Penn State alumna applied petroleum and natural gas degree to expansive career

David Kubarek
December 12, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When she approached college, Carol Bailey felt like her future could go anywhere. She was creative yet also had a mind of an engineer, an interest further piqued by the professions of her father and sister.

She considered petroleum and natural gas engineering because it fit her technical interests. When she found out her grandmother — a “maverick of the family” — worked on a cable tool drilling rig, that made the decision even easier.

When she graduated in 1981 from Penn State with a degree in petroleum and natural gas engineering, she discovered that she could still go anywhere.

So she did just that.

Bailey started out working for Halliburton, working on then record-setting deep wells in Wyoming’s overthrust belt. She moved on to managing massive natural gas storage fields for the Southern Gas Company in California. She worked for Enron, witnessing the rise and fall of the energy giant, where a job managing project risk helped her manage her own personal risks.

“I would not change a thing for those experiences,” Bailey said. “It really gave me a huge opportunity to look at the world through a completely different lens.”

One project especially gave her a better perspective on the nuances and politics of global decisions in the energy world. She was working to help improve the availability of energy in a developing country when she hit a snag: Leaders there told her they feared the proposal for a new power plant because they felt having energy could further education and information, perhaps shaking their solid footing in power.

“It woke me up to the power of power,” Bailey said. “Having access to energy is life-changing. For us, power outages are a real inconvenience, but when you go to developing countries and see that there is no grid and there’s no intent to change anything for common people, it’s unsettling. This is the world, and the lifelong path I chose — based on my career that began at Penn State — was to change that.”

Carol Bailey

Carol Bailey, who graduated from Penn State with a degree in petroleum and natural gas engineering in 1981, said the industry really opened her up to "the power of power." As part of her expansive career, she helped bring electricity to developing nations.

IMAGE: Carol Bailey

Bailey said she was dismayed about the lack of change until learning that a colleague found success in another developing country by taking a different tack. He bought a few sewing machines for the wives of several country leaders he was working with. Those machines led to small businesses, which led to more employees. It also led to progress on the development of a new power plant.

“It all came down to this harebrained thought,” Bailey said. “You want to change the world by providing more access to energy, and it came down to a sewing machine. It’s not hard to change the world. You just have to have the vision and make the effort.”

As Bailey progressed through her undergraduate education at Penn State, it took just that — vision and effort. She admits that she wasn’t the greatest student, but she had the drive and creativity to prove she could succeed in the energy business.

And it was especially tough for women in the engineering field. Bailey relied on her skills, education and trailblazers like her grandmother to keep going. Bailey, who now works as a research portfolio manager for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), tells those entering the field what helped her at the time:

“There are people who have gone through this already and you’re not the only one who have faced challenges. Others have paved the way. There are people out there who will support you," she said. "You won’t and shouldn’t face these challenges alone.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 12, 2018