Holly Krutka was living in St. Louis when she got the call, letting her know she’d been chosen as the second-ever director of the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources.
It was an incredible moment. She was thrilled to head back to the mountain west, a region she called home for many years. She and her family packed up their house and made their way to Laramie, as Krutka prepared to take over as director from founding SER director Mark Northam.
Her first day was March 9. That week, the university, the city of Laramie and the state of Wyoming began to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Krutka had barely any time to meet any students. She and her family were still in temporary housing, trying to finalize the details for their new home.
The new director had no time to get acclimated to her new environment before the environment completely changed again. But there was no time to get frustrated. Instead of being bowled over by the pandemic, Krutka is taking it as an opportunity to look on the bright side.
“Thankfully, there will probably never be a shortage of work for me to do,” she joked. “Obviously, things changed so much more than what I was ever expecting. But challenges provide opportunities. We’ve taken the time to publish papers. We’re writing proposals for new research grants. It’s just sad for me because when you start a new job, you expect to build relationships with the team and the students. I miss those interactions that just come by naturally.”
Thankfully, Krutka had built up somewhat of a relationship with the college prior to taking over as director, due to her work in the private sector.
Before taking over as executive director of SER, she was the vice president for coal generation and emissions at Peabody, the world’s largest coal producer. She also worked as a senior research and development analyst for Tri-State Generation and Transmission, an electric generation and transmission cooperative based in Westminster, Colorado. She helped launch a carbon capture research program during her time as a research scientist and senior research engineer with ADA Environmental Solutions in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.
Some major focuses of her career have been technology and policy pathways to advance carbon capture and identifying nontraditional coal-consumption opportunities. She has a bachelor’s degree and Ph.D., both in chemical engineering, from the University of Oklahoma.
Krutka’s interactions with the college during her time in the private sector impressed her, so when she found out Northam’s position was opening up, she began to consider applying.
“SER has a great reputation and is doing research I’m interested in,” she said. “There are some really good resources here. On top of that, you have really wonderful, hardworking people here who are internationally known for their expertise. It’s a big change to move from the private industry to academia, but once I decided to apply, I never looked back.”
Krutka said the transition has been helped by the school’s faculty, staff and Northam himself. He will continue to help with Krutka’s transition into the position until next month.
The new executive director is just trying to keep life somewhat normal until the fall semester, likely the earliest time the university will reopen for in-person learning again. She goes into the office regularly, essentially quarantining herself inside and distancing herself from any other staff, faculty or students who might be on campus.
Although the SER might be quiet on campus, exciting things are still happening for the college. The school was recently notified that it was going to receive $15.2 million in federal dollars from the Department of Energy’s CarbonSAFE program. This will allow for the detailed evaluation of storage reservoirs for carbon dioxide in the vicinity of Basin Electric’s Dry Fork Station in Campbell County. The project will contribute $1.75 million in indirect funds to UW.
Ultimately, Krutka’s goal is just to build on Northam’s strong foundation for the school.
“We have these students preparing for a whole career in the energy industry, so I want to figure out how SER can have an even broader impact,” she said. “I’m trying to explore ways we can do outreach, both for our students and other students on campus. But really, no matter what happens, you can expect we will meet these challenges head-on.”
Ellen Fike is a freelance writer living in Cheyenne. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @EllenLFike.