Interns are like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.


Never was that truer than when Hoosier Energy System Planning Manager Carl Field agreed to take on a rare high school intern from Bloomington North last August.


“They reached out and had a senior interested in engineering, asked if we would be interested in hosting,” Field said. “I told them, ‘Sure, we’ll give it a try.’”


That senior was Darian Lafferty, and she did more than give it a try.


By the time Lafferty was done, she’d not only made an impression for two semesters but earned an invitation to return as a paid summer intern ahead of her freshman year of college at Southern Indiana.


“She did great work,” Field said. “This was not an internship where we said, “Oh, let’s assign some random busy work, some filing and stuff that’s been piling up on our backburner.’ She was doing real, meaningful work and did a great job of it.


“She showed a maturity and initiative and motivation far beyond what we would expect from a high school student.”


On the flip side, the experience only confirmed Lafferty’s desire to study electrical engineering in college.


“I have been interested in engineering in general for a few years, because my stepdad works with mechanical and electrical engineering with HVAC systems,” she said. “It’s a different ballfield but still interesting working with circuits. I’ve always leaned towards math and building and construction and that mindset.”


System Planning Manager Carl Field and intern Darian Lafferty.

During the first semester, Lafferty was at Hoosier Energy for two or two and a half hours three days a week, while she came in Monday through Friday for an hour and 15 minutes throughout the second semester. That required some creative scheduling for Field and the system planning department due to a hybrid work schedule.


But with the help of System Planning Engineer Greg Jekel, himself a recent Purdue graduate, Lafferty found herself diving in the deep end.


One of her big projects was working with Python software, writing scripts to help automate data integrity and data reconciliation processes, particularly related to meetings with member cooperatives.


In addition to Python, Lafferty got experience using Excel, Aspen (a line database), Google Earth and PSSE.


“PSSE is the modeling software we use to model Hoosier’s entire system and how it integrates into the MISO footprint and into our connections with a neighboring utility, etc.,” Field said. “That’s kind of the big, powerful Oz in system planning that gets used every single day. One of a system planning engineer’s primary jobs is seeing how it exists, how it will exist in the future and that it is modeled correctly. Darian was using the same software as system planning engineers on a daily basis. Her experience was under real-life conditions.”


That real-life experience connected with Lafferty and turned into something she carried outside the internship.


“The thing I learned most from Carl, Greg and Mike (Dix) was learning to think like an engineer,” she said. “In school, you can problem solve but you usually have directions. In the real world, it’s here is what it looks like, figure it out. You have to have a goal in mind, break it into steps and work backward. I’m not an engineer but that’s the main thing I learned. It helped me a lot going back to high school and solving problems. It’s a different way of thinking.”


Lafferty doesn’t mind a different way of thinking. She’s also a violinist as well as being a three-time regional qualifier and All-Area player in girls’ golf. Lafferty hopes to continue playing violin with an orchestra club at Southern Indiana, but she’s come to terms with playing golf for fun despite some initial thoughts at playing in college.


She does see some similarities between three of her biggest interests.


“You have to get down the technicalities, and once you have those down, you can do it the right way,” Lafferty said. “But it still doesn’t feel natural. First, you learn a technique and then you become a musician with many steps in between. With golf, you learn technique and if it doesn’t become natural, you are too rigid. With engineering, I can learn how to write code, but I have to practice a lot to be able to put the pieces together smoothly.


“All three are really difficult and you have to practice, practice, practice.”


She’ll get more practice this summer as an intern at Hoosier, but she’s also set the bar quite high for any future boxes of chocolate.


“We approached it as, ‘You’re capable of doing this,’ and she showed us she was,” Field said. “A lot of young students might buckle under that pressure, but she did really well. She continuously surprised us, not just with her work ethic, but with how she learned to think like an engineer as quickly as she did and juggled multiple things.


“She was a great intern.”