Synethia Bennett: Our First Woman Power Operator
Synethia “Neicy” Bennett’s journey to become International Paper’s first female power operator began 25 years ago as a utility, performing maintenance and cleaning in the power house. By demonstrating leadership and a willingness to take on new skills and roles, she has found herself at home in the core of our sustainable mill operations, where steam power is converted to electricity to maximize its efficiency. Bennett says she wouldn’t want to work anywhere else in the mill. “This is my little piece of heaven. I love it here; I love the people. It’s a great job,” she said. “We’re like one big family.”
The power house is the beating heart of a paper mill. A team of sixty-six operates the Riverdale Mill powerhouse, with Bennett responsible for just about every job, from the utilities to the top operators. “We make sure the power house is working safely and has the resources we need.”
After a stint as a utility, Bennett worked as a water tester before her career took an opportunistic turn: she served as the mill’s coordinator for its participation in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). She worked as the VPP coordinator for four years, helping the mill maintain its status as a VPP STAR site – making Riverdale Mill one of only 2,100 sites in the United States that have achieved this recognition. Once her tour as the mill’s coordinator for the OSHA program ended, she returned to the power house, certified as a turbine operator.
The mill is full of opportunities. . . . I love it here; I love the people.
The second time Bennett answered the call was to fill in for the Power Safety Coordinator. Returning to the power house with this new experience under her belt, she certified as the first female recovery boiler operator. Taking further steps to advance her career wasn’t the only thing on her plate: Bennett also worked to complete her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Health and Safety. “The mill is full of opportunities,” she said about her experience. “IP helped pay for [my degree] because it’s part of my job.”
After more than a year as the recovery boiler operator, Bennett was elected as a full-time safety coordinator. During that time she also began the process of certifying as power operator. We asked Neicy for a piece of wisdom to pass on to her fellow team members, and she gave us this gem:
“Take your job seriously. This is how you provide for your family. When you come to work, your mind needs to be set on working safely and efficiently. We play a major role in the future of this mill.”
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