January 20, 2021
Kylah McNabb has always had a passion for sustainability. Even as a child, she remembers being fascinated with weather and how everything was interconnected. She remembers arguing with her mother about not wanting to use paper towels, and fondly reflects on the time she built a sustainable playground complete with recycled plastic and ‘solar panels’ made of little crystals. There’s always been something in her that was drawn to the natural world.
Native to north Texas, McNabb did not originally intend to come to the University of Oklahoma. She always thought she would end up at a Texas university. On a whim, after learning that OU had a great meteorology program, McNabb made a trip to Norman during the spring break of her senior year in high school. As soon as she arrived on campus, it felt like home. She said the traditional feel of the University gave her a sense of familiarity, and in that moment, she decided to attend OU.
McNabb graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Geography from OU in 2002, and went on to get her MBA from OU in 2007. After graduating from OU, she worked in the Oklahoma State Energy Office where she began working on policies and expanding wind energy across the state. During her tenure, she helped build programs, managed grants, assisted the career tech programs, and aided in the creation of their educational programs.
Her initial work in wind power has expanded to include other similar topics such as solar power, geothermal, energy efficiency, and battery technologies for energy storage and electric vehicles. She currently owns her own consulting group, Vesta Strategic Solutions. The group provides services related to renewable energy, utility, sustainability, and related topics. “My primary work right now is advocacy work at the Southwest Power Pool, which is our regional transmission organization that covers basically from North Dakota down here to Oklahoma on behalf of a regional renewable energy group.”
McNabb says the field of sustainability is growing exponentially, and there are many opportunities to be involved. To illustrate this point, she mentions that McDonald’s recently announced a purchase of renewable energy, so even Big Macs will now be made with wind power. Although she says this growth and interest in sustainability is encouraging, McNabb does touch on the fact that the field is ever-evolving, which can create challenges: “The environment is an area in constant state of evolution, and one we are constantly in a mode of discovery and understanding. Just as we figure out one segment, it seems to shift and new studies are needed.”
While at OU, her biggest mentor was Dr. Scott Greene. McNabb says his background and research areas helped her find her footing in the renewable energy and sustainability fields; there was less of an emphasis on these things when she was getting her degree. “He has truly been a guiding force throughout my education and has continued in the balance of my career. He has provided wonderful counsel and guidance on too many topics to list, from academic conversations to practical career and life elements. He continues, and will always be, someone I admire and am thankful for to have as part of my life.” She also attributes the start of her career in renewable energy to Dr. Greene: “During his work with the Oklahoma Wind Power initiative they had a student position available and needed someone to answer the phone and work with the school newsletter. They asked me to apply. At the time I was working at Payless within Sooner Mall so I did apply and ended up getting the position. It literally turned into my career and I just fell in love with it.”
Although she worked full-time throughout her studies and didn’t participate in a lot of social events, she does have fond memories like digging her car out of the snow to get to class at Sarkeys only to realize OU had cancelled classes due to the weather, as well as spending time on cozy couches in the Sarkeys library while studying and reading. She also casually mentions that it is a rite of passage to get stuck in a Sarkeys elevator.
McNabb offers some advice for new and current students in the college: “Do become involved in some of the fun activities offered as I did miss those chances. While I was able to have good friendships, that is something that I could have done better. Keep your horizons open and realize that dreams change and evolve as you study and delve into your degree. There are so many rich resources available through the faculty, utilize them, and know they are there to help you succeed and feed your brains.”