Brandie Garza is one of Virginia Tech’s newest employees and the first female employee to operate heavy duty equipment in the  Central Steam Power Plant, said her supervisor, Byron Nichols, associate director of utility systems.

Garza began at Virginia Tech in April as the plant operator assistant. Her day-to-day duties include making sure the plant’s five boilers are properly regulated and maintained. The plant contains five boilers with super heaters, which produce steam at 825 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Central Steam Power Plant, which first opened in 1901, is responsible for providing heat, hot water, and electricity for nearly 90 percent of the buildings on the university’s Blacksburg campus.

The plant's capacity is 440,000 pounds of steam per hour with peak winter demand in excess of 250,000 pounds per hour. The work of Garza and her colleagues is absolutely essential to campus life.

Her role is physically demanding and labor intensive. She also operates the plant’s bulldozer.

It’s not the first time she's been the first female in her unit in this type of role.

"In the Coast Guard it seemed like I was always the first female mechanic a unit had." 

It was a window sign at a United States Coast Guard recruiting station in Houston, Texas, that advertised a $4,000 sign-on bonus for females that led her to apply for the service.

Garza spent eight-years with the Coast Guard as a boat mechanic based in Florida. She also had the opportunity to assist with medical emergencies and rescues at sea. 

Garza, who was born in Galveston, Texas, spent her early childhood years growing up in San Diego, California. The military family moved a lot and by the time she was a teenager, they lived in Houston, Texas, where most of her family still lives.

She moved to the New River Valley to be closer to girlfriend of five years, who works at VPT, Inc., located in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center. 

"She always encouraged me to try and find a job at Virginia Tech after I left the Coast Guard because of the benefits here and the great work environment," said Garza.

"Brandie's previous work experience with the United States Coast Guard as a diesel mechanic gave her the required mechanical skills which we were looking for," said Nichols. "In addition, Brandie came across as a 'can do' person that we thought would fit in perfectly with our team at the plant." According to Nichols, they have interviewed several females applicants for similar positions over the years, but says they lacked the hands-on experience necessary to do the job.

During her free time, Garza is working toward her bachelor’s degree in Music Business Management though Full Sail’s University’s online program.

One day she hopes to break into the music industry through music production and managing artists. Locally, Garza hopes to get involved with Virginia Tech’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Caucus and attend her first Virginia Tech football game in the fall. She is also involved with a university initiative to form a Veterans Caucus.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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