You never know what could influence a young person to pursue a career. A 4th grade teacher who showed physics and the laws of motion through roller skating down the hallway inspired Frenae Smith, manager, Gas, to pursue a career in engineering. This year, REACH (Respecting Ethnic & Cultural Heritage) employee resource group is honoring Frenae for her contributions to the company and the hours she spends giving back to younger generations and encouraging their interest in STEM. 

“I’m very passionate about my volunteer work in underserved communities and introducing young people to STEM to help foster a new generation of engineers,” says Frenae. “I spend countless hours mentoring, recruiting and supporting young women and underrepresented students who aspire to be the next world-class engineers. I speak to college students interested in engineering, along with the parents who support them. It’s important that they see proper representation, so that they are able to navigate unique challenges they may face as they matriculate through their studies and careers.” 

Frenae is a graduate of Wayne State University and has a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering and material science and a master’s degree in chemical engineering and project management. Frenae started at DTE in 1999. In 2009, she led the Gas Laboratory to become the first energy lab in the United States to receive the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) ISO 17025 Accreditation. In 2012, she helped facilitate and design the first distribution pipeline to accept processed landfill gas in Michigan for DTE.  

“What has made Frenae a trailblazer is her focus and grit,” says April Martin, supervisor, DO.  “I was so impressed that she was leading the DTE Gas lab to receive the A2LA when I first started working at DTE. She is a role model for other young ladies, especially young ladies of color because representation matters! Young girls and women of color see someone that looks like them and her success through the awards and accolades she has achieved. Frenae has always been willing to reach back and help, which captures the essence of this year’s theme of Connected and Giving Back. There was never a doubt that Frenae was a trailblazer.”   

Frenae is involved with multiple organizations outside of work. She belongs to the American Gas Association, Midwest Energy Association, National Society of Black Engineers (Lifetime Member), Society of Women Engineers and DTE’s Women’s Leadership Forum. She volunteers her time to the Engineering Society of Detroit (ESD) with programs like Future Cities, Engineering Scholarships, and the Engineering & Technology Job Fair. Frenae is also active with United Way and the Junior Achievement Job Shadowing Program, where she coordinates approximately 75 high school students with an on-site career day at our company. She also volunteers with My Sister Circle, a non-profit committed to creating an environment that encourages healthy relationships between women of all ages.  

Frenae has won several ESD awards for Outstanding Leadership and Outstanding Young Engineer of the Year. In 2017, she was awarded the distinguished membership honor of Engineering Fellow from the Engineering Society of Detroit. She was also awarded the Southeastern Michigan Quiet Hero Award at the 15th Annual Ford Freedom Awards for her continued work encouraging underrepresented minorities to pursue STEM Education. In September 2019, Frenae was recognized by the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP) as the Alumni Member of the Year at the Real McCoy Awards. Frenae also received the 2021 Special Recognition Awardee from the Women of Color in STEM for her community service work promoting STEM in underserved communities.   

While Frenae is undoubtedly influencing others, she has one mentor who impacted her more than any other.  

“Dr. Howard Matthew had one of the biggest influences on my life,” she says. “He was one of my first mentors. I did research in his lab from high school through college. He taught me to succeed by failing and trying again to get the desired results. At the time, I thought he was referring to lab research, but he was giving me a lesson in life. I am blessed to have a number of mentors. I cannot pay them back so I aim to pay it forward.” 

“I am honored and humbled to receive the REACH Trailblazer Award,” says Frenae. “God has given me a life that is a working model in progress. I want to continue to blaze trails to help the next generation like someone did for me. The one thing that I have learned over the years is that leadership is a function, not a position and we can all do our part to leave a lasting legacy for young people.” 

Join us in congratulating Frenae on being a Trailblazer!