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Young Fort Wayne engineer with Indiana Michigan Power makes Forbes energy list

Tirthak Saha, a grid modernization engineer for American Electric Power's Indiana  Michigan Power division, is profiled on Forbes' 30 Under 30 - Energy list. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)

Tirthak Saha, a grid modernization engineer for American Electric Power's Indiana Michigan Power division, is profiled on Forbes' 30 Under 30 - Energy list. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of News-Sentinel.com)

Tirthak Saha is using his inclusion on the Forbes 30 Under 30 In Energy 2018 list as a platform for engineering projects and gender equality.

Saha, 25, a citizen of India who’s working in Fort Wayne on a visa, has the newly created position of grid modernization engineer for American Electric Power’s local Indiana Michigan Power division.

“This wasn’t on my horizon,” Saha said of his inclusion on last month’s list after being nominated by his boss and someone who previously earned the honor.

Saha describes his passion as increasing science literacy and getting more women into STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – fields.

The electric grid is aging as technology and devices run on electricity increase.

“This whole industry hasn’t seen much change in 100 years,” said Saha, who attended college in India for two years before completing his degree at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

The last decade has seen electric cars finally hit the roads, and as a power distributor, what Saha calls the “guardian of the electric grid,” AEP/I&M must be able to provide for new technology.

AEP, based in Columbus, Ohio, is very “forward-looking,” and created the job that he has – grid modernization engineer.

“I research and find the best technologies I think will provide the best power technology and employ it,” he said.

His team’s proposal to AEP’s Spark Tank Innovation Challenge, a play on the “Shark Tank” show, to solicit ideas from employees, earned second place but is being incorporated along with the first-place idea. He can’t give details but says it has to do with tackling outages. AEP will invest $1 billion in the proposal, which will affect nine states, according to a description in Forbes.

Saha’s boss wasn’t available to comment on the nomination, but Toby Thomas, I&M president and chief operating officer, said in a statement, “Given his creativity, initiative, engineering abilities, people skills and his passion for using technology to improve energy delivery, it was clear when we hired Tirthak just over a year ago he would help I&M make strides in being the energy company of the future. His achievements in such a relatively short time speak volumes about his abilities, and his selection by Forbes as a young leader in the energy field is well-deserved.”

Saha is involved in the community by serving on Indiana University-Purdue University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering advisory board to determine how to make classes industry relevant.

Growing up in New Dehli, Saha said he saw one rolling blackout that left half of India without electricity.

“Power shouldn’t be a luxury,” he said.

There, he grew up with some of the best role models – his mother, some of his aunts and female teachers and professors.

He finds discrimination of any kind illogical.

“If you don’t allow women to be equals, you’re losing out on 50 percent of humanity,” he said.

It’s one topic of his forward-looking blog, “The Future is Ours.” Another topic he’s tackled is artificial intelligence. Not only are Siri and Alexa entering homes and used daily by some, but true artificial intelligence, where not only a machine is “taught” basic skills, it can “learn” and be “much more intuitive,” is being developed, he said.

AI has been a subject of science fiction for decades, usually in stories where the machines run amok, ala “The Terminator” and “Blade Runner.”

“I think the potential for good with AI and the potential for bad with AI rests with the people,” Saha said. “…I think technology by itself is not good or bad. It’s how we use it.”

He’s hoping that younger women will get better STEM education.

In rural parts of India, many girls can only aspire to “feminine” jobs.

He’s not going to tell Americans what they should do, but since he hopes to return to India one day he feels that he can comment about there.

“I like to move around,” he said.

He’s spent time in Japan, France, Spain and Bangladesh.

“Science and technology doesn’t know geographical boundaries,” he said.

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