Growing up on Signal Mountain, Noelle Currey said she developed an interest while in high school in becoming an acoustical engineer and running the sound boards for musicians and stage shows.
"I was always OK at music and better in sciences and I dreamed about being a roadie working concerts who didn't have to go on the road," Currey said.
While earning her electrical engineering degree at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and a masters and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech to develop per acoustical skills, Currey did a couple of internships at the Tennessee Valley Authority. Over the years in between other engineering roles at Astec Industries and Heatec, Dr. Currey has kept coming back to TVA.
While she never was in front of the musical mike, the sound engineer did get the loudest praise from her colleagues and bosses this week as the 2019 winner of the TVA engineer of the year award named after former TVA President Ike Zeringue.
Currey, a TVA project engineer for transmission who helps the utility manage the work that contractors do for substation design, was recognized for a computer program she wrote to help speed and improve the review of contract designs used for TVA substations.
Currey said she had no formal training in computer programming. But after working at TVA reviewing documents five years ago — and then leaving TVA to return to Astec Indsutries for a while before returning to TVA — she realized the value of figuring out a computer method for review. She spent 100 hours over a couple of weekends to write the programs, which are not only faster but more accurate than most manual reviews.
TVA estimates that Currey's programming has saved TVA several million dollars. In under a minute, the computer program can evaluate thousands of wires contained in switch house panels — previously reviewed one at a time.
"Noelle's innovation is helping TVA to continue to generate low-cost, reliable, clean energy," TVA President Jeff Lyash said in an announcement of the award.
Currey said she has used her passion for music to support concerts behind the scenes at Lake Winnepesaukah, the Tivoli Theater and other venues for three decades, But she acknowledged Friday she is proud to be publicly recognized for her work at TVA.
As TVA's top engineer, Currey is also one of the finalists for the Federal Engineer of the Year Award, which will be presented Feb. 14 in Washington, D.C.