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Written by Dan Marten

Interviewed by Joyce Gu

Neena Hemmady once fainted while giving a major conference presentation — passed out, unconscious, on the ground — though she doesn’t let that define her. In the almost 20 years since, Hemmady certainly didn’t let that stop her from building her career, as she now sits as the vice president of enterprise risk management at Exelon, one of the largest electric companies in the United States. At the same time, Hemmady is a proud wife and a mother to two adopted children, one a senior and the other a junior in high school.

Hemmady is an Illinois Institute of Technology alumnus, having graduated with a master’s degree in environmental engineering in 1996 after completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

As a vice president of risk management at a major corporation, Hemmady doesn’t regularly practice the engineering skills she mastered at university, but that doesn’t bother her one bit. Her current job looks at the “big . 

Neena Hemmady

picture” risks that Exelon faces on the top level, be they strategic, operational, regulatory, and so on, as well as formally communicating these risks to the top boards of the company. Such a job needs all the critical thinking and ability to understand complex systems that a graduate degree requires without so much of the meticulous engineering mathematics of it all. You don’t need to be the next Tesla or the best student to be a success with an engineering degree, her career path seems to preach.

In fact, Hemmady encourages students to not feel constrained to technical roles in their degrees or “cookie-cutter” career paths. Rather, she encourages students to branch out into more operational, business, or management roles after getting experience under their belts or spending sufficient time at a company. Hemmady’s career started in such a strictly technical role, before branching out to a managerial business role 10 years later. All signs indicate that she has been extremely happy with this decision.

It was during that initial stint in technical projects that Hemmady passed out on stage. In her first job fresh out of graduate school, she was presenting at a major conference in the energy and industrial world, covering how to more accurately calculate emissions from power plants. Knowing the importance of the presentation topic — and the presence of major energy executives in the room — overwhelmed Hemmady to the point of fainting. 

 

In the days and weeks after, Hemmady almost swore off public speeches and presentations for good. She was close to voluntarily resigned herself to an anonymous life of working in dim drafting rooms. Instead, she refused to let the fear get in the way of her career as Hemmady forced herself to practice, practice, and practice some more until she finally got a handle on public speaking. Hemmady noted that she had important information on those fateful presentation slides, after all; the next time she had something big to say, she wasn’t about to be stopped by fainting or anything else.

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