For Kara Laframboise, it was working with her father on wiring houses that sparked her interest in engineering. Today, she is the only full-time female electrical engineer at Minnkota Power Cooperative.
Laframboise learned the basics of electrical work from her father, Rick Laframboise. He was an electrician at Minnkota, who, as a side business, worked on houses around town. When she was younger, Laframboise would help him wire houses as she followed him from job to job. They had their hands full after the flood of 1997, which destroyed breaker boxes up and down the Red River Valley. Rick retired in 2020, but his daughter is continuing her work in electrical substation design, work historically done by men.
“I've always been interested in how things work,” Laframboise told the Herald. “Mostly just trying to figure out what the reason is behind this thing working, and electricity was just something that always appealed to me because I grew up with it.”
Laframboise graduated from UND in 2011, and after a stint with another company, joined Minnkota a year later. The power cooperative was a familiar place; her father worked there, she job-shadowed there in high school and did two internships at the cooperative while in college. But it was at UND that she encountered a comment from a professor that left her stunned.
While working through a difficult subject, Laframboise decided she needed some help and spoke with a professor after class. The professor, she said, was not receptive to her questions, and told her that she may not be smart enough for the program.
“It wasn't in a ‘You may not be fit for this type of work’ (way), it was a flat out ‘You may not be smart enough for this’ sort of situation,” Laframboise said.
Shocked, she decided not to seek help from that professor anymore. The comment only made her more determined to succeed. Ultimately she passed the course, and went on to join the ranks of those working in electrical engineering, a field where women make up 15% of the workforce, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“I am pretty fortunate that I knew that this was something that I wanted to do,” Laframboise said. “It didn't really matter what this one person thought, everyone else around me did not treat me that way.”
At Minnkota, Laframboise said she is part of the team, and that she enjoys her work in substation design. At present she is working on a new substation on the far south end of Grand Forks. Usually she works out of Minnkota’s south-end facility, but she said she likes to be on hand when new equipment is being installed.
“Our technicians are the ones that install everything, so when we're putting everything in service, I like to be out there just in case they have any questions on things that are going on,” she said.
Laframboise said she takes her job one day at a time, and all of the challenges that come with it. Each year on the job has been different, but weather consistently poses the most challenges. A few years ago in Minnesota, a wind storm brought down power lines and a substation had to be rebuilt, she said.
“On our side, it's trying to determine what happened, what we need to go out and fix right away and what we can have some time to figure out and fix,” she said.
Since 1994, each president has designated March as Women’s History Month. In recognition of that, Laframboise and dozens of other women in the field were profiled by Rural Electric Magazine, published by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. There, Laframboise detailed her determination to become an electrical engineer, and told the Herald she would encourage any woman to pursue a career in a science or engineering-related field.
“I would say if this is something that you are truly interested in and want to learn more about, then you should do that,” she said. “If there are people that are discouraging towards you wanting to do that, then don't don't play into what they have to say.”