Interview with PACWorld guru Meliha Selak

PAC World:  When and where were you born?
M.S.: I was born in a small city, Nova Varos, SFR Yugoslavia in 1949.

PAC World:  Where did you grow up and where did you go to school?
M.S.: I grew in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, SFR Yugoslavia, where I attended elementary "Arapova" and "Ivan Cankar", and high school "First Gymnasium".

PAC World:  Did you have any specific interests while in school? 
M.S:  As a child, I had many contradicting interests: arts (I was acting, singing, dancing), architecture, diplomacy, but no interest in engineering. On the other hand, I was the best in math and physics in my class.

PAC World:  Is there a person in your childhood that influenced your decision to become an engineer?
M.S.:  During my childhood, I never thought of becoming an engineer.  My dream was to attend the academy of art in Paris, France, and become a movie director. It was 1968 - the year of revolt - youth movement and protests everywhere.  The most spectacular demonstration of all these was the May 1968 protests in France, so my father advised me to wait one year and study something temporarily at home.

PAC World:  Where did you go to university and why did you choose that particular one?
M.S.:  I followed my father's advice to stay at home and apply for admission to the Electrical Engineering (EE) faculty at the University of Sarajevo. Why EE? At that time, it was a big challenge to be accepted into the EE faculty. As a silly girl, it was like a game to me to show off to all the boys, who had a dream to become an engineer, that "I can do it too." My good grades in math and physics helped me to get accepted to this school without any exams. I did my first year and …then I met a boy (my husband) at school, who inspired me to stay and continue to study EE.

PAC World:  How common was it to have girls interested in engineering in your country at the time?
M.S.:  At the time I was a student not many girls in my country were interested in engineering. However, girls were interested in computer science and information technology a few years later.  Nowadays, the number of girls interested in electrical engineering has become larger, specifically in the power system engineering.

PAC World:  What did you study in the university related to electric power systems, protection and control?
M.S.:  At the University of Sarajevo, the faculty of electrical engineering had a strong department in power systems engineering. In the 4th and 5th year of my study, we all had to take courses related to power system operation, protection and control. There were two courses in protection given by the utility expert Professor Franjo Bozuta.

PAC World:   How did you start you career and what was the reason to make this choice?
M.S.:  At that time, Sarajevo was at the center of the Electrical Power Industry. Energoinvest (E), with its consulting, R&D, and manufacturing was one of Eastern Europe's largest conglomerates, and was the most prestigious place to work in Yugoslavia. This company had an engineer in training program for two years, which was a great opportunity for junior engineers.  I applied for a scholarship from "E" and after graduation I joined their Automation Department where static protection was developed.

PAC World:  How did you end up in Canada and more specifically in Vancouver?
M.S.:  I immigrated to Canada in 1995 due to the war in former Yugoslavia.  My husband and I were working in Libya on "E" projects that included the 220 kV SF6 substations with, the new (at that time) static protection. Then the war happened and we (along with our children) were stuck in Tripoli. It was a difficult decision for us to immigrate to Canada, but we did it for our children's future.

PAC World:  What do you consider the most challenging project in your career?
M.S.:  In the early stage of my career, the most challenging project was the line protection replacement on 400 kV ring in former Yugoslavia that included the primary and secondary protection from different technologies: electromechanical and electronic (static) protection.  At that time, each of the six republics had an individual utility company integrated in the so called YUGEL authority. YUGEL was responsible for the 400 kV systems in Yugoslavia including the power system protection and control. "E" was the only domestic company involved in the tender offering the static fault locators and osciloperturbographs. 

As static protection was relatively new, there were no older engineers involved in such project; thus, I had a great opportunity to be involved in that project on behalf of "E". All protections offered by ASEA, BBC, GEC, Siemens were tested on the 400 kV live line during the night. I still remember the night at a place called Chule, near Mostar, where the short circuits were performed in order to check the protection speed performance. 
I was working with well-known experts in protection: from academia and industry (Prof. M. Golubovic from ETF University of Belgrade, Prof. Ogorelac from ETF Ljubljana, Prof. Zlatar from FER Zagreb, Prof. Bozuta from ETF Sarajevo, and Mirko Popovic, test engineer from Bosnia and Herzegovina Utility). I learned a lot from that project.

PAC World:  You have worked on projects in many different countries. Was being a woman a problem sometimes?
M.S.:  I worked on projects in my country, Africa, the Middle East and then in Canada and the U.S.  I can say, I had "NO" problem working as a female engineer.  I did have a problem with applying the new technology protections: first static and then numerical protection devices.

PAC World:  Today we are talking a lot about "digital twins." How important do you think is the verification of the different system models?
M.S.: I have always believed in new "things." Of course, the verification is very important, especially if it is to be applied to the power system operation. I am afraid that the new researchers do not pay enough attention to the fundamental power system operation.

PAC World:  When and why did you join the IEEE?
M.S.:  IEEE is the world's largest technical society, bringing members access to the industry's most essential technical information, influence the direction and application of standards development, networking opportunities, and many other exclusive benefits.
For me, the IEEE means a lot. Through IEEE Vancouver section I had an opportunity to introduce myself to the technical professional community. I joined IEEE in 1995.

PAC World:  Why did you decide to become actively involved in different IEEE related activities?
M.S.:  In respect to what the IEEE provided to me, I felt I should give back as much as I can through promoting the engineering profession by mentoring and teaching the new generation of power engineers.  
First, I was involved in the local IEEE section in different positions, then in Power & Energy Society (PES) on a global level as a PES Governing board member and Vice President for Chapters.
As an IEEE PES Distinguished Lecturer, I have participated by invitations at technical conferences, seminars and symposiums.  Also, I have been a member of IEEE Power System Relaying Committee Working Group (PSRC) working on the guide and standard for "Protective Relaying of Utility-Consumer Interconnections." 

PAC World:  What is the role of the IEEE PES Chapters and how are you involved in it?
M.S.: I had a distinct pleasure to volunteer with Power and Energy Society (PES) chapters around the globe over the five years and witness the entire chapter success achieved through the volunteers' talent and hard work. 
I take with me many good memories from the interactions I had with the numerous volunteers from various countries. 
The position of Vice President for Chapters is very demanding; it requires a significant amount of personal time and sacrifice.

Nevertheless, it was very fulfilling by providing me with many opportunities to increase the levels of IEEE PES activities in many parts of the world. In addition, making new friends and expanding the PES network was invaluable.
The organization of Chapters is one of the foundations for the PES activities as they organize and host the technical workshops and lectures to the local electrical power communities by utilizing the Distinguished Lecturer Program (DLP) lecturers.
The PES chapters host and provide resources to the PES Conferences & Symposia, sponsor the student meetings and congresses, participate at IEEE Regions meetings, and also host PES Governing Board and many other activities.

PAC World:  You are also involved in the IEEE PES Distinguished Lecturer program (DLP) and how does it help our industry?
M.S.: Yes, I am an IEEE PES DLP lecturer.  The purpose of the DLP is to increase the knowledge of the PES members in topics that range from research to practical use of technology.
As an IEEE PES Distinguished Lecturer on "Power System Modeling and Simulations: Differences and Propose for Power System Protection schemes" and "Concerns and Effective Protection Solutions for Distributed Generation" I have participated by invitation at the technical conferences, seminars and symposiums. My presentations are interesting to both industry and academia.  I have focused my lectures on fundamental power system operation.

PAC World:  What do you think is the role of women in power and how can we get more girls interested in it?
M.S.:  More women in power industry are desired: they think, act, and approach problems differently.  They are more sensitive, more empathetic and more design-focused. 
More venues that provide inspiration and education through mentorships, role models, and success stories would help girls to be interested in the power industry. Lately, PES organizes events dedicated to women in Power & Energy industry in conjunction to the major PES conferences and other events. PES Governing Board female members, including me, were guest lecturers who shared their stories about career, work-family balance, importance of IEEE to their success, and the need for women in the power and energy industry.
Cheryl Warren wrote the on-line book titled "Women in Engineering - You Can Do It!" based on the women who participated at a seminar that was hosted and organized by the UAE Section/PES chapter in Abu Dhabi on October 29, 2009.
There were approximately 200 women in the audience who enthusiastically asked questions, shared their experiences of engineering studies in the UAE and openly discussed their challenges to overcome adversity.

PAC World:  What do you think about the future of our industry?
M.S.:  There is an evolution in the electrical power industry with emerging technologies and computers. However, I cannot see the fast and spectacular changes in electrical power industry as it is with other industries. The electrical power system is very complex. The trend in electric power production toward the interconnected network of transmission lines linking generators and load into large integrated system is not an easy job! The secondary equipment including the protection and control has been improved a lot, but I am afraid that primary equipment (transformers, circuit breakers etc.) and transmission system won't be changed soon.

PAC World:  What do you consider your greatest professional achievement?
M.S.:  I have worked in the field of power system protection since 1975 (several hundred studies and reports) including consulting, research and development (R&D), designing special protection schemes and power system emergency controls, assessing interconnection requirements of numerous distributed and transmission connected Independent Power Producers (IPP).
However, I would give emphasis to my work with Dr. Hermann Dommel. I created the computer program for "Power System Model Data Validation" in conjunction with Electro Magnetic Transient in Power System (EMTP) that has had a significant impact on advancement of the secure and reliable operation of the power systems. 
It helped develop a digital model of the Commonwealth Edison's T&D Power System (Chicago) used in EMTP to analyze the pertinent transients and behavior of the transformers in its system.

The goal of this project was to identify viable options for the power system parameter improvement (it was done as a research project with Electric Power Research Institute - EPRI).
I would also like to highlight one of the most important projects for me: BC Hydro's "Power System Data Communications Architecture Report" completed in 2000.
This report outlines a philosophy and a plan for power system data communications architecture for BC Hydro that facilitate the control, protection, metering, and monitoring of the BC Hydropower system

PAC World:  You have received different awards. Is there one that you value the most?
M.S.:  The 2017 IEEE PES Award (the Wanda Reder Pioneer in Power Award) for professional contributions in the field of power system operation and leadership in IEEE Power & Energy Society and beyond that inspires new generations of engineers and women in engineering throughout the world.

PAC World:  How do you balance your active professional life with your family life?
M.S.: I set priorities in my life: first my family and then my profession. I started my family early.  It was not easy balancing work and home. With three children, I would not have had such an active professional life without the help, and support of my husband and our parents.

PAC World:  What do you consider your greatest personal achievement?
M.S.:  My husband and I were established engineers and were working abroad in Libya when the war broke out in what was then Yugoslavia. We were in our middle 40's. We lost everything: our home, our country, all our money as our bank accounts disappeared, our legitimate passport and visas…. However, through my technical expertise and my association with IEEE PES I was able to start my professional career in Canada again: I got my first job at the University of British Columbia (UBC) as a scientific engineer at the ECE department and ultimately landed a job in power system protection at BC Hydro from where I retired as a specialist engineer.

PAC World: You have been married for 45 years. What is the secret?
M.S.: I am happily married to Ekrem for over 45 years (we married as students), and we have three children: two electrical engineers (Adnan and Nina) and one environmental scientist (Ervin), three grandsons, a daughter in-law and a son in-law. 
The secret of our happy marriage is love, honesty and trust! We communicate as much as possible about everything. We do not agree on everything, but we are fair and respectful during disagreements.

PAC World:  You travel all over the world. Is there a place that you prefer to visit?
M.S.: Jerusalem

PAC World:  Your favorite form of entertainment?
M.S.:  Nowadays, I use any opportunity to go to theaters. I watch dramas and ballet; and listen to opera and symphony orchestras. I like to walk and have coffee with my family and friends. I enjoy swimming in the sea and in the ocean.

PAC World:  What is the food you like?
M.S.: There is a lot of good food. However, I prefer the sea food and exotic fruits.

PAC World:  Do you prefer any kind of music?
M.S.: It depends on the frame of mind I am in: I like classical music (Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin); chansons (Charles Aznavur); rock music (my favorite rock band of all time is "The Beatles" and their song "Imagine"); I like soul music too (I like to listen to Amy Winehouse) and of course, lots of good music from my former country.

PAC World:  Is there anything you would like to say to the young PAC engineers around the world?
M.S.: I encourage young engineers to take on more responsibilities and never doubt if they can do the task ahead of them. They should take any opportunity that is given to them, regardless of how difficult or impossible it may appear to be. Grow by winning the challenges.

PAC World:  Is there anything that we didn't ask you that you think can help our readers better understand who you are?
M.S.: I am a person who is open minded and positive about every aspect of life. There are still many things I would like to do, and to experience. I read a lot when I was young. Ernest Hemingway and Franz Kafka had influenced my thinking with their books "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "The Trail." Also, I like Ivo Andric from my former country who won Nobel prize for his literature. His beautiful novel "Aska and Wolf" inspired me a lot. In this novel, Ivo Andric emphasized art as the essence that defeats all evil, even death itself. 

BeijingSifang June 2016