(BSE ChE ’84)
Chief Engineer, Fossil Generation
When Sharon (Tavery) Pfeuffer (BSE ’84) was a freshman in high school, she interviewed a chemical engineer at Detroit Edison for a research paper on careers. His work sounded intriguing to her and four years later she ended up at Michigan in the College of Engineering, ready to select chemical engineering as her major. She realized quickly she had chosen one of the toughest curricula in the College, one where some of the classes in the early 80s had 50% failing rates, graded on the curve. It helped that she roomed with two classmates, Margo (Radwan) Heberling and Sandy Marikis. At one point, the graphical version of the steam tables from Thermodynamics was the “art” on the wall in their campus apartment. The ChEs were sure their fourth non-engineer roommate was ready to get rid of them by graduation!
“I remember waiting in the cold for the bus to north campus for 8 a.m. classes. I could always tell which students were engineers and which were the art majors, “she says. “We had the heavy backpacks and impressive TI calculators, while the art students dressed in black and had huge portfolio cases.” Margo, Sandy, and Sharon remained a team as undergraduates and were design partners in their senior year along with one really patient male ChE student.
After graduation, she worked at Wisconsin Electric in Milwaukee for a few years, and then moved to Naples, Florida to work for Florida Power and Light. She had many different engineering roles in power plants, and was involved in converting the oil-fired plant to a combined-cycle gas plant. In 2001, she moved back to Michigan to join Detroit Edison, now DTE Energy. Early in her career she had roles in plant chemical engineering and performance engineering, hands-on plant roles that she enjoyed. Along the way she moved into plant management roles, eventually moving to the role of director of engineering for DTE Energy’s fossil fuel power plants.
In recent years, environmental regulation, and the public focus on issues, including air and water quality, have put the power industry on the front page of the news, making her work more interesting, and sometimes more challenging. She has spent much of her career working on making power generation cleaner, more efficient, and more cost-effective. Technologies developed by chemical engineers are paving the way for ever-cleaner power plants. She says her career is challenging, but one she still enjoys.
She met her husband, Bill Pfeuffer, while she was at Michigan. Bill started his career as an attorney, but a decade ago followed his heart to a new career in elementary education. They have a son, Andy, who is a sophomore at the College of Wooster in Ohio. They are adjusting to the empty nest, although they still don’t have as much “free time” as they had anticipated. When she isn’t driving down to watch her son swim in Ohio, she likes to garden, cook, and read.
When she was asked last year to be on the Chemical Engineering Alumni Advisory Board, she thought it was a good way to give back to the program that afforded her such a great career. She brings to the board insight on how the engineering theory our students learn as undergraduates applies to engineering in industry. She also brings perspective on being a woman engineer in what’s still a largely male environment.