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Local woman wins lifetime achievement award for clean energy

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published December 11, 2019

 Denise Gray was recently recognized for her lifetime contributions to clean energy.

Denise Gray was recently recognized for her lifetime contributions to clean energy.

Photo provided by the Millerschin Group

TROY — Denise Gray credits her seventh grade math and science teacher, Herman Oliver, for steering her toward a career in engineering.

“He told me he thought I should consider being an engineer and gave me extra homework,” she said.

“My goal was to be a math teacher,” she laughed. “I had not considered a tech field.”

Gray, of Farmington Hills, attended Cass Technical High School in Detroit, which offered a co-op program where Gray worked for credit at the General Motors Technical Center in Warren in her senior year.

The U.S. Department of Energy gave Gray the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award for the U.S. Clean Energy Education and Empowerment Initiative, also known as C3E. She received the award at Texas A&M Energy Institute in College Station, Texas, at the  U.S. C3E Women in Clean Energy Symposium Nov. 14.

According to a prepared statement, the C3E Initiative has been led by the DOE in collaboration with the Texas A&M Energy Institute, the MIT Energy Initiative and Stanford Energy since 2012 with the goal of closing the gender gap in clean energy careers. “Transitioning to a low-carbon economy demands a diverse pool of talent with fresh perspectives and an inclusive work environment for all in the clean energy workforce,” states the press release.

“Women have a critical leading role to play in developing clean energy technology for a prosperous future,” Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said in a press release. “Congratulations to the winners of the 2019 U.S. C3E awards for the recognition of your dedication and rising leadership in this sector. May your work pave the way for more women to pursue careers in clean energy innovation.”

According to the prepared statement, “The Lifetime Achievement Award from the 2019 U.S. C3E Initiative recognizes individuals who have significant accomplishments, leadership qualities, and have made a lasting and compelling impact in their field of clean energy.”

Gray has been on a clean energy path for a long time.

She chose electronics as her field of study at Cass Tech, learning about electronics, TVs, radios and computers, and how they work. “Counselors continued to encourage me,” she said.

She attended Kettering University, where students take classes for half the year and work in industries for the other half, earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Upon graduation, she and about 80 other graduates were offered jobs in the advanced tech area of the General Motors Technical Center in Warren. “They recognized they needed new people in the advanced tech area,” she said.

Gray stayed at General Motors for over 30 years.

“I was working on improving fuel economy and reduction of emissions and computers in vehicles,” she  explained. She noted that at the beginning of her career, the only battery in a car was a 12-volt.

“An electronically controlled computer was also a major component to clean energy,” she said.

Gray now has overall responsibility at the LG Chem Michigan Inc. Tech Center in Troy for “strategic direction, engineering and business development,” according to the press release.

LG Chem, a Korean chemical company, does business worldwide, providing products including brake systems, polarizers and electronic vehicle battery cells, according to its website.

“I’m fortunate my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering flows into what I do today,” Gray said. “Kettering University prepared me for solving complex problems.”

Gray explained that the focus of the symposium is to ”shine a light on issues to be resolved and bring in smart people to solve those issues, trying to pool in great minds into this area so we can have a cleaner product.”

She added that part of the focus of the conference and award is to inspire people to go into clean energy and make clear that there are women in the field.

“Women were so excited to share my joy,” Gray said. “Receiving the award was an example that women can succeed in this area.”