Interview by Hannah Sprouse
For Raphael Yohannes, if there’s a will, there’s a way. Every day the 27-year-old transplant from Texas finds a way to balance his heavy workload as lead field engineer at NiSource (covering all of Downtown Columbus) with his dedication to the community. His involvement with the Simba Mentoring Program at Franklin County Children Services, Columbus Urban League Young Professionals (as Membership Co-Chair), and National Society of Black Engineers is proof of his will to lead the next generation into the future.
Where did you grow up, and what brought you to Columbus? I am originally from Dallas, Texas. After graduating from the University of Missouri, I found an opportunity to start my career with Columbia Gas as a field engineer.
Give us a snapshot of your career path: My first experience of working as a young professional started as a Chemical Engineering Intern for Abengoa Bioenergy. I joined their design team and assisted them on creating an ethanol plant that converted corn biomass into ethanol. I gained such a diverse experience from working in a cross-functional team full of engineers and scientists to traveling 2 weeks out of each month to evaluate the projects’ progress. My experience at Abengoa and leadership on campus with my involvement with NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers) opened an opportunity at Columbia Gas. I have worked as a Field Engineer with Columbia Gas since the summer of 2015.
Tell us about your current career role: I am currently the lead field engineer for non-revenue projects for central Columbus, which covers Downtown Columbus. As a field engineer you play a vital role in the company because you interact with so many different departments. This allows you to have a holistic approach when it comes to decision making. Another aspect of the job is that you are responsible for wearing multiple hats. This means at any given time of the day you may be applying project management on the dozen of projects you are coordinating, analyzing & problem solving while evaluating a set of engineering plans, providing technical assistance and support for field and construction operations in an emergency or creating long range projects that will improve our system. Outside of engineering, my role also provides me with flexibility to partake in company led community service projects.
What’s new and exciting at NiSource? 1) NiSource was recently named to 2019 Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index. 2) If you are a Columbia Gas customer, you may have the opportunity to part take in an in-store rebate on smart thermostats at Lowe’s and Best Buy, and both smart and standard programmable thermostats at Home Depot using a coupon code provided to eligible customers.
What gets you up in the morning? And what gets you through the workweek? A motivational quote that I use each morning is: “Every day is an opportunity to be a better version of who you were the day before.” The amount of impact that I make during and after work hours fuels me to take on the next days challenge.
What advice or mentors have helped guide you along the way? Some of the best advice I’ve been given from mentors and those to whom I look up to is to find your purpose in life and to design your life and career around that. This allows you to eliminate noise and distractions that deter you from reaching your true potential.
Explain some of your work-life balance challenges. How do you achieve success in spite of the hustle and bustle? The biggest challenge I have is making time for myself. During work hours I am always surrounded by people and during my off hours I am usually involved in one of the organizations I am a part of. To ensure I take time for myself, I have to actively carve out times during the week to allow my mind and body to recover.
What do you do or where do you go to unwind? The gym. It’s a place where I can turn my thoughts off for a bit and unplug even if it’s only for an hour.
When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up? As a kid I always wanted to be a scientist. I was always fascinated in hearing about advancements in science that improved people’s lives.
What might someone be surprised to know about you? A fact that seems to surprise some people who hear about how active I am in the community is that I am a recent transplant to Columbus.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be? Since I love to travel, I wouldn’t mind having the ability to transport. Who wouldn’t want to travel to different continents all within the same day?
What would your autobiography be called? “If There’s A Will, There’s A Way.” In life we take paths that lead us directly to where we want to go, but in some cases we find a paths that do not. What do you do? I believe in redirecting your focus and coming up with another plan. That’s the dopest thing about life, it’s not a one road trip to your final destination- it’s a journey!
What books/podcasts are you reading/listening to right now? I am currently reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Some of the podcasts I am currently listening to include: High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard, Bigger Pockets, Transformation Church, TED Talks Daily and Science Vs.
If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would you choose? As someone who stays up-to-date on latest developments in the tech industry, I would be interested in meeting Elon Musk over a cup of coffee.
What are among the top places you’d recommend to someone who is visiting or new to Columbus? I am a huge supporter of places that provide an overall great experience. From food to workouts, here are a few places I would recommend to someone visiting or new to Columbus.
What organizations are you involved with in the community? Franklin County Children’s Services as a mentor in the Simba Mentoring Program, Habitat for Humanity, Columbus Urban League Young Professionals as the Membership Co-Chair, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., National Society of Black Engineers
Tell us about a community initiative that you’re most passionate about. I am looking forward to how the One Linden Revitalization Plan & Smart Columbus community initiatives will transform the Columbus community. I believe with the right people at each table, these initiatives can transform Columbus by making a huge impact in people’s day to day living.
What’s the most exciting thing about Columbus right now? An exciting thing about the city is that Downtown Columbus (area) is currently in a stage of growth, and in a way recreating itself. I’m particularly eager to see the future development plans for Franklinton come to fruition within these next few years.
If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them? The pulse of Columbus is that we as a community are leaning into non-traditional methods of success- learning, innovating and growing together.