
This engineering leader built her expertise in the nuclear field while raising a family, and now shows young women that they can follow in her footsteps
Fariba Gartland is optimistic about STEM opportunities for women. But, she believes, “it has to start at an early age.”
Gartland is deputy vice president of plant upgrades and major projects at Areva Inc (Charlotte, NC), a nuclear and renewable energy supplier. Areva, Inc is a subsidiary of French multinational Areva.
“It used to be that if a girl was interested in something outside of teaching or nursing, there was less encouragement at school and at home,” Gartland says. “My parents are my role models, always encouraging me and never holding me back because I’m a woman. I appreciated that.
“When I started going into plants,” she recalls, “I didn’t see a lot of women. Sometimes you almost had to fight for recognition of your authority. Now there is more recognition and more respect, and it’s going to get even better because the industry and the culture have shifted. As generations change, attitudes will keep improving.”
New opportunities in a new country
Gartland was born in Iran, but came to the United States right after high school. “I wanted to study engineering, and I was particularly interested in nuclear engineering,” she explains. “Iran was not strong in that area at the time, and my parents thought I would get a better education here.”
Her family chose Arizona because they considered it an up-and-coming area. “There was a new state-of-the-art nuclear plant just outside Phoenix. Arizona State and the University of Arizona were both doing a lot of work with Arizona Public Service.”
Gartland attended Arizona State University (Phoenix). She did a co-op with Bechtel Corporation (San Francisco, CA) for a year on a project at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Wintersburg, AZ, and Bechtel asked her to extend her time on the project for another year.
She graduated with a BS in engineering in 1984. “I already had a job offer from Bechtel when I graduated,” she remembers. “It was a big year for me – I graduated, got married, and started a new fulltime job all within a few months,” she says with a smile.
Building her nuclear niche
At Bechtel, she started on a nuclear plant construction project in Georgia. “In the early years, Bechtel rotated me from project to project, and that helped me learn a lot about the business.”
In 1984, she moved to southern California to work at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station operated by Southern California Edison. The facility was decommissioned in 2013.
In 1994, her husband’s job brought the family to Charlotte, NC. Gartland decided to take five years off to be home with their new daughter. “I already had ten years of experience, so I didn’t think it would hurt my career, and it really didn’t,” she says.
In 2000, when her daughter turned five, Gartland joined Duke Engineering & Services, which was soon acquired by Areva. She started as a senior project manager before moving up to product line manager of plant engineering. In 2013, she took on her current role.
Today, she has six direct reports, a combination of site directors and project managers. Her team supports nuclear power plants that are currently in operation and delivering power. “Plant upgrades and major projects is a division within reactor services,” she explains. “Our projects involve upgrades and modification of systems or equipment for improved performance.”
Her role is to support the vice president of the organization, she says, and that includes working on some big-picture projects. “Right now I’m developing multiple strategies to make Areva into what we call Engineer of Choice (EOC). We want to establish alliances with new and existing customers, where we are their sole engineering organization.”
She explains that many utilities in the U.S. are shifting to this concept to save on the cost of working with many different vendors. “We want to establish a contract with them so that only one firm handles anything they want to outsource. Depending upon the size of the utility, a few other firms might be involved.
“That’s been my team’s primary focus: providing customers maximum economies of scale associated with predictability and accountability.”
EOC isn’t a new idea, Gartland says. “But now the customers aren’t looking just for traditional engineering services; they’re looking for firms that have manufacturing and operating experience. They’re also looking more for a partner than a vendor. They want a firm that can work with them, help them be more efficient and improve their performance. That’s what Areva wants to do.”
Empowering herself and others
Gartland is a registered project management professional through the Project Management Institute (Newtown Square, PA). She has advanced leadership management certifications from Duke University (2009) and Harvard Business School (2011).
Within Areva, she’s the chair for the Charlotte chapter of Women in Nuclear (WIN). And like other Areva employees, she goes to schools and colleges to talk with students, particularly girls, to show them that they have many career choices. “I like to do that as much as I can,” Gartland says enthusiastically. “In high school, it’s about getting them interested in going into engineering. Often, girls aren’t sure how an engineering career might work out. When they see that someone has done it, they get really excited.
“When I talk with students in college, their concern is whether they can have both a family and a career. I try to get that out of the way by telling them that I did it. When they see someone has done both without sacrificing either, that’s important.”
Right now, Gartland is not in traditional engineer mode. “I’m not sitting here doing calculations. I’m trying to run a business but, in the end, my technical background is a huge help.
“I’ve been at Areva for a long time and done a lot of different things,” she reflects. “I believe you have to like what you do. You have to get satisfaction from it. I want to be a contributor in whatever position I fill. When I retire, I want to look back on what I did and be proud of it.”
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