Twenty-year-old Matthew Stilwell was asked to help save a city from power outages shortly after starting a summer internship at Southern California Edison.
It was a nerve-wracking but welcome surprise for the electrical engineering student, who expected to be fetching coffee for co-workers at the electric utility company that serves 15 million customers. Stilwell, who had just completed his sophomore year at Fresno State, was instead tasked with finding a way to get the lights back on faster in Visalia.
Stilwell knew it wouldn’t be easy or cheap, but with guidance from co-workers and hard work, he came up with a solution he considers reliable and cost-efficient. So did the company’s top managers, who approved his proposal this summer with a commitment to pay $450,000 to fund it.
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“Right when they all said approved, I was kind of jumping in my chair,” Stilwell says. “I was so excited.”
It’s not very common for an intern to receive funding for a proposal, says Stilwell’s manager, Michael Peterson.
“Matt definitely came across as somebody who took initiative and could be entrusted with a project of this scale,” Peterson says. “In addition to the technical, hands-on work he did in the field, he also had to present this project in order to get it approved.”
Right when they all said approved, I was kind of jumping in my chair. I was so excited.
Stilwell’s proposal: Install a second power line that electricity can be re-routed through during an outage, acting as a shortcut to bypass an affected area. The second line will be about a half a mile long and span the length of the busy commercial district. Known as a box loop circuit, the line will prevent more outages near an affected area and ensure an entire circuit doesn’t lose power. It’s not a new invention, but it is an extraordinary project for an intern.
This will ensure that less people experience outages and it will also shorten the length of those outages.
A construction permit for Stilwell’s project will likely be filed mid-2018 in Visalia, Peterson says, and construction should be completed by the end of next year.
Stilwell’s good work led to the extension of his 12-week summer internship. Since the fall semester started at Fresno State, he’s been working part-time at the energy company. It’s been an exciting opportunity for the Fresno man, who loves math, science and technology – and blending all three together to help people.