By Randall Brown.
Nikki Maginn graduated with her degree in nuclear engineering in 2013, just two years after the tragic Fukushima nuclear disaster. Lingering industry challenges led her to think outside of traditional paths to build her career. Fortunately, her Vol engineering background gave her the tools to be flexible in her plans.
“Engineering is a deeply creative discipline,” said Maginn. “There’s no limit, no playbook for what you can use your degree for. Having an engineering degree is more like a blank check—you can create your own career.”
She soon landed an engineering job with Dematic, a supply chain company in Atlanta.
“While I was unlike anyone they had hired before, I was so enthusiastic about the opportunity to learn something new, they hired me,” she said. “I learned in that moment that I never had to be defined by one aspect of my life—it pays to be creative about applying my experiences.”
Maginn found herself the only woman in her office and the youngest person by more than 30 years. She didn’t let that culture shock slow her down from engaging in the work.
“One thing my UT professors taught me was how to adapt to change,” she said. “So I rolled up my sleeves and started taking on projects. Soon my name was all over the project management documents and I started getting noticed by senior leaders.”
One of those leaders was another woman in the company, who became a mentor for her. One day, she asked the younger engineer for her perspective on a problem project.
“She brought me into a room that I’m convinced is what heaven looks like,” said Maginn. “Floor-to-ceiling whiteboards, rainbow sticky notes everywhere, projects and their due dates mapped out, markers galore—I was in our ‘war room.’”
Maginn went on to spend a good amount of time in that room. She grew a network of colleagues and diversified her experience throughout the company.
“In the typical corporate hierarchy, you move up within your silo,” she said. “But I was moving across departments, learning from all aspects of the business, and most importantly, following my own passions. Without realizing it, I was creating new roles for myself that would eventually lead me to the dream job I didn’t know existed: nuclear supply chain.”
Maginn is now director of engineering operations in the Atlanta office of Last Energy, the commercial arm of the Energy Impact Center. This developer of small modular nuclear power plants works to revolutionize the way nuclear power is delivered to the world. In this role, she creatively combines both her background in nuclear and her industry experience in supply chain, allowing her to focus on finding creative solutions for an industry she loves.
While still in her previous job, Maginn sought to share the lessons she had learned in her career, so she founded the Dematic Women’s Network to help create a more welcoming environment. The network grew into a global brand that helped name the company to a list of the best places to work.
“One of the proudest moments of my life was when a young new hire told me she joined the organization just because of this network,” she said. “Her career trajectory was changed because of the mentorship she was receiving in our program.”
Maginn feels fortunate to also give personal mentorship to a promising electrical engineering student at UT whom a colleague connected her with.
“Every time I speak with this brilliant young lady, I’m brought back to the many women who guided my life,” she said. “The idea that I’m able to help her avoid the mistakes I made and pave the way for her to be her most authentic self is what I believe the Volunteer spirit is all about.”
Maginn’s success fulfills a motto her parents shared: If you want to be happy for a day, take a nap. If you want to be happy for a week, take a vacation. But if you want to be happy for life, serve mankind. “This motto has done more than drive my career choice in the nuclear industry,” she said. “It’s provided the lens with which I see the world. I believe in servant leadership, like the concept that the Torchbearer and every Volunteer stands for. It’s my honor to give light to others, and it’s my honor to be a light for others to see what’s possible.”