Hawks to Watch: Patrick Woods, Manager of Regulatory Affairs and Strategy


Why Patrick’s a Hawk to Watch:

Patrick Woods knows a thing or two about energy. A thoughtful strategist through and through, he brings a contagious sense of enthusiasm, and an ambitious vision, to his work as a manager of Regulatory Affairs and Strategy for the independent electric transmission company, International Transmission Corporation (ITC) – Great Plains, and in his service to Kansas’ communities. But what’s the force that energizes a successful career like Patrick’s? And what’s the electric spark that ignites newfound, and often unexpected, opportunity?

For Patrick, many of life’s highest honors and most impressive professional achievements are fueled by a mindset that he developed and refined through his liberal arts education at KU, one of openness to new experiences and an unrelenting hunger for knowledge.

In his professional life, Patrick has worn many hats — Education Policy Advisor, school board member, Director of Advancement, Director of Talent Management and Diversity. But in every capacity he serves in, one role that has remained constant is that of a lifelong learner. Whether he is focused on renewable energy resources, or resources to improve his community, Patrick is driven by an unwavering motivation to create and share opportunities for learning. Because, as he has demonstrated throughout his career, the initial spark of an idea or opportunity has the power to energize and lead to major change for the better.

Meet Patrick and learn about his service to education, leadership and dedication to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, one particularly harrowing episode swimming with tiger sharks in the Philippines (don’t worry — he made it out of the water just fine!), and life-changing discoveries made while pursuing his M.P.A. in Public Administration at KU.

Tell us in a sentence or two what you do for a living:

I manage Regulatory Affairs and Strategy for International Transmission Corporation (ITC) – Great Plains, an independent electric transmission company.

How did you end up doing what you do? Was there a certain moment when things came together? Or was it a longer journey? 

I began working in the electric utility industry through a circuitous, unplanned manner. I began employment out of undergraduate as a program advocate (a community organizer) at a community center in Oakland, CA, before returning to Kansas in 2003. I went on to serve as an aid to Governor Kathleen Sebelius, as the Education Policy Advisor and Legislative Liaison.

“While I was looking to pursue graduate education, she encouraged me to consider Public Administration at KU, where she received her graduate degree, as it had served her so well. So I earned an MPA from KU, and developed relationships with many people there.”

When the administration came to an end in 2011 (the Sebelius/Parkinson administrations departed from state government) I took a job at KU working for the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. There I served as the Director of Advancement, managing the Dean’s involvement in the university’s capital campaign, the College Advisory Board and serving as the liaison for the College with the Endowment Association, the Alumni Association, and many other external constituents.

In my nightlife, I have served as a school board member for Topeka Public Schools, USD 501, for the past 11 years, and as President for the Kansas Association of School Boards. It was through this activity that I developed a relationship with Westar Energy, providing career exploration opportunities for our students and providing the company with valuable workforce development opportunities. In 2014, I took a job at Westar Energy as the Director of Talent Management and Diversity, leading the company’s effort to expand and diversify its talent pool, develop its high potential employees and ensure an inclusive work environment for all employees. In this job, I had the opportunity to learn about many aspects of the electric utility industry, including the general function of energy markets, legislative and regulatory affairs, and investor relations. My opportunities for learning multiplied when Westar merged with Kansas City Power & Light to become Evergy, Inc., where I served as Sr. Manager for Workforce Planning and Diversity.

While I didn’t work in any of the aforementioned areas (energy trading, legislative and regulatory affairs, investor relations), I took advantage of every opportunity to learn about them through professional relationships and personal research.  This led me to my current employment, managing the Regulatory Affairs and Strategy for ITC-Great Plains, Inc. In this role, I work closely with the operations, planning and development professionals in the company to comply with all regulatory requirements and to shepherd new greenfield projects, which enhance grid reliability and enable additional renewable resources onto the grid, through the regulatory process.

“If there is one inflection point where things ‘came together’ for me in terms of career, it was when one of my former professors at KU helped me discover what I truly do best. I was contemplating a career move — into an industry that I had no experience with — and I came to him seeking advice. He helped me realize that, through all of my studies and experiences, what excited me most was the opportunity to learn new things.”

From then on, I’ve made it my practice to take advantage of every opportunity that I get to learn as much as I can about the organizations, institutions and practices that create value in people’s lives. I have found that following this path has put me in the position to always enjoy my work.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

I have been very blessed to be surrounded by incredibly talented and dedicated people, and to be a part of many significant team achievements. A few notable achievements are below. However, I can’t overstate the fact that all of them have been achieved with and through other people.

  1. 2006 School Finance Bill — As a member of the Governor’s senior staff and as the Education Policy Advisor and Legislative Liaison, I aided the Governor as she successfully worked with legislative leadership to pass and sign a 3-year school finance plan, injecting nearly $500 million of new funds into Kansas schools. Together with the $300 million bill that she signed during the Special Session of 2005, we had increased funding for Kansas schools by about $800 million, and it was targeted for the students who had the most need.  This was money that was badly needed to meet the needs of Kansas kids.
  2. Scott Dual Language Magnet — As a school board member, I had the opportunity to lead the board to create northeast Kansas’ first two-way, dual language immersion school, where the purpose is to produce bilingual, biliterate and interculturally competent children. This required not just winning the support of a majority of my fellow board members, but also engaging the community, state government and regulatory authorities, as well as teachers.
  3. Early Childhood Education —"As a school board member, I had the opportunity to lead the board to increase its investment in early childhood education. Through multiple partnerships, new prioritizing of budget funds and incorporation of early childhood into the district’s strategic plan, we’ve been able to greatly multiply the number of students served in early childhood education."This is critical for us as early childhood education has been proven to be our most effective tool for eliminating the achievement gap.  One such partnership, the Pine Ridge Prep partnership, has gained national attention for its innovative and creative blending of forces to meet the needs of students (ask me about it and I’ll give you more).
  4. Topeka Public Schools, USD-501 — I’ve had the pleasure of serving as a member and president for one of the state’s largest school districts, TPS, USD-501. This district was the title-defendant in the landmark Brown v. Board of Topeka case of 1954.  That case was the most consequential case in American history, opening up not just education, but multiple institutions to universal participation by all Americans. To see someone like me, an African American man, as the president of the title defendant in this landmark case, is an honor in itself for me. I have served for 11 years on the board and seven in leadership (5 years as president, 2 years as Vice President).
  5. Kansas Association of School Boards — Through my work as a board member for TPS, USD-501, I’ve had the privilege of being involved with KASB.  This year, I became the president for the association, which includes every school district in Kansas.

What’s your lowest career moment and how did you pick yourself up and move on?

My lowest career moment was during the gubernatorial transition of 2011, when I left state service.  I spent months looking for a job.  Unfortunately for me, due to the deep economic recession that had gripped the country, as well as the fact that my political party was out of power, there were none to be found.  I spent a few months worrying about how to feed my young family and desperately looking for work.

What do you know now that you wish you could tell your 18-year-old self?

“Take every opportunity to learn as much as you can about everything that you can. The value of a ‘liberal arts’ education goes far beyond the diploma. Once you learn that one of your greatest strengths as a professional is your ability to learn, then you will be unstoppable.”

A liberal arts education, akin to academic cross-training, prepares you best for utilizing this skill because it integrates all of the world’s disciplines in the ways that make learning most meaningful. But even for those who don’t get a formal liberal arts degree, they should still strive to live a “liberal arts” life, where they are always learning.

How did your KU degree prepare you for your current job? 

As I mentioned before, KU helped me realize what the real key to success is for me — the ability and the will to learn. By developing the mental dexterity to acquire any kind of knowledge (be it engineering, energy, corporate finance, etc.) and working to integrate it with other applicable knowledge based on people (sociohistorical, political, language, etc.), we can accomplish anything. KU was a critical part of this epiphany for me.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

I hope to be serving in a position that allows me to make a significant difference in the lives of the folks in my community. That could be in government, philanthropy, or the private sector.

What’s your best career pro-tip?

“Continue to learn, learn, learn. Soak up every bit of knowledge that you can. And don’t be fooled by the people who try to play down the value of the ‘soft skills,’ or those that emanate from the traditional liberal arts disciplines. In fact, among the most important disciplines for career advancement and professional success are the humanities — those that are focused on the human imprint.”

While mastering technology is important and can lead to a lucrative career, it’s the ability to understand why and how our fellow humans use technology that makes one truly successful.

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?

I spend time with my family. I have an amazing wife (a teacher) and two wonderful children (12- and 8-years-old). We travel, read/learn, and play sports together. I help coach my 12-year-old son’s baseball team, I take violin lessons with my 8-year-old daughter, and I am active in my community. I’m passionate about the arts (I draw and I’m a mediocre guitar and violin player) and I’m fascinated by people all over the world, so I have a very diverse group of friends.

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

I think I have nine lives: I once accidentally swam in water with two large tiger sharks (in the sea of the Philippines). They apparently were circling before the beach authorities could get my attention and get me out of the water.

Be like Patrick. Seize life’s many learning opportunities, and find ways to use your skills to make a positive impact. For more information, explore ITC Great Plains, Westar Energy, Topeka Public Schools, Evergy, Inc., and the School of Public Affairs & Administration at the University of Kansas.

Hawks to Watch are disrupters. They’re poised for greatness, inspiring their colleagues and excelling in their professions. Basically, they’re killing it. Having recently graduated, they are just starting to leave their mark and we can’t wait to see how their story unfolds. These Jayhawks span all industries including business, non-profits, tech, healthcare, media, law and the arts.