May 1, 2023 - News

First woman graduates Austin Energy climbing school

Cherie Rene Cheramie gives fellow lineworkers the thumbsup.

Austin Energy's first woman graduate gives a thumbs-up to some of her fellow climbing school students. Photo: Asher Price/Axios

On an overcast morning Friday at the Decker Creek Power Station in Northeast Austin, Cherie Rene Cheramie, equipped with a utility belt and bright green hardhat, scaled a 70-foot-tall electric pole in under a minute.

Driving the news: With her ring of a bell at the top of the confidence pole, as the test pole is known, Cheramie, 30, became the first woman to graduate the utility's lineworker climbing school, which readies Austin Energy employees for fieldwork.

What they're saying: "You have to be confident in yourself not only to keep up with the men, but also to keep up in general," Cheramie told Axios and other reporters after she clambered back down. "You do have to be strong, you do have to take care of yourself — but don't be intimidated."

  • "This is a very rewarding profession if you are willing to work hard, learn, and follow the rules to safety. Be confident in yourself and your work — you will get there," she said.
  • Her achievement "is fantastic," Jimmie Johnson, 32, another graduate, said. "Cherie came in and said right from the start, 'I don't want y'all treating me any different.'"

The backbeat: Cheramie, who hails from Louisiana, where she played in a family band called Animal Crackers, has been a trailblazer before.

  • Before starting at Austin Energy, she trained in the lineworker program at Texas State Technical College at Waco.
Cherie Rene Cheramie in mid-climb.
Cheramie in mid-climb. Photo: Asher Price/Axios

Between the (power) lines: Cheramie was one of about a dozen lineworkers to graduate on Friday and, between crippling power outages and labor shortages, Austin Energy can't add graduates quickly enough.

  • During the three-week training, students learn correct pole-climbing technique, bucket-truck operations and pole-top rescue training.

What's next: After passing the climbing school, the apprentices are assigned to an Austin Energy crew and continue their training on the job for about four years before becoming lineworkers.


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