DETROIT — DTE Energy recently announced the appointment of Joi Harris as president of DTE Gas, the company’s natural gas utility. Harris, a Black woman, is a veteran of the company in both operations and in leadership. Paying dues of hard work has led Harris on a 30-year journey of climbing the ladder of the organization. Prior to the new role, Harris served as vice president.
Being exposed to the world of engineering started at an early age. During her high school years, she began shadowing engineers at the age of 15. In the 10th grade, she shadowed on Fridays with Michigan Consolidated Gas and that’s where the spark was lit.
“They were working on some really exciting projects for our company and we were doing a lot of construction work and I got to see firsthand what it meant to be an engineer,” said Harris. “I think what really impressed me the most about the entire experience were the people that took the time out of their busy days to really invest in my development very early on.” She would ultimately become a company co-op at 18 and has been with the organization ever since.
Detroit Edison and Michigan Consolidated Gas merged years later to form DTE.
Harris’ interest in the STEM Field likely began well before her shadowing experience in high school. Growing up, her parents made sure she was grounded with a wealth of knowledge in the classroom and outside of it.
“My dad is probably the best engineer I know that never went to college,” Harris adds. “He can and could fix about anything, so I was a kid who took things apart in the house and helped my dad work on cars and took an interest in any time he was taking something apart or repairing in the home, I was right there at his hip.”
Harris credits her mom and dad who took notice of her love for science and technology and guided her into STEM-related extra-curricular activities. Those activities meant going to school on Saturdays and participating in the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP), an organization that partners with universities, training programs, and K-12 school systems in order to connect youth to the best science, technology, engineering, and math educational experiences.
She would later attend college at Howard University where she completed her first three years and then graduated back home at Wayne State University.
During Harris’ early years as a kid, being captivated by STEM and continuing her education on Saturdays of the related subject matter didn’t feel like school.
“What was interesting and still is, the program was designed so that it’s hands-on and you get an opportunity to experiment,” Harris recalled. “I have learned at least from my own experience with children, you have to pique their interest. You have to get them interested, much less [get] prepared for STEM fields.”
Harris puts much value in the importance of young people learning and being exposed to STEM early and the doors of opportunity that can open when STEM is made to be fun and engaging, particularly for Black students.
“Students in the African American community they don’t necessarily know engineers. They don’t have engineers in their families, they don’t really understand what it means to be an engineer. Very similar to my parents, I try to do the same for other kids in this community.”
Much like her parents, Harris sees to it that kids are interested and exposed so they can apply themselves to learning about various careers fields in the STEM space.
As far as her new corporate role, she brings her exceptional experience and strategic skillset to the forefront in executing the company’s journey to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
“I’m honored to lead the 1,800 team members who are improving lives with their energy by keeping natural gas safe, reliable and affordable for our customers.”
She will be charged with the important duty of making sure that customers across the state of Michigan can keep their families warm, use their gas stoves to make a meal, and keep their businesses functioning. Under her leadership at DTE Gas, the company will constantly improve its process and examine its strategies to keep natural gas affordable.
Harris also is a former Michigan Chronicle “Women of Excellence” and “Who’s Who in Black Detroit” honoree. She reflected on the recognition and what it means.
“They’re hanging on my wall in my home office right now and I display those awards with pride. When you’re recognized, particularly by folks that have a keen interest and have a presence in this city like the Chronicle, that’s something special and I don’t take it lightly.”
Harris embraces her award recognition and strives to live up to the honor of people who aspire to character and profession.
“I want to live up to what that award represents in my current capacity as I’ve done all along the way and that means being present, being available, engaging in community activities as much as I can.”
Harris has a profound passion for students who are trying to pursue the same career path and believes her role and relationship with young people is significant and she hopes to make sure students have opportunities and know what’s possible and are prepared.
Outside of her corporate role, she finds herself taking up more work. Harris serves as vice president of the boards of directors for DAPCEP, and as a member of the Wayne State University’s College of Engineering Board of Visitors and Industrial Engineering Advisory Board.
Harris is also a mother of three. She and her husband call metro-Detroit home and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. She hopes her career journey serves as an inspiration.
“My hope is that others in our community will also engage and do what they can for our youth — they need our help right now. People who can offer them opportunities to come into the workplace so they can see what it means to be an engineer, an accountant, someone who works in customer service, so they understand what the future holds for them and so that they know people deeply care.”