The Lignite Energy Council proudly announces Women in STEM Week, a celebration highlighting the remarkable contributions of women in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. From pioneering breakthroughs in carbon management to driving innovation in fossil fuel technologies, LEC members have played pivotal roles in shaping the future of energy and beyond. Throughout this week-long event, we aim to showcase inspiring stories, foster mentorship opportunities, and promote STEM fields for young women. Join us as we recognize and empower the brilliant women making strides in STEM, shaping a brighter, more inclusive future for future generations.


In the engineering world, there are numerous paths one can take, each with its unique challenges and rewards. One individual who has traversed this terrain with resilience and determination is Kate Kolden, a mining engineer whose career journey exemplifies the essence of adaptability and innovation.

For eight years, Kate has been an integral part of BNI Coal, where she has played a pivotal role in reclamation efforts and pond design, among other responsibilities. Her work involves:

  • Restoring mining sites to their original state.
  • Ensuring environmental sustainability.
  • Navigating the complex terrain of regulatory permits.

Additionally, she actively engages with federal oversight agencies, demonstrating a commitment to safety and compliance.

However, her journey to this position was not without its twists and turns. She began her engineering odyssey with internships at Falkirk Mine and US Water Services, gaining exposure to geology, surveying, and water treatment—an experience that broadened her perspective on the diverse realms of civil engineering.

Upon graduating from North Dakota State University, with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, she embarked on a four-year stint as a consulting engineer at Houston Engineering, specializing in water treatment and distribution. This career period provided valuable real-world experience and laid the foundation for her subsequent endeavors.

Throughout her career, Kolden has witnessed the evolution of engineering practices, particularly with digital technologies and the integration of drones for surveying purposes. Embracing these innovations, Kate has adapted her approach to problem-solving, leveraging technology to enhance efficiency and accuracy in her work.

Moreover, she is a staunch advocate for encouraging more women to pursue STEM careers—a mission rooted in her belief that exposure and mentorship are essential catalysts for fostering interest and confidence in young girls.

In her advice to aspiring engineers, particularly young girls, she emphasizes the importance of perseverance and resilience. Engineering, she notes, requires not only intellectual aptitude but also stubbornness—a willingness to confront challenges head-on and persist in the face of adversity.

As she reflects on her journey—from intern to seasoned mining engineer—she underscores the value of collaboration and creativity in engineering. Far from being a solitary pursuit, engineering thrives on collective problem-solving, drawing upon the diverse expertise and perspectives of individuals from varied backgrounds.


In the field of environmental science, one individual stands out for her expertise. Stefanie Scherbenske sheds light on her career as an Environmental Scientist employed by Barr Engineering.

Stefanie’s career started against the backdrop of coal country in North Dakota, where her roots intertwined with the land and its resources. Raised on a farm and ranch, she was rooted with a profound appreciation for nature and a drive to safeguard it. Stemming from a family connected to the power industry, she naturally gravitated towards a career rooted in environmental stewardship.

Stefanie pursued a bachelor’s degree in agricultural studies focusing on natural resource management from Dickinson State University and then embarked on a quest for knowledge that led her to pursue a master’s degree in Range Science from North Dakota State University (NDSU). Her research on surface mining reclamation honed her expertise in mitigating environmental impacts.

While finishing her masters at NDSU, she started a career with Minnkota Power Cooperative. Her role extended beyond the confines of traditional engineering, encompassing a multifaceted approach to environmental management. While at Minnkota she built a diverse skill set that bridged the gap between technical expertise and environmental stewardship.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Stefanie’s career lies in her commitment to problem-solving. Whether addressing regulatory compliance for industrial clients or spearheading projects in emerging fields like carbon capture, she exemplifies the essence of a STEM professional—a problem solver at heart.

As she reflects on her journey, Stefanie offers sage advice to aspiring young women contemplating careers in STEM. She emphasizes the importance of leveraging individual strengths and cultivating problem-solving skills from a young age. In addition, she urges young people to meet future challenges with tenacity and optimism. Stefanie’s story serves as a beacon of inspiration—a testament to her ongoing pursuit of knowledge.

SHANNON MIKULA – Minnkota Power Cooperative

In the vast landscape of STEM careers, myriad pathways exist, each offering unique opportunities for individuals to make a difference. One such journey is exemplified by the career trajectory of Shannon Mikula, whose blend of science, legal acumen, and environmental passion has led to a pivotal role at Minnkota Power Cooperative, where she serves as Project Counsel and Environmental Manager.

Shannon’s current role at Minnkota entails navigating the intricate legal and regulatory frameworks surrounding environmental compliance. With a heavy emphasis on science, she collaborates closely with environmental engineers and specialists to ensure adherence to environmental regulations and strategic compliance planning. Her work revolves around deciphering complex regulatory landscapes, advocating for fact-based policies, and spearheading initiatives like Project Tundra to address emissions-related challenges.

Hailing from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Mikula’s journey into STEM began with a profound appreciation for natural resources and outdoor activities. She pursued her passion by enrolling in Colorado State University’s Natural Resource Management program. Her academic journey laid the groundwork for her interest in environmental regulation and policy, leading her to pursue a law degree at the University of Wyoming.

Her affinity for energy-related law eventually brought her to North Dakota, where she found herself at the heart of the state’s energy landscape. She carved a niche for herself by leveraging her expertise to build bridges between science, law, and environmental stewardship.

Reflecting on emerging trends in her field, Shannon emphasizes the pressing need for face-based policymaking. She envisions a future where science is the cornerstone of policy formulation, driving innovative approaches to resource management.

Shannon is also focused on promoting STEM careers for young people and highlighting the importance of curiosity and problem-solving skills. She dispels the notion that STEM careers are solely reserved for math enthusiasts, advocating instead for a mindset focused on inquiry and continuous learning.

Looking ahead, she harbors ambitions of fostering STEM engagement among students, envisioning programs to attract talent from diverse educational backgrounds to the utility sector. By bridging the gap between traditional STEM disciplines and fields like law and communication, she seeks to address the growing demand for compliance professionals and environmental advocates.

AMANDA GRAVSETH – Barr Engineering

Amanda Gravseth’s journey through engineering fields exemplifies resilience, determination, and a commitment to breaking barriers. From humble beginnings to becoming a senior chemical engineer at Barr Engineering Company, her story is inspiring and empowering, especially for women in STEM fields.

Starting with a background in chemical engineering, Amanda’s career took off with a job at Cargill after studying engineering at the University of North Dakota, where she navigated through various roles, including project engineering and frontline supervision. Despite initial skepticism from others about their ability to succeed in engineering, Amanda’s drive and dedication propelled her forward.

One significant point in Amanda’s career was the birth of her child, which prompted a move back to her hometown and a transition to consulting with Barr Engineering Company. Despite initial doubts about their suitability for the role, Amanda quickly found their place and excelled in consulting.

In her current role at Barr Engineering Company, Amanda focuses primarily on air quality permitting and compliance, contributing to environmental management programs for various industries. Her dedication to her work and commitment to excellence have earned her respect and admiration from peers and clients.

Amanda’s advice to aspiring engineers, particularly women, emphasizes the importance of problem-solving skills, effective communication, and finding a supportive network. She advocates for more representation of women in STEM fields by actively engaging in outreach efforts to local schools to inspire the next generation of engineers. Through perseverance, resilience, and a passion for engineering, Amanda continues to make a lasting impact in her field and inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

JENNIFER CHARLES – Rainbow Energy Center

Jennifer Charles of Rainbow Energy Center is at the forefront of navigating complex regulatory compliance from state and federal policymakers. As the leader of environmental and regulatory, Jennifer brings a wealth of experience and expertise, guiding her team through the intricacies of environmental compliance and operational efficiency.

With a career spanning 17 years at Coal Creek Station and various other energy projects, Charles’ journey is inspiring and enlightening. Starting as a civil engineer at Coal Creek Station, she transitioned seamlessly into environmental management, showcasing the versatility and adaptability inherent in STEM careers.

Jennifer’s role is multifaceted, involving daily operations management, compliance monitoring, and strategic planning to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of environmental regulations. From analyzing new EPA mandates to collaborating with industry groups, she ensures that Rainbow Energy Center remains at the forefront of environmental stewardship.Reflecting on her educational journey, Jennifer highlights the pivotal role of early exposure to STEM fields. Growing up surrounded by family members in engineering roles, she was inspired to pursue civil engineering at North Dakota State University (NDSU), setting the stage for her subsequent career path. Despite initial doubts during her first year, she persevered, guided by her father’s sage advice, to explore the vast opportunities an engineering degree offers.

Transitioning from college to the workforce, Jennifer’s tenure at a land development firm laid the groundwork for her eventual return to her roots in North Dakota’s energy sector.

As a mother herself, Jennifer imparts invaluable advice to her daughter and aspiring young women entering STEM fields. Emphasizing the importance of resilience and self-confidence and embracing both successes and failures, she instills a mindset of perseverance and growth—a testament to her unwavering dedication to shaping the next generation of STEM leaders.

HOLLY BURCH – Bismarck State College, Retired

Holly Burch dedicated 30 years to teaching at Bismarck State College. Throughout her career, she has imparted technical expertise and nurtured countless students, guiding them toward fulfilling careers in the energy sector. 

At Bismarck State College, Holly focused on ushering incoming students into the world of energy education, acting as a mentor and guide as they embarked on their academic journeys. Her classes served as a gateway for students to explore the multifaceted aspects of the energy industry, from understanding the fundamentals to delving into specialized areas of study. 

One of the critical highlights of Burch’s approach was the emphasis on hands-on experience. She recognized the importance of early exposure to industry environments. She facilitated plant visits allowing students to immerse themselves in the environment of the energy sectors. Through these experiences, students gained invaluable insights into the day-to-day operations of energy facilities, helping them make informed career choices. 

Collaborating with local employers, she facilitated tours and assisted with networking events, providing students firsthand exposure to potential career paths and fostering meaningful connections within the industry. 

Holly also emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary skills, noting the parallels between energy and medical fields, where problem-solving and troubleshooting abilities are highly valued. 

For individuals considering a career transition into the energy sector, Burch offers practical advice. She recommends contacting industry professionals for mentorship and exploring opportunities for hands-on experience. Additionally, she underscores the importance of embracing lifelong learning, whether through formal education or on-the-job training, as the energy industry evolves. 

Looking to the future, Burch remains optimistic about the diverse opportunities available within the energy sector. Holly’s passion for teaching and dedication to her students have left an indelible mark, inspiring generations of aspiring energy professionals to pursue their dreams and make meaningful contributions to the energy world.