Founder and CEO
Black Girls Do Engineer Corp.
Math and science are what first drew Kara Branch to engineering. As a child, she always excelled in her coursework, but it surprised her how good she was at math and science. Branch said she knew she was going to do something great in these subjects when she met her high school chemistry teacher, Mrs. Chapman.
“She challenged us … and I was the youngest in that class,” Branch said. “She gave us an assignment one day and mentioned that whoever passed it would be exempt from our end of the year final. I was the only one in our class to pass this assignment — and the only person exempted from that final. This sparked something in me. Growing up in an underserved community, there was no role model to expose you to engineering, but this moment let me know I had a skillset that set me apart from others.”
In college, Branch had a strong desire to major in dance, one of her loves. But her aunt, who was the only other person in her family to attend college, had a lot of involvement in her college decision-making process. When Branch mentioned how she wanted to major in dance, the aunt immediately dismissed that.
“She told me to aim for another major,” Branch recalled. “I met with my freshman advisor and she mentioned the College of Engineering would be great for me. This is what led to me becoming an engineer.”
Into the workforce
Branch feels that her biggest engineering challenge was actually when she came out of college and transitioned into the workforce.
“I did a lot of research in college, which made me such an avid writer. But I did not intern, so day one on the job was that first experience of what a day in the life of an engineer looks like,” she said. “Some of the challenges I faced [included] doing big presentations for our clients. I always tell people; I went from college straight in the boardrooms — with a calculator, of course. Working with our customers through my designs and processes. Having to remember the temperature, pressures, and materials of each line — to be able to answer all of their questions — was challenging at first, but with more experience, it certainly got better over time.”
Branch, who has been an engineer for six years now, started in the oil and gas industry, and has now transitioned to the aerospace industry. Within oil and gas, she led plant designs and many grassroot designs. Working in aerospace, she explained that she has now had the privilege to work on hardware that has launched into space.
Helping young women
Branch thinks that exposing young girls to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is where it all starts, but representation is the key ingredient. Her passion led her to create her own non-profit (501c3) STEM program, Black Girls Do Engineer. She’s dedicated the last two years outside of her full-time job to develop Black Girls Do Engineer.
“My program has helped girls love STEM and choose STEM careers,” she explained. “We have impacted more than 300 girls since we started in June 2019. It is important for me to make a difference in girls’ lives, but most importantly educate them about the importance of STEM.”
Based in Houston, Black Girls Do Engineer has a focus on increasing the number of young women (ages 9 to 21) in engineering-related roles. The organization’s goals are to provide access, awareness, and advocate for two million Black American girls to pursue STEM careers by the year 2050.
Branch said that she sees how women are just not comfortable in the engineering workplace, something else that needs to be addressed.
“Although I believe we dominate in the STEM field, women just do not feel like we belong in this male dominated industry,” she said. “Sometimes our voices are not heard, or our work is either taken or not acknowledged at all. I am a mom of three daughters — and let me say women are excelling at working fulltime and being a mother. Being a mom has not halted me at all. I can show up every day just like the men in this field. It definitely comes with its challenges, but I love the work I do. Yes, COVID has added the stress of working from home and having to care for our children at the same time, but I have adjusted well — because that is what women do. We always figure it out!”
Branch said that a unique perspective that women bring to engineering is creativity. She feels that women have the magic to come up with “a million different ways to do one thing.”
Her advice to other women in the field is to put in the extra work to ensure they study and develop an understanding in any areas they aren’t sure about— this is key to having the tools to develop confidence in the workplace.
“As engineers, we are always learning every day, so you must make sure you are taking the time to continue to learn and grow,” she said. “This is what makes you confident in your ability to lead and perform in the workplace. Being prepared is what eliminates mistakes.”
Filed Under: Women in Engineering