Shobert named Distinguished Alumni 2020
One of this year’s MechSE Distinguished Alumni Awards has been given to Jeanne Shobert (BSME ’85) for her work in the nuclear energy industry. The award recognizes alumni who have embodied the department and university’s values in their professional career.
While Shobert currently works as the director of nuclear fuel supply for Exelon, she started her career with Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) as a technical staff engineer, applying her experiences from Illinois to conduct thermal performance testing, flow analyses, and other fossil power plant work. Her curiosity about how the plant’s economic dispatch decisions were made pushed her to earn her MBA at University of Illinois Chicago.
Pursuing her interest in the economics of the industry, she transferred to the Generation Planning Group at ComEd and worked on a team optimizing the refueling and maintenance outages for the fleet’s 33 generating units. Her career took off as she transitioned into a role as nuclear fuel buyer at ComEd and then accepted positions in management at the U.S. Enrichment Corporation (USEC), working on a team that took the Department of Energy’s Enrichment Enterprise private. By this time, she was raising a family, and moved to consulting before accepting a job in finance at Constellation Energy—eventually being named manager of the nuclear fuel group. After 2014 and a company merger, Constellation Energy’s shares were bought by Exelon, the parent company of ComEd, bringing her back to Chicago and into the position of the director of nuclear fuel supply.
“My experience at Illinois allowed me to hit the ground running when I began work as technical staff,” Shobert said. “It also helped me feel comfortable in the minority. In the mid-1980s there were very few women in engineering, but I never felt less capable than my peers and never recall being treated differently. That carried over to the workplace. Being one of two women on the tech staff, I had the confidence that I could perform technically.”
Shobert has accomplished many big things within a very complicated industry. While working at USEC, she developed a more efficient system for enriched uranium commerce that eventually became – and remains – the international standard. More recently, Shobert was part of an industry team formed to address lawmakers and explain the unintended consequences of international sanctions that could harm U.S. nuclear utilities and disrupt the world-wide nuclear fuel landscape.
Despite being so prominent in her field, Shobert said she wasn’t always sure it was what she wanted to do. Her decision to go to Illinois for mechanical engineering happened because she was good at math and liked solving problems. (“My school’s counselor couldn’t really tell me what an engineer even did!”) At Illinois she also spent a year playing for the women’s basketball team. She said she most enjoyed her TAM and materials courses, and a course she took about power plants in the economy.
“I’m proud to say that I am a graduate of this program. To be recognized by the department is truly an honor.”