Twenty-six years ago, Brenda Porter became the first African-American woman at DTE Energy to train as a corrosion control technician on our natural gas pipelines. It was a big change from the six years she spent as an administrative assistant with our company.
“When I started in the workforce, administrative work was most popular so that’s what I gravitated to,” Porter said. “But I needed to do something different, I needed to challenge myself. I wanted to gain a new skill and keep learning.”
It was then that she saw an opening in DTE’s Corrosion Department, which inspects and prevents corrosion on our steel pipelines to ensure the safe and reliable supply of natural gas to our customers around Michigan. The job description mentioned dealing with metallurgy, anodes and cathodic protection – things she was unfamiliar with – and it included a box of tools that she’d never used. Since the position provided on-the-job and formal training, she took a leap and applied.
“I saw an opportunity to step out of my comfort zone. It was a huge learning curve for me,” she said.
Porter got the job, and after years of training she became a Certified Corrosion Technician. She learned the Michigan Gas Safety Standards and DTE’s standards and procedures for pipeline protection and integrity, how to inspect pipelines, perform reads and make minor repairs. She also learned about the different types of coatings and the science behind the corrosion rate of metals.
Now, her area of responsibility covers the natural gas lines in seven cities within Southeast Michigan. Her work is based on phases – from surveying the steel pipelines to monitoring and designing cathodic protection systems, ensuring the proper coating and protection level of the pipe and bringing her to the front door of any home.
She works with her team of sixteen corrosion technicians to find damaged areas on the pipes and develops solutions to troubleshoot and repair them. She works alongside engineers, drafters and contractors, whether it’s inspecting existing coatings or designing cathodic protection systems for any new construction and installation projects.
“Most people aren’t even aware of our department, but it is one of the most important areas of work. If we don’t do our jobs well, there is potential for mild to severe damage,” she said, adding that her job gives her purpose every day. “We’re providing protection to the public. It protects me, you, our children, our homes and neighborhoods; and nobody really knows we do it.”
In 2021, Porter plans to retire from what will be 28 years in the department. As she reflects on her 33 years with the company, she thinks of her former manager who saw the need for diversity within the department.
“He hired me as the first African-American female and encouraged me to learn and grow; it’s really helped add a different dimension to the department and bring new perspectives,” she said. “Once I learned the job, I tried to ‘pay it forward’ and have that same positive influence on people who were learning the job.”
“If there’s something you’ve been thinking about doing for a while, step out of your comfort zone and just do it,” says the trailblazer. “There’s no more I can’t – it’s what am I willing to do to achieve it? Sometimes, we see challenges as hard or uncomfortable and it makes us want to give up, but I say ‘perseverance’ comes with its own set of rewards that you’ll never experience if you quit.”