For Kate Christenbury ’07, Recruiting Women to STEM Careers is Vital

Hutchison Now highlights graduates early in their careers who embody how a Hutchison education can lead anywhere you can imagine. We spoke with Kate Christenbury ’07, supervisor of a multi-state telecommunications team for ConocoPhillips.
As a woman in the oil industry, is it common for you to be the only woman on a team or one of a handful?

It is SO COMMON! In my current role, my boss has around 40 people he supervises, and I am the only woman. I often find myself in meetings or calls where I am the only woman. The oil industry is so male-dominated that when I was preparing for my first trip out to the field, I had a difficult time finding stores in Houston that sold the women's PPE clothing that I needed. I went to five stores with no luck and finally just ended up getting some men’s items that only slightly fit. We have a wonderful group of employees at ConocoPhillips called the Women’s Network, which hosts professional development, networking, and social activities. I use every opportunity I can to recruit more women to the oil industry, specifically into STEM roles.

You supervise a multi-state telecommunications team. How important is telecommunications to an international oil company such as ConocoPhillips?

Telecommunications, or TCOM for short, and field network connectivity are critical to an international oil company like ConocoPhillips. If TCOM systems are down, we would not receive important alerts which could have a serious safety or environmental impact. In order to mitigate this risk, my team is responsible for engineering secondary and sometimes even tertiary backup options. For example, if a primary connection goes down because it was struck by lightning, that redundancy will seamlessly and automatically kick in without skipping a beat. 

As you know, we are partial to honeybees here at Hutchison. You and your colleagues recently faced a literal “bee emergency.” What was the hardest part about resolving that issue? 

During last year’s Winter Storm Uri, we had ice damage that created a hole in our TCOM antenna dish located on a communications tower in South Texas. Unbeknownst to us, a group of bees found this hole and due to the warmth inside of the dish, decided to make it their new home. In the weeks following the storm, we noticed some performance issues with that tower, so we flew a drone up to the dish and got some video footage, which revealed the cause of the issues: a massive honeycomb and lots of bees. 

As a company, ConocoPhillips is committed to environmental stewardship and wanted to make sure we handled this situation with the utmost care, recognizing the importance of bees to our ecosystem. The toughest parts of this whole operation were coordinating the different groups involved, preparing our plan for safely removing the bees from the dish (located at 60 ft. on the tower), and rehoming them at a farm outside of Austin. We had multiple meetings to ensure the safety of the people involved as well as the bees. With the help of some expert bee wranglers, a tower climber, a certified Texas Master Beekeeper, and many others, we successfully removed and rehomed the bees, thanks to all of our hard work in the planning process. 

As corny as it may sound, I really did feel a connection with these bees because of my years as a Hutchison honeybee!

How did your experience at Hutchison help you get to where you are today?

Where do I begin? I am thankful that my parents gave me the opportunity to have a Hutchison education. Hutchison allowed me to gain leadership experience and helped me realize my passion for being a leader and driving strategy and change. Hutchison taught me the importance of perseverance and hard work, which set me up for success in college and in my professional career. Hutchison instilled in me a passion for lifelong learning, encouraged me to think creatively, and promoted continuous improvement. Hutchison (especially Ms. Newberry and those precarious pitfalls!) also taught me excellent grammar and proofreading skills. I have gained a reputation at work as a result of these skills, and colleagues often ask me to proofread their important presentations and emails.

Lastly, Hutchison showed me the power of having a community and close network of other women. Working in a STEM job at an oil company does not quite have the built-in community of women that I had at Hutchison, but I am actively working to change that by encouraging young women to pursue a STEM career like I did.

Kate Christenbury ’07 graduated from the University of Arkansas in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Information Systems and a minor in Spanish. She is an IT supervisor for ConocoPhillips Lower 48 Field TCOM Engineering team in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and North Dakota.

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