Hand in Hand: Engineering and Law

By Randall Brown.

Sonya Baskerville

There are a number of directions a graduate can go with a freshly minted degree in industrial engineering, and some might not seem obvious at first.

Sonya Baskerville (BS/IE ’89) used her UT engineering background as a foundation for a long and fruitful legal career. She went from Rocky Top to the Big Easy to study at Tulane University Law School in New Orleans. From there, she headed to Portland, Oregon, to be a legal counsel and then to Washington, DC, to be the head of national relations for Bonneville Power Administration (BPA).

The industrial engineer’s mind and the lawyer’s mind are quite similar. I am always analyzing how to solve problems. I am constantly running through scenarios of policies, processes, and outcomes.”

—Sonya Baskerville

This particularly comes into play in her current role with BPA.

“I was legal counsel for 13 years and have led the federal affairs office for 14 years,” said Baskerville. “I have used my engineering background every day as I work for an electric utility—a highly technical workplace. The job entails keeping a lot of information—what I like to call the ‘dots’—in mind with an understanding of how all those dots are connected in a manner that impacts BPA.”

One of her key abilities is translating her engineers’ information into what it means for Bonneville’s policy objectives. Her IE background helped her from the beginning, namely in a new employee electricity systems training seminar.

“I breezed through it as I had only been removed from that ‘double-e’ electrical line drawing for a few years,” said Baskerville. “A great UT engineering education drilled in some of that stuff, for sure.”

She also felt welcome support from participation in Group 12 of the Minority Engineering Scholarship Program (MESP).

“The MESP students were very close. We hogged the library together studying many nights,” said Baskerville. “We were very close to James Pippin, as Fred Brown had left my freshman year, I believe. He and other professors in the college were very supportive and helpful. I don’t believe I would be in the field I am in without the MESP. I am still in touch with Mr. Pippin from time to time.”

While at UT, she pledged Delta Sigma Theta, through Mu Zeta, and enjoyed the related community service and Panhellenic projects. She tutored algebra at the Black Cultural Center and worked at the University Center cafeteria.

“I attended most home football games, Lady Vols games, and track meets, and attended home basketball games during the Wade and Allan Houston era,” recalled Baskerville. “I attended concerts, lectures, theatre, films—I tried to take advantage of everything UT had to offer.”

She has remained connected with the university, even as her career found her crisscrossing the country.

“I have been active with UTDC alumni for several years now and am on the board,” said Baskerville. “I also was on the Black Alumni Council board for a term. When MESP friends Dwight ‘Book’ Hutchins, Rodney Brooks, and Cavanaugh Mims reached out about the minority engineering endowment challenge, I couldn’t say no. Apart from that donation, I donate annually to the UTDC and BAC scholarships and Big Orange Give.”

Baskerville hopes her life experience shows Engineering Vols the many paths open to them.

My UT industrial engineering degree really prepared me for the many different opportunities I have had in career, life, and otherwise. There are so many of us who do not work as engineers, but everything we do is influenced by what we learned: to be open to new ideas and processes in order to help make things better.”

—Sonya Baskerville

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