In college, Natalie Mills enjoyed the best of both worlds: math and science were her passion, and performing arts was her dream.
Since graduating from Auburn University with a civil engineering degree, that combination of skills has allowed Mills to shine. She was recently named Outstanding Young Auburn Engineer for 2020 by her alma mater.
“I started out as a theater major at New York University,” said Mills, a Regulatory Support analyst for Alabama Power in Birmingham. “But after a year, I discovered how much I missed math and science. It was a big part of my life, and I missed it. The arts were always my outlet, but I ended up transferring to Auburn University to do what I really love, which is math.”
Because of the pandemic, Mills will be honored by the Auburn Alumni Engineering Council in a virtual program Sept. 25.
Scaling the heights of exciting engineering career
Mills’ college career was unusual in that she majored in engineering and minored in dance. Since receiving her engineering degree, Mills has put her math and presentation skills to good use.
“I was very fortunate to get a job at Southern Company after graduating from Auburn and moved to Birmingham having only visited the city once,” said Mills, who later earned a master’s degree in global energy management from the University of Colorado Business School.
In June 2010, Mills joined Earth Sciences and Environmental Engineering at Southern Company Services as a geotechnical engineer, learning about soil investigations and foundation design.
During that time, the Environmental Protection Agency rolled out proposed regulations for coal combustion residuals. Mills was involved in developing the company’s potential coal combustion residual (CCR) compliance strategy. The work led to Mills’ role as an environmental assessment engineer in SCS Environmental Affairs, where she provided the policy assessment of EPA’s suite of greenhouse gas regulations – the Clean Power Plan – for each of Southern Company’s operating companies.
After two years, Mills moved to SCS System Planning, where she performed asset valuations. Nine months later, she transitioned to the fuel forecasting and scenario planning group, a role in which her fine-tuned presentation skills came into play. In both roles in System Planning, Mills made recommendations using her knowledge of engineering, economics and environmental regulations.
In 2019, Mills moved to Regulatory Policy as a key member of Alabama Power’s team that worked on the recent filing of a certificate for new power generation, which achieved approval from the Alabama Public Service Commission.
“Approximately 2,000 megawatts of new generation was approved, including Barry Unit 8,” Mills said about the project that took more than a year to complete. “This effort was unprecedented. Our goal is to ensure we continue to provide reliable and affordable energy to our customers. It’s definitely been the greatest experience of my career to have been a part of this team.”
Sharing love of math with young women and girls
Throughout her career, Mills has won accolades for her achievements and community service.
While moving into roles of increased responsibilities at work, Mills became a leader with Alabama Power’s iCan Girls in Engineering program, helping girls discover the world of engineering. Mills is co-chair of the executive committee of 100+ Women Strong, which recruits, retains and rewards females in Auburn University’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.
“One of my passions is encouraging and inspiring young girls to consider a career in engineering,” said Mills, who was among the 2017 New Faces of Civil Engineering-Professional of the American Society of Civil Engineers. “My grandfather was the only engineer I knew while I was growing up. That’s why I love the opportunity to expose more females to engineering, to let them know it can be a great career path for them.”
Empowering others and acting as a positive force for change has always been among Mills’ goals, whether as a United Way loaned executive or volunteer with the Junior League of Birmingham. Mills is on the Committee of 25 junior board of Girls Inc. of Central Alabama, where she’s tutored girls throughout the community. For two years, Mills helped plan the nonprofit’s annual Cajun Cook-off fundraiser. Their April cook-off was postponed because of the pandemic but will continue in 2021.
“I love Girls Inc. because it plays directly into exposing young girls to a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) career,” said Mills, a board member for three years. “I really believe in Girls Inc. programs because they provide a positive environment for girls. It makes our communities better and stronger when we can inspire girls to grow up to be hardworking and to live their dreams.”
Because of her 13-month-old daughter, Maclaine, the mission of Girls Inc. has become even more meaningful to Mills.
“It’s really opened my eyes,” she said. “I tell my daughter every day, ‘You can grow up to be strong, smart and bold.’ That’s Girls Inc.’s mission for every girl, to reach for their dreams.”
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)