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Six AECI employees receive Excel awards

SPRINGFIELD, MO – Six local Associated Electric Cooperative employees were among those honored at the cooperative’s 26th annual employee recognition ceremony, held virtually Aug. 18 due to pandemic safety guidelines.

Award recipients are Jason Finke of Nixa and Ali Baumhoer, Peter Ottoson, Brent Ross, Mark Woodson, Sean Wright and Thomas Umphres, all of Springfield.

The Excel awards are peer-nominated recognitions of employees who have excelled in their crafts, vocations and professions or in specific functions. The ceremony, usually held in the spring, was rescheduled for summer.

Mark Woodson, (recently retired) senior manager, member services and economic development, is the recipient of the cooperative’s Distinguished Service Award.

Unlike the other Excel awards that focus on a year’s work, this one recognizes an individual’s career of achievement and excellence.

In his 30-year career, Woodson developed Associated’s fledgling economic development program for member cooperatives into a robust program studded with successes. He added to that success in 2017 with the Power4Progress program to provide financing, project management assistance, networking for meetings, technology, strategic planning, electric vehicle incentives, economic studies and rate studies to cooperatives.

He also oversaw Associated’s member services department, creating a campaign to educate members about cooperative culture, structure and benefits; helped to expand its annual meeting to include national speakers and attracting more than 800 members and strategic partners annually; and worked across the state, helping to found a national economic developers group. Noted for his integrity, diplomacy and relationship-building skills, he received industry awards, certifications and recognitions.

Brent Ross, managing director, environmental, health and safety, is the recipient of the 2019 Excel Award for Mentor of the Year. Ross was recognized for his sometimes unconventional but successful approach to mentoring. “In any relationship, you have to take a little risk at the beginning. I don’t mind taking the risk because most people are worth it,” he said.

Ross was recognized for mentoring employees, helping them to communicate their ideas more clearly, improve presentation skills and overcome crowd fears. Ross also helps with an employee family safety fair, again through mentoring.

“Brent brings dedication and commitment to work each day and makes it clear he truly cares about the people he works with, taking time to ask about their day and offer support and direction if needed,” the nominator said.

On the job, Brent manages the environmental health and safety department, which tracks compliance with federal and state regulations; conducts safety audits; collects water, air and soil samples; and manages reporting and permitting requirements.

Thomas Umphres, systems operations specialist, is the recipient of the 2019 Excel Award for Employee of the Year in a Technical Field. He was recognized for his exceptional work in keeping electricity reliably flowing to members.

Umphres helped develop an analytical tool that operators use to identify in real time potential problems on the transmission system and then plan and prevent worst-case scenarios before they ever happen. An example might be a tree falling on a high-voltage power line that could knock out power across the grid.

“Having this tool allows operations to see what will happen in a ‘study mode’ environment, as the transmission system changes, giving AECI the ability to study outages, possible impacts to the bulk electric system and viable mitigation options,” the nominator said.

Ali Baumhoer, corporate attorney; Jason Finke, procurement agent; Peter Ottoson, supervisor, engineering projects; and Sean Wright, managing director, engineering and construction, were the Springfield members of a team of six who received the 2019 Excel Award for Innovative Action.

The award recognized their multiyear effort to prepare and negotiate a contract for maintenance at New Madrid Power Plant. The transparent approach taken by the contractor and Associated resulted in a contract that reduced risk, saved money for members and shared potential profit or loss.

“This was a big undertaking for both of us (Associated and the contracted firm),” said Ottoson. “We tried to garner a relationship built on trust and being open. They were very amenable to most of our requests, and a great partnership developed. We could openly discuss costs and execution, and that was integral.”

Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. is owned by and provides wholesale power to six regional and 51 local electric cooperative systems in Missouri, southeast Iowa and northeast Oklahoma that serve 910,000 members. Associated’s mission is to provide an economical and reliable power supply and support services to its members. Associated is a Touchstone Energy Cooperative.

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