Editor’s note: PG&E encourages students focused on science, technology, engineering and math to apply for our Better Together STEM college scholarships, funded by The PG&E Corporation Foundation. In addition to Better Together STEM, applications are also being accepted for scholarships provided by PG&E's Employee Resource Groups and Engineering Network Groups. Those interested can read eligibility guidelines for both scholarship programs and apply here by March 15.
By Tracy Correa Lopez
Kimberly Merilles remembers it clearly, that day nearly 10 years ago in the Manteca church she attended with her family, when in a surprise announcement she was named a PG&E scholarship recipient.
PG&E representative, Nicolaus “Nick” Glero, chief, strategic planning (Customer Experience Business Operations) worked with her family's church pastor back then to facilitate the surprise. After a very suspenseful prelude, including noting that the student attends Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and was pursuing a degree in environmental engineering, Mirelles' father hugged her in tears. They knew.
Merilles wiped away tears as she made her way to Glero and a symbolic oversized PG&E Bright Minds Scholarship check. Today, the scholarships are called Better Together STEM Scholarships, but the intent is the same: to provide financial assistance to students attending college, especially those who have overcome challenges. Today’s Better Together STEM scholarships, as the acronym suggests, are for students focused on science, technology engineering and math.
“The one thing that stands out is the overwhelming sense of thankfulness,” recalled Merilles at hearing her name called out that day in church by Glero.
Merilles, whose last name was Lamar back then, is now married and has been a PG&E coworker for about five years. Today she is a safety project manager (senior) based in Auburn and working under Enterprise and Contractor Safety. More on how she got here later.
Financial help when it was needed
“I was very low income,” says Merilles. “I could not have afforded to go to college without financial help and scholarships.”
“I know it sounds cheesy, but I was raised in a family that did everything for other people,” she said. “We opened our family and did foster care, we volunteered heavily in our community and our church, and we were so accustomed to giving our all with no expectations of receiving anything back. To receive a scholarship like this was a surprise, and it felt like a reward for the years of hard work and effort.”
With one biological sister, another adopted and an average of four foster children in the Lamar home at any given time, finances for the family were stretched thin.
Her parents were giving by nature and giving was something they instilled in their children at a young age.
Merilles made trips to Tanzania as a teen, where she helped build a church and saw the needs of families there. She was inspired to study environmental engineering to be able to help improve life in underserved communities.
She would tell anyone who asked that she wanted to be a “humanitarian engineer.”
The path to PG&E
Merilles landed an internship with PG&E while in college, commuting nearly three hours to and from her family home in Manteca to the then-general office in San Francisco.
She later earned both an undergraduate degree in environmental engineering with PG&E’s financial help, followed by a master’s degree with the help of a private scholarship.
In 2018, Merilles went to work for Environmental Resources Management (ERM), a company contracted with PG&E. She was with ERM 1½ years and as the contract was coming to an end she was encouraged to apply and was hired for a similar job by PG&E. In 2022, she moved over to Enterprise Contractor Safety at PG&E where she works as a safety program manager today.
“I develop programs to ensure contractor safety compliance, PG&E compliance, CPUC compliance… the entire goal is to get people home safe every day,” she said.
Anyone who meets Merilles, quickly notices her contagious enthusiasm, her perky personality — her obvious joy at work.
“Everyone that I have met in my life has loved working for PG&E. I love working for this company. I feel joy at work. Patti Poppe [PG&E's CEO] has done a great job with that,” she said.
Jack Suehiro, director, Enterprise Contractor Safety and Merilles' direct supervisor, said her enthusiasm is real and notes that she’s always volunteering to help anyone and everyone: “It’s almost to a fault, and I do have to keep an eye on how much she’s got on her plate.”
She’s also just good at her job, he said.
Her role involves working with contractors who are not always happy, said Suehiro, “but she does a good job listening and resolving issues. She’s very knowledgeable in contractor safety and she delivers results.”
Merilles is also on the Construction Safety Research Alliance Committee, made up of industry leaders and experts who share and collaborate on workplace safety.
She credits her engineering background, learning there’s more than one way to solve a problem, with helping in her current job: “With safety, it’s about how do we get people to go home safely. My job is to dissect it and figure out ways to achieve it.”
Glero only recently learned that the young woman he helped surprise as a PG&E scholar, was now a coworker: “Talk about full circle and making a difference. Looks like we chose wisely back in 2014!”
In an interview 10 years ago, Merilles offered advice to students seeking PG&E scholarships that still holds true today: “Fill out the scholarship application, because you can’t win if you don’t fill it out. But also do it with a pure heart… write it and say, ‘This is what I want to do.’”
PG&E Encouraging Eligible Customers To Sign Up for Monthly Energy Discount Program
PG&E Bolsters Safety by Implementing and Evolving Wildfire Mitigation Measures
'Climate Positive’ by 2050: PG&E’s New Climate Strategy Report Outlines Targets and Milestones on Path to Net Zero Emissions and Beyond
As California’s Traditional Fire Season Starts, PG&E Turns on Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings Across All High Fire-Risk Areas
Collaborating for a Clean Energy Future: California’s First 100% Renewable Multi-Customer Microgrid Is Now Operational