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Christina Drake: Lighting the way

Lessons learned in basketball helped Drake succeed as an electrical engineer

Once a trailblazer for her family as well as the Fightin’ Engineers of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Christina Drake now is breaking down boundaries in the workforce.

Biography

Christina (Forsyth) Drake
Senior manager, process and performance, Midcontinent Independent System Operator

Hometown: Lyons, Indiana

Current residence: Indianapolis

School: Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, 2002

Sport: Women’s basketball

Fun fact: Drake is a car enthusiast. Soon after graduating from college, she purchased her first Ford Mustang and has owned several since.

The oldest child of five, Drake grew up in Lyons, a small town in southwest Indiana, in a tight-knit family. “We all played basketball,” said Drake, whose maiden name is Forsyth. Her dad meticulously cut and leveled a basketball floor under their hoop so the family could play the sport as often as they wanted. And they did.

Drake played basketball throughout high school and expanded her extracurricular activities to include volleyball her senior year. But as her brothers and high school teammates challenged her on the court, her dad urged her to consider her options off the court. As Drake consistently recorded double-doubles in points and rebounds as a forward for her White River Valley High School team, it became clear that playing sports in college was a possibility.

Drake also stood out in the classroom. Encouraged by her father to pursue an engineering career, she took notice of Rose-Hulman, one of the country’s top undergraduate engineering colleges, located in Terre Haute, Indiana. The previously all-male college had recently opened doors to its first four-year female class and had added a women’s basketball team. Drake saw Rose-Hulman as an opportunity to continue to play her family’s favorite sport while working to earn a degree in electrical engineering.

In a school that still was populated by a male majority, attending as a female student-athlete was eye-opening at first.

“The boys would come into the gymnasium after our practice sometimes, and it just seemed like there was an army of them, just hundreds and hundreds of these guys. There were at times maybe no more than 10 of us girls on the court,” Drake recalled.

As the women’s team grew closer, Drake realized the unique role she could play in expanding the program and shaping future student-athlete experiences.

“It was important to me to be a trailblazer with the women’s athletic programs,” Drake explained. “It was about much more than our team’s win-loss record, but about providing opportunities for those who would come after us. My teammates and I wanted to build a legacy for the women’s basketball program and to recruit others who had a passion for engineering but also loved competitive sports.”

Drake was on the dean’s list her senior year and earned an academic honor roll award. She credits her success in the classroom to the time management skills and support system she gained as a student-athlete. The men’s and women’s basketball teams traveled together by bus, which often led to informal study sessions among the aspiring engineers and tutoring help from upperclassmen.

Through sport, Drake also learned the values of perseverance and staying true to oneself.

“Women’s basketball coach Brenda Goble always gave off an air of professionalism. She reminded us that it’s OK to be you and to be a self-confident woman,” Drake said. “Coach emphasized the need to give it your all and be fierce about it. She never let us give up, and I think that was important.”

That drive propelled her to become the first in her immediate family to graduate with a four-year degree.

After earning an electrical engineering bachelor’s degree in 2002, Drake joined the Midcontinent Independent System Operator in Carmel, Indiana – a nonprofit organization that operates the power grid and keeps electricity flowing – as an operations engineer.

Her new employer, much like the engineering field as a whole, consisted mainly of male colleagues. According to U.S. Census data, women made up 9 percent of the electrical engineering workforce in 2014.

“After being so close with my brothers, and then finding success at a school where nine out of 10 students were male, I felt right at home at MISO. I never doubted myself,” she said. “I just went in and did the best job that I could.”

In 2006, Drake became the first woman in the company to hold the position of reliability coordinator. She was responsible for monitoring the system of electrical transmission and keeping the lights on for 42 million persons in 15 U.S. states and the Canadian province of Manitoba.

“When there is an emergency on the electrical grid, the teams of engineers and operators come together so quickly. It reminds me a lot of my collegiate experience. People have your back, and they are there with you through thick and thin,” Drake said.

Drake has advanced through the ranks at MISO, and in her current role she leads a team that improves processes to ensure smooth operations in the organization’s control room.

Despite her individual successes, including a Rose-Hulman Athletic Hall of Fame induction in 2013, Drake applies the lessons of teamwork she learned as a Fightin’ Engineer to her work career.

“I’ve been pretty successful in my career, but it’s great to do that with people and the connections that you make,” she noted. “I’m very results driven, but I’ve come to learn that results are built off the backs of people. If you want to do something great – do it with a team.”

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