Nicholas K. Akins
Nick Akins rose through the ranks at both American Electric Power and the former Central and South West Corporation. (CSW), which merged with AEP in 2000. Akins began his career in 1982 as an electrical engineer in system operations, with succeeding assignments in planning, fuels acquisition, mergers and acquisitions, industry restructuring and transmission business development before assuming the role of president and chief operating officer for Southwestern Electric Power Company, serving nearly 439,000 customers in Louisiana, Arkansas and northeast Texas.
In 2006, Akins was named executive vice president-Generation, with responsibility for all generation-related operations, maintenance, construction and technology development. Akins became president of AEP in 2011.
A native of Louisiana, Akins received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston. He completed additional training in executive management programs at Louisiana State University, the University of Idaho and the Reactor Technology Course for Utility Executives at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a registered professional engineer in Texas.
Akins currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Edison Electric Institute and is former chairman of the Electric Power Research Institute. He is a member of the Executive Committee of the Business Roundtable (BRT) and was appointed chair of the BRT’s Energy and Environment Committee. Additionally, he is a member of the boards of the Nuclear Energy Institute, Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership, Nuclear Electric Insurance Limited, Fifth Third Bancorp, OhioHealth, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
At American Electric Power (AEP), more than 17,500 people work night and day to deliver energy to nearly 5.4 million customers from Lake Michigan to the Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Based in Columbus, Ohio, AEP is one of the largest electric utilities in the United States and ranks among the nation’s largest generators of electricity, owning nearly 32,000 megawatts of generating capacity. AEP also owns the nation’s largest electricity transmission system, an approximately 40,000-mile network that includes more 765 kilovolt of extra-high voltage transmission lines than all other U.S. transmission systems combined.
Our people are engineers, customer service representatives, information technologists, line mechanics, chemists, biologists, economists, meter readers, marketers, lawyers, power plant operators, accountants, statisticians, and even meteorologists.
These people are the heart and soul of AEP. They drive new ideas and discover better ways to serve customers and communities.
Chances are that most of us have heard alarming statistics about the future direction of our youth in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). As of 2014, the U.S. Department of Education reported that only 16 percent of students who are proficient in mathematics wanted to earn a degree in STEM.
This statistic is deeply troubling for American Electric Power. We depend on thousands of talented employees steeped in STEM-related and other fields to ensure a reliable product for customers. More broadly, this statistic is troubling for any U.S. company that looks to today’s high school or college graduates to fill tens of thousands of jobs that steadily are becoming available as Baby Boomers dial down careers or retire altogether.
As I’ve looked around the electric utility industry and discussed with educators and community leaders, there is a common choir of concern for the lack of high school and college graduates prepared to address business challenges over the next 10, 20 or even 30 years. Far too many students lack analytical and critical thinking skills to help businesses solve complicated issues to meet a competitive future.
Although I grew up in a lower middle-income home, my parents understood that higher education could change my life and instilled in me the value of education. And it was an electronics teacher who introduced me to a lifetime career in the energy field. We have an obligation not only to encourage young people, but also to present opportunities that can change their lives and ultimately serve industry with a strong, diverse workforce to meet this century’s business complexities.
In the early 2000s, childhood brain development research showed that educating children earlier sparked their natural curiosity for scientific inquiry. As a result, AEP created the Bright Start Right Start program to introduce teachers to simple physical science exploration through a teach-the-teacher model. Bright Start equips educators to return to the classroom with knowledge and a toolkit to share simple experiments and science concepts with pre-Kindergarten learners. Through AEP and the AEP Foundation, nearly $1.2 million has been invested to train teachers and reach students who will join the workforce in the years ahead.
AEP has invited pre-Kindergarten through high school teachers to apply for mini grants up to $500 to fund small, visionary classroom projects. These competitive grants are invaluable in allowing teachers to support a creative idea in the classroom. For more than a decade, AEP’s Teacher Vision Grants have supported 1,800 projects totaling nearly $850,000 to develop ideas that enhance children’s educational achievement.
Through robotic competitions, AEP has spurred students to creatively analyze information, situations and technological challenges around AEP’s service area for the past twenty years. More than 770 grants have been awarded totaling nearly $2.6 million to support FIRST (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology) through the FIRST Robotics Challenge, FIRST Tech Challenge, FIRST LEGO League and Junior FIRST LEGO League.
In my current role as chairman of the Edison Electric Institute, AEP is doing even more to support FIRST through Get Into Energy, Get Into STEM. This initiative will help nearly 1,200 FIRST Tech Challenge teams afford technology transfer fees to pursue a new platform for the FIRST Tech Robotics Challenge.
Many economically-disadvantaged students are unaware of STEM careers, or courses are unavailable to them, or they believe that they are unable to excel in science and math. The key to unlocking student success in STEM is early exposure, guidance and support whether it’s at home, in school or from the community.
Companies also are working to shape students for the workforce. In 2013, the AEP Foundation created Credits Count SM. The program encourages middle school students to explore STEM-related fields through hands-on experiences, and offers high school students an opportunity to enroll in dual-credit programs at community colleges while still in high school.
Credits Count assesses college readiness; offers ongoing tutoring; covers tuition, labs, and materials for dual enrollment classes; sponsors a summer bridge program; presents degree and non-degree educational tracks, and awards scholarships to students who pursue an associate’s degree following high school graduation. Equally important, Credits Count makes college education possible for economically-disadvantaged families who cannot afford the costs of a two-year or four-year college education.
The five-year grants are made to community colleges in partnership with public school districts. Through the program, students are able to earn at least 12 college credit hours toward a career certification or a two-year associate’s degree in a STEM-related field.
The AEP Foundation has provided more than $11 million in Credits Count grants to five community colleges: Columbus State Community College in Ohio; Bossier Parish Community College in Bossier City, Louisiana, near Shreveport; Tulsa Community College in Oklahoma; Ashland Community College in Kentucky; and Ivy Tech Community College in Marion, Indiana. We expect to expand the program within each of our operating company areas.
Companies can no longer hope that workers arrive ready to meet industry’s needs. Business plays a pivotal role in inspiring the next generation. We must reach into our communities to nurture young lives and help develop technical knowledge and skills to overcome economic obstacles. If we invest in helping young people to achieve, industries and communities are sure to share the dividends of success.
These young people will be the new force of engineers, information technologists, software developers, business analysts and scientists who will be the backbone of business in the decades ahead.