Utica Resident Named 2004 Woman Leader by NYPA

Connie M. Cullen

November 9, 2004


WHITE PLAINSThe New York Power Authority (NYPA) has selected Kateri Sparks, manager, system operations, in NYPA’s Transmission Business Unit, as the Power Authority’s Woman Leader of the Year for 2004.

Ms. Sparks is one of the over 80 women to be honored by their employers at the 31 st annual Salute to Women Leaders Luncheon sponsored by the Academy of Women Leaders of the YWCA-NYC at the New York Marriott Marquis in Manhattan on Tuesday (Nov. 9).   The award recognizes women who have demonstrated leadership and served as positive examples in the workplace.

“Ms. Sparks’ exceptional leadership during the August 2003 blackout is seen everyday in the excellence and commitment she brings to managing NYPA’s System Operations.   Her contribution to the reliable transmission of electricity across New York State means NYPA can help continue ‘to keep the lights on,’ ” said Eugene W. Zeltmann, president and chief executive officer, NYPA.

A resident of Utica , Ms. Sparks is based in the Energy Control Center (ECC) at NYPA’s Frederick R. Clark Energy Center in Marcy.   She was selected for the award from among Power Authority staff at projects and offices throughout New York State .

In 1982, Ms. Sparks was the first woman hired at the ECC as a power dispatcher.   In less than 10 years, she advanced to the highest control room operator level—senior system operator—at the ECC.   With the advent of deregulation and the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), Ms. Sparks was chosen to fill the new ECC Information Coordinator position, serving as liaison among NYPA marketers in Energy Resource Management, other NYPA project sites, the NYISO and the ECC.   Within a year, she was promoted to senior information coordinator.

Toward the end of 2002, Ms. Sparks applied for the vacant manager, system operations position in a process that included writing a position paper on the future of the ECC and competing with several other highly qualified candidates.   Against this stiff competition, she secured the job, achieving a top leadership role in a move seldom made by women in the electric utility industry.

“I see the Power Authority taking the idea of diversity in the workforce very seriously. There are career opportunities here for women if they choose to take advantage of them,” Ms. Sparks said.   “It’s hard to isolate your own performance, because we really are such a team, but this award says something about the Power Authority, too.   It validates their support for diversity to put me in a position of leadership.   I was fortunate to have two managers, Gerry LaRose and Walt Jandke, who presented opportunities, recognized my abilities and challenged me to grow.   Their support, and that from upper management, further exemplifies NYPA’s support for women in the industry.”

Ms. Sparks was selected for this award for her professionalism in overseeing the operation of NYPA’s bulk power system, particularly during the August 14, 2003 blackout, when electrical service was knocked out to nearly 90 per cent of New York State and also darkened significant parts of the northeastern United States .   Under Ms. Sparks’ management—having all the right people in place with the support they needed—the ECC provided valuable assistance in restoring the upstate transmission system, and maintaining power in the western part of the state.   In addition to her professional achievements and her personal accomplishments as a working mom, Ms. Sparks provides a passionate advocacy for women at NYPA and in the workplace, in general.

Ms. Sparks received a two-year associate degree in electrical technology from Mohawk Valley Community College at the age of 32 while raising her two children.   She has completed several courses in management, generation and relaying at NYPA.   Ms. Sparks also attended classes at the Western Area Power Administration in Denver , CO , where she completed Dispatching Essentials, Hydro Generating Dispatch, and Transmission Operation, all of which have strengthened her abilities.  

Ms. Sparks has two sons and daughters-in-law, Michael and Melissa Copperwheat, and Marcus and Jennifer Copperwheat.   She also has six grandchildren, Julia, Nathan, Michael, Jared, Abbey and Logan Copperwheat, ranging in ages from 10 months to 9 ˝ years.   Both of her sons are business professionals.   Michael is operations manager at the Wal* Mart Distribution Center , in Marcy.   Marcus is director of technical services, for Lloyds Manufacturing, Warren , RI .   They say they owe much of their personal and professional success to watching her example of achievement, particularly her dedication to succeed in a non-traditional career.