Community Outreach with The Houston Astros

October 04, 2023

Jordan Yates & Lizzie Hurt interview Paula Harris, SVP of the Astros Foundation to learn how Oil & Gas companies play a role in the community through sponsoring a mega sports team!



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Community Outreach with The Houston Astros - Ep 17 - Transcript

00:00:00 Jordan Yates
This episode of The Energy Pipeline is sponsored by Caterpillar Oil& Gas. Since the 1930s, Caterpillar's manufactured engines for drilling, production, well service and gas compression. With more than 2100 dealer locations worldwide, Caterpillar offers customers a dedicated support team to assist with their premier power solutions.

00:00:26 Speaker 2
The Energy Pipeline is your lifeline to all things oil and gas, to drill down deep into the issues impacting our industry. From the frac site to the future of sustainability, hear more about industry issues, tools and resources to streamline and modernize the future of oil and gas. Welcome to The Energy Pipeline.

00:00:50 Jordan Yates
Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of The Energy Pipeline. It is me, your host, Jordan Yates. And today I'm joined by my co- host, Lizzie Hurt. We also have a guest here today with a topic you may not have been expecting. We've got Paula Harris, the SVP of Community Affairs and Astros, yeah, that's right, like the baseball Astros, Foundation's executive director. Paula, say hello.

00:01:19 Paula Harris
Hello. How's everyone?

00:01:21 Jordan Yates
So good. I love that baseball and oil and gas are intersecting and Lizzie and I are here to witness it. Lizzie, would you get us going with some questions?

00:01:32 Lizzie Hurt
Yeah, I think today's going to be really fun. So thanks for joining us, Paula. Could you just start with a little bit about you and tell us what did you start off doing? How did you get here?

00:01:44 Paula Harris
So my background is oil and gas. I'm a petroleum engineer by trade. I worked for Schlumberger, now known as SLB for 33 years. I started working on rigs offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, back in the'80s when there were very, very few women out there or people of color. And got to see the world through SLB with different positions as I went up through training and recruiting and operations and IT, even for a while. And I ended my 33 years as the director of global stewardship and looking at ESG and designing, outlining Schlumberger's, helping to outline their ESG position back seven years ago is when we probably started. And so I'm an oil and gas girl and we were partners with the Astros. And so there is a tie in. I kind of knew some of the people and they knew of my background. And when I retired, I was offered the position. I wasn't looking for a position, I was retired. I was working in my backyard in ancestry. com and things that retired people do. And I ran into the owner and we struck up a conversation and he invited me to come run the foundation, which has been a fabulous two years. I've only been with the Astros since 2021.

00:03:09 Lizzie Hurt
That's phenomenal and a very interesting career that I'm hoping to hear a little bit more about. But can you give an overview also of the Astros Foundation and what do you do on a day- to- Day basis?

00:03:19 Paula Harris
Absolutely. So the Astros Foundation has been around for a couple of decades. Jim has owned the team since the 2011, about a decade. And in that decade we've given out about$ 50 million in the Houston community. And he developed this to be very focused on five pillars. And so on a day to day, we are running dozens of baseball fields. We have our Astros Youth Academy where probably about 16,000 kids come through there in a year for baseball instruction and baseball leagues and baseball tournaments and softball also. And then we have nine community leader fields and we're going to tie those in. I'll tell you how those are tied into oil and gas, but they're nine fields across the city. And then we do the City of Houston summer program, the girls and boys. Other organizations that we do clinics and programming for in youth baseball. But there are four other pillars. Last September, this is childhood cancer month. So we just did a big charity games where people who came to the games could buy memorabilia and we did a big two day push auction of items, memorabilia items, and we raised close to a million dollars for Candlelighters and Sunshine Kids and Big Love and Texas Children's Hospital Cancer Center and some other organizations that we're giving to also. So childhood cancer is a big thrust of ours or a pillar, so is domestic violence. And October is domestic violence month. So we give money to the Houston Area Women's Center. We had a lot of domestic violence organizations out at the ballpark set up with tables. Homelessness is a pillar and we have our November 11th, we have our big Diamond Dreams gala and that closely tied into oil and gas. We'll talk about that also. But it's a big gala and we're featuring SEAL as our entertainment this year and the money from that goes to new help housing. And the last one is military appreciation and military awareness. And that tied in exactly to our sponsors, our corporate partners and to oil and gas. But we honor military veterans and active servicemen every game.

00:05:45 Jordan Yates
You sound busy.

00:05:46 Paula Harris
It's a little busy.

00:05:48 Lizzie Hurt
It's hot for retirement.

00:05:49 Paula Harris
Yeah, I didn't think this was going to be a retirement job.

00:05:55 Jordan Yates
It sounds so cool though. I mean, I think it's amazing that you are so integrated in the community like this. I've seen looking up local events in Houston, I'll see sometimes like, oh, this is happening at the Astros Stadium, this is happening. And I'm like, oh, I guess it's good for more things than just baseball. That's pretty neat that you guys are utilizing such a awesome space to have so many other positive events going on. I love that.

00:06:23 Paula Harris
Our platform and our brand, lots of companies like to align with us, but especially in Houston, we have a strong alignment with oil and gas companies.

00:06:33 Jordan Yates
I would sure hope so. And that's kind of what we're getting into with this episode is sort of the thought behind how a baseball team comes and says, I want partnerships, sponsorships, things like that, aligned with oil and gas. I mean oil and gas is, I mean I'm biased because I think it's amazing you have the background in it, you have lived it, but not everybody's first choice would be oil and gas. So we'd like to learn a little bit more about how that relationship works with you guys between sponsors. Let me get into our first actual question, that was more of a statement I suppose. So I guess could you share any examples of the collaborations that you've done with oil and gas companies?

00:07:28 Paula Harris
So one of the big partnerships that Jim started a decade ago was our community leaders. And our community leaders are companies that invest a lot in sponsorship and signage and making sure their brand is well represented in the stadium, but also they take and sponsor and invest in community. And so what that looks like is that we have taken nine city parks in inner city areas, and companies who are community leaders we redo those parks. We provide little league baseball, uniforms, equipment and upkept baseball field year round for year round playing, getting kids out in the parks. And those are ConocoPhillips and Qantas and Calpine and Cheniere and Schlumberger and Halliburton and Oxy along with Chevron. So our community leaders program is almost like a signature program because we have thousands and thousands of kids that wouldn't have access to the expenses that baseball has families to incur, but also access to outdoors and healthy living and coaches and travel. And they have access to Minute Maid because almost those nine throughout 81 games, home games, those nine leagues coming in through the park to be highlighted, to enjoy a game, to be out on the field with their sponsors sometimes and to make sure that those kids have access to the park and to baseball. So that is driven completely by our community leaders and our partnerships with the companies I called out and that who are instrumental in making sure we put baseballs and baseball bats in the hands of inner city children.

00:09:24 Jordan Yates
No, that's very powerful. And you guys can see the impact that you have. Can you talk a little bit more about how do you select the sponsors and partners that align with the values that you have?

00:09:40 Paula Harris
We have a whole community partnerships group that we go and we sit and we have to understand what their initiatives and mission and values are, do they want their employees engaged? And is there something else they want? That some want baseball, and like Oxy, we've taken a school bus and turned it into, transformed it into what we call the literacy bus. And so this year alone, the literacy bus had goes to schools and gives out free books to the tune of 30, 000 free books in 2023. And so if there are initiatives or things that they believe in, school supply drives we do with Oxy, we actually do books and birds, which is during Thanksgiving with Cheniere. Halliburton likes to go into their little league field and bring out kids meals to make sure that those families have access to food over the weekend and after the games and stuff. And so we've done opening day at all of the parks with our partners. ConocoPhillips has a very interesting program that's so instrumental and impactful. Once a month they highlight a math teacher, she gets to come out on the field, she gets a lot of ConocoPhillips and Astros swag and she's honored for being a strong math teacher in the area. So to put that importance on educators, I mean you're changing lives because now she understands the respect that the Houston Astros, Astros Foundation and ConocoPhillips and the entire community of Houston has for her. So hopefully we're motivating and uplifting teachers through on a baseball field on a given Tuesday, Wednesday night, right? And so being able to partner and understand what our sponsors, where their interests lie and how to align to make sure that we're maximizing the brand and maximizing the attention and the marketing given to it and yet impacting the community is kind of something we have to sit down and design on a per sponsor per company basis. So we want to make sure that our sponsors are getting what they need out of this partnership also.

00:11:55 Lizzie Hurt
I was just about to ask that these different programs that each of them seem to participate in, is it like they come up with the ideas and say, " We want to partner with you?" Or is it kind of 50:50? What is the behind the scenes of this?

00:12:09 Paula Harris
Usually I'll go look at their website and some of the companies, because I've been in this industry for a long time, I already know. And sometimes sponsorship is kind of vetted out to see what they're trying to accomplish. And then we sit down with ideas and sometimes I give them a whole two or three pages of ideas and they say, " Nah, we want to kind of do this." And we take that and we'll model it into something that fits into our pillars and fits into theirs and fits into the ballpark and it's still impactful. So it's an ongoing, sometimes we'll try something and we may tweak it or change it up the next season. We will go back to our partners and say, is this really what you wanted or is there something we can do differently? And so it's a team effort that we all work together to make sure that everyone's needs are met, the communities, the partners, and of course the Astros.

00:13:03 Jordan Yates
Is there any times that you have to kind of draw the line in the sand and be like, this doesn't quite align with our vision. Maybe it's a good idea, but it's not something that the Astros want to be branded with. Is that ever a conversation that kind of comes up?

00:13:16 Paula Harris
I have not had that yet. I'm sure it's been around, but in my two years I haven't. We are really, really open to diverse ideas. That's kind of my specialty to be able to bring things in and make it aligned. There are companies that want to do social justice, domestic violence or whether it's Pride or Jackie Robinson Day, we have something for everyone. And so if it's with kids, it's easy. I'm a STEM girl, so before I think there was some aversion, how are we going to bring STEM in? We have a phenomenal robotics program where the kids are in robotics camp all week and then on the weekends we set up a whole robot field right there on every Sunday home game. During the summer there's a robot field and the kids that were in the camp get free tickets and they come get to show what they've learned and then other kids in the park get to play and use the levers and use the equipment to play with robots and hopefully to spark their interest. If it's something that a client or a sponsor wants, we can just about design it and bring it back home to baseball or make it a place for it in a baseball stadium.

00:14:33 Jordan Yates
Paula, I'm really going to be testing my abilities to be a host who falls an outline as I am wanting to geek out with you on your engineering background and just start going down that rabbit hole. But I know we promised the listeners we would keep it about community engagement. So Lizzie, redirect us please, or else I'm going to go down a rabbit hole.

00:14:53 Lizzie Hurt
I think that's so cool to hear about how you guys have brought the robotics into it. I am honestly surprised that we probably end up doing a podcast over there or something if Jordan has her way, she loves robotics so much. But it sounds like you do a lot of really good work, one hearing what everybody wants to do and that helps get both parties invested and then taking feedback and that's always good as well. And I imagine because you do that, you have a lot of really strong relationships with these partners that last year, after year after year. Do you have any comments on that about how you keep those relationships with these sponsors going over time?

00:15:36 Paula Harris
Absolutely. We have events and we have our partners in the park a lot. A lot a of them have suites and we do special employee events for them or have their employees out at the little league parks. But on top of that, Lizzie, things like today, I was invited by Chevron to the state of the city, so I got to sit and talk to them about some other opportunities out at the Chevron Golf Center. Yesterday I was out with Apache, which is also a client, and I was speaking to their ERG, their African- American employees. So we do a lot of bringing them in for receptions, bringing in their employees, bringing in speaker series, many voices participate is one of our speaker series.

00:16:21 Lizzie Hurt
Paula, what is it like after when you studied petroleum engineering, when you did, now being where you are today working with these heads of companies at these large oil and gas companies, how does that feel for you? I'm getting chills just thinking about it.

00:16:38 Paula Harris
It's actually amazing. A lot of these guys, we grew up together, right? Because they were young reservoir engineers, the CEO of Patterson and I went to Texas A& M together, started as field engineers together. And that's why I'm a good fit here because it is an oil and gas town and I am an oil and gas girl and I have a lot of relationships. I'm blessed where I sit on three corporate boards and all of them are energy related. So I know these guys, I served as president of the Petroleum Club of Houston and a lot of these guys are members. So it's very fun to be able to be on the fun side, whereas we used to be talking about products and technology with Schlumberger, now they call when they need a sign back, bye you're gone, because they want to give it away at an employee event and they know my number and how to get me. So having these long lasting relationships and being able to service, I mean, it's just like SLB at Schlumberger is a service company and sitting in this seat, I feel like I have the same clients and I'm just providing a service to make sure that they are getting what they need from their community engagement.

00:17:50 Jordan Yates
That is so much fun. I'm just going to forget that I heard you say that I can go to you for a signed bat, because I'm not going to harass you. But I'm curious, I mean I feel like a lot of these companies have the brand awareness aspect. What is the return on investment for them? Because people know who Oxy is. Why would they put their logo on a jersey? What are they getting out of it? What's the metrics like for them?

00:18:20 Paula Harris
We know who Oxy is because we're in the all capital of the world, but to have that patch shown around the globe to the Minnesota Twins fans and the Denver, it really elevates. Astros, our brand and being able to be with our brand is very important. So that's why when you walk in and you see the big signage, a lot of these aren't companies that you're going to buy going to their gas station or you're not going, they're B2Bs, but they want you to know that they're good community partners, that they are community leaders, that they are engaged in the Houston community and they want their employers and their future employers. It helps them with recruiting, right? To have that name awareness as a leader in oil and gas and in the transition and just to know that these are leaders in the industry is really important. And I think aligning your name with ours helps even helps that. Those community leader signs are right there, so a lot of times when home runs are hit, they hit those. So ESPN, Fox Sports, your name is on TV, on the big screens across the globe because you are community leaders and there's a value to there, there's a dollar value on how often it's shown. And we absolutely help our clients and our sponsors to know how much they're being seen by being part of our family.

00:19:53 Jordan Yates
It doesn't hurt when you're winning the World Series either, you're really out there, national television.

00:19:58 Paula Harris
You're out there and it really helps.

00:20:06 Jordan Yates
Lizzie, anything that you wanted to ask? I know I went on one of my classic Jordan tangents.

00:20:13 Lizzie Hurt
No, it's good. So obviously the oil and gas industry, Paula, faces perception challenges. We're all aware of that. How has the Astros sponsorships contributed to fostering understanding between various groups and maybe helped some of those perception challenges?

00:20:31 Paula Harris
Especially with young people. And we, as an oil and gas industry have some work to do to make sure that we're not this enclosed homogeneous fraternity that everyone needs our product and we don't have to sell it because you're going to want to turn on your lights and turn your car keys. So we have to make sure that people understand the value we bring and understand that how much they are dependent on them, just as we are dependent upon the community. And so I think that is a excellent reason why so many oil and gas companies have aligned with us, so that you see their brand, so that potential employees see their brand, so that kids and the younger generation understand that these are companies that are bringing books, that are planting trees, that are doing things in the community and making sure we have access to baseball. And as they dig a little deeper, they're going to see, well, these are the same companies that are leading the transition and looking for ways to be more energy efficient and to be more earth friendly. So perception, I think that these oil companies understand, that the oil and gas industry understands that even if you are not selling oil and gas, we have to make sure our brand is known as leaders in making the world a better place. And this is a good place to start, to show yourself around the city, around our viewing area and around the whole United States as leaders in community and leaders in earth friendliness, leaders in the transition for our next generation, for our current generation and definitely for our communities.

00:22:12 Lizzie Hurt
Now. I really liked how you touched on people want to help make oil and gas a better industry and be a part of the transition, make it cleaner. And I've always gotten questions, how can you feel okay about doing what you're doing? It's like, well, you can either be involved and make it better or completely turn your back on it. It's kind of a fun challenge, at least for me. Another question for you, Paula, how do you measure success with your organization? Obviously, and I was just talking about this today at work, but metrics is a huge way to tell how something is successful or not. Can you talk about what you guys look at?

00:22:58 Paula Harris
So we definitely look at how many lives we touch, whether it's through domestic violence or whether it's how much invested or how many people with military appreciation, definitely with youth in baseball or childhood cancer, so lives we touch. Amount of money we raise and invest in the communities, and amount of people we get to bring into the park. This year I've gave out close to 80,000 free tickets to nonprofits and youth groups and people who wouldn't have even been exposed or first timers in our park. So our ability to open our doors and make sure that the community gets to understand and appreciate and then the things we see in the community. A lot of times we get a lot of awards for our volunteers. The Houston Food Bank has us down as a presidential goal because we send volunteers there regularly. Kids meals, we won a award as their favorite organization that helps support them. And so to see us in the community, the Astros Foundation as an organization that the community knows we are here to support, we're here to provide access, we're here to provide impact. And so those type of activities and engagements really, really help us to know that we're out there, we can't even get all of the kids that want to come to our Astros Youth Academy anymore. So having to open up new classes because that's really busy. So just the way that we've seen our name and our brand as Astros Foundation being known and respected and utilized.

00:24:52 Jordan Yates
That's so cool. Is it often that people are shocked by how involved in the community that Astros actually are?

00:25:01 Paula Harris
They are. It used to be we were the best kept secret and we don't want to be the best kept secret anymore. We wanted people to know what we're doing and how we're doing it and how they can help. So I mentioned volunteers, we have over 4, 000 volunteers that are in their Astros Foundation t- shirts and out in the community, Medical Bridges, Sunshine Kids, just they're out there volunteering every day to the tune of close to a million dollars worth of free labor to nonprofits. And so being able to say that that's the kind of impact we're making and count those metrics are really, really important to us.

00:25:42 Lizzie Hurt

00:25:42 Jordan Yates
That's so cool.

00:25:43 Lizzie Hurt
Got to measure it.

00:25:45 Jordan Yates
Yeah, you always got to put a metric on it when people are spending money.

00:25:49 Paula Harris
That's it.

00:25:50 Jordan Yates
Looking ahead, what potential opportunities exist for further collaborations between sports teams like the Astros and oil and gas companies and other people that are wanting to be a part of the Astros initiative?

00:26:05 Paula Harris
So you always have the opportunity to volunteer with us or send your employees or companies that say we want our partnership, we want with the Astros is going to be very employee centric. So I, in turn will find places and times and opportunities for groups of employees to volunteer. But sponsorship, we always need sponsorship. Our College Classic is coming up in February. We've had this college baseball tournament for 23 years and it's had different title sponsors and now we have an opening for that title sponsor and I mean University of Texas, LSU, Louisiana Tech, U of H, Vanderbilt. It's going to be some great teams and it can be place your name here, College Classic. It's going to have lots and lots of people out and a lot of kids. So I've been talking to drilling companies and different companies in oil and service companies about your ability to recruit, your ability to put your brand name on a College Classic. And of course, college kids are who a lot of us are looking for this next generation. And there are other opportunities, we have a big Hall of Fame wine dinner every... and it is a tasting in the Gallagher Club before the season starts. I'm ready to put a sponsor on that one. So there are plenty of ways to sponsor, there's plenty of ways to get your employees involved and of course signage and community leader programs, we can design it to fit your needs.

00:27:39 Jordan Yates
That's amazing. Paula, I have to ask you one very controversial question. Feel free to answer, not answer, up to you.

00:27:47 Paula Harris

00:27:49 Jordan Yates
Who is your favorite player? I know, don't hurt feelings. I know you may have to tread lightly. Do you have a favorite and why?

00:27:56 Paula Harris
I think it changes every year, but I can tell you why this year.

00:27:59 Jordan Yates
Tell me.

00:28:00 Paula Harris
First of all, he's so doggone cute. Jeremy Pena came to us this year and said he wanted to do something in school. And so we designed a whole program for him and helped him to design where every Friday we bring in kids who their school has said, oh, they're shown a character, they have good attendance, their grades have improved, and five of them get to come out on the field every Friday with Jeremy and we give him markers and the cleats he's going to wear, and they color his cleats.

00:28:28 Jordan Yates
Oh my God.

00:28:28 Paula Harris
And they're Pena's pals and he's so adorable. He's so good with them. He takes them out to batting practice, he introduces them to the team, they take off, the parents and the teachers are going crazy in the stands watching us at batting practice. And every Friday night, I'm just so amazed on how well he does that. So that's this season. This season, I love the program that we got to design with him. I love the work. And we nominated him for award for this. And I just have liked watching him with kids. But hey, there are others. Maytown Mondays with Cancer Kids. We had Framber's Friday. So they all are very active. The team is so well in the community and I'm so proud of how well they have supported the Astros Foundation.

00:29:19 Jordan Yates
That is so sweet.

00:29:20 Lizzie Hurt
So heartwarming too. That's so cute.

00:29:25 Jordan Yates
Yeah, we're big Astros fans here. No doubt. We have a dog named Bregman, so yeah, I know guys not related to oil and gas, but it's okay. We're Astros fan. It was funny, when I first met this dog, I was not an Astros fan and I didn't know it was an Astros player and I was like, what kind of weird pretentious name for a dog is this? And it was like, Bregman, what? Is this like a family name? And then I watched a baseball game. I was like, oh, oh. I was like, okay, this makes more sense. This makes a lot more sense. But it's so fun the way that the Astros have just slowly creeped into all of our lives one way or another. And it's clearly not by accident. You are doing the most at the foundation and I just applaud you. I am so excited now that I'm more aware of everything going on to see your community engagement and how it builds and the way oil and gas will continue to contribute. Lizzie, do you have any remaining thoughts or questions for Paula?

00:30:30 Lizzie Hurt
No, I thought it was a really good conversation. Thank you so much for joining us, Paula, and I got to ask just to maybe bring this back to engineering one more time, since we do have three female engineers on the call. Any other comments that you have on STEM outreach? I believe, I also saw you've written some books.

00:30:52 Paula Harris
I did, I did, and I've written two. One was early in my career. I was kind of looking for the book because I didn't grow up in a corporate family and it's called For Sister: The Guide for Professional Black Women, which I loved. It had helped me grow just by interviewing the people and best practices and lessons learned. But my favorite is When I Grow Up: I Want To Be An Engineer, and it introduces kids to engineering. SLB sponsored it. It's been given over 200, 000 kids in organizations. It's been translated into four or five languages. So I'm about to bring it back into print as a Astros Foundation book that we put on the literacy bus. But that's my thing, introducing girls, kids of color, kids of lower socioeconomic into STEM. I guess my thing that I'm most proud of is I've served on HISD school board years ago, and we opened up an all girls engineering school that has had 10 years now, of girls coming through of all backgrounds, all races, all socioeconomics, that are coming through and are engineers or STEM grads. And even if they didn't do engineering in STEM, in college or as a profession, they are curious and intellectual and good thinkers, but there are plenty who are also engineers and I'm very, very proud of that.

00:32:14 Lizzie Hurt
That's fantastic.

00:32:14 Jordan Yates
Oh, that's amazing.

00:32:15 Lizzie Hurt
Oh, that's so cute. That's amazing that the book is going to be on the literacy bus, is that right?

00:32:21 Paula Harris

00:32:22 Lizzie Hurt
Great. Fantastic.

00:32:23 Jordan Yates
Very exciting. Well, Paula, thank you so much again for joining us and guys, I hope you enjoyed and thanks for listening to another episode of The Energy Pipeline. We'll see you next week.

00:32:34 Speaker 2
Come back next week for another episode of The Energy Pipeline, a production of the Oil and Gas Global Network. To learn more, go to oggn. com



Erick Pomrenke Bio Image


Paula Harris


Paula Harris is currently the Senior Vice President of Community Affairs for the Houston Astros and the Executive Director of the Astros Foundation.  She is enjoying the impact to community through engagement and community program design.  The Astros have invested over $50 Million dollars in the Houston community during the last decade.  The Astros Foundation is focused on the pillars of youth sports and education, military, homelessness, domestic violence, and childhood cancer.
This is the beginning of Paula’s second career, in 2020 she retired after 33 years of experience with international oilfield services company Schlumberger Ltd.  Educated as a Petroleum Engineer, Ms. Harris initially worked in field operations offshore before progressing into leadership roles including training, sales and ultimately, in environmental-social (ES) sustainability.

Lizzie Hurt - Co-host - Bio

Lizzie Hurt


Lizzie Hurt provides great insight to The Energy Pipeline as co-host and Sales Support Engineer at Caterpillar Oil & Gas. She has over 5 years of experience within engineering, application, and installation. Every oil & gas operation is different and Lizzie brings this understanding and a keen engineering perspective to The Energy Pipeline.

Jordan Yates Bio Image

Jordan YATES


Jordan Yates is a Marketing Engineer at a specialty ceramic capacitors company. Her interest in the sales and marketing side of the Manufacturing & Energy Industry have gained her recognition in the digital space, specifically LinkedIn. She is the host of her podcast, 'Failing For You' and The Energy Pipeline.