Name: Krystle Zwandzi McClain
Alma Mater: University of Maryland at College Park; GO TERPS!
STEM Career Path: Environmental Engineering
Who/What inspired you to become interested in engineering?
KM: In high school I enjoyed math and science; in particular Chemistry. One summer I participated in Purdue University's minority engineering program and I was sold on engineering. I also had the mindset that I wanted to select a major that lead to a sizable income *yes I was thinking this far ahead* once I graduated from college. I combined Chemistry and Engineering selecting Chemical Engineering. At UMCP I was a mentee in the Women in Engineering summer program. My mentor was a Geology professor who took us out in the environment. We literally had on waders out in Chesapeake Bay and in creeks conducting research. That's when I became interested in Environmental Engineering. I was so far into my Chemical Engineering program that I couldn't change majors. I took environmental elective courses and eventually sought jobs in the field. Later I would complete my Masters in Engineering with a concentration in Environmental.
Being a woman of color working in STEM in a different country... how has your experience been? Any struggles you have had to overcome?
KM: I may work in Japan but I work on a U.S. Naval Base. Thus, it is as if I have a little piece of the U.S. in Japan. My job involves maintaining base operations in compliance with environmental compliance standards which are agreed upon between the Government of Japan and United States Force Japan. However, I am reminded of being in Japan when it comes to being a Supervisor. Most of the employees are Japanese and are very hard workers. At times when explaining concepts, there is a glitch in translation and thus I've run into comprehension obstacles. Many speak English very well but as it is not their native language there are times when you have to find creative and more hands on ways to explain yourself. Also, one has to be sensitive to Japanese culture and their work environments. I am mindful of what I say and what I don't say through body language. I've learn to pick up on non verbal cues that give me the real feedback when meeting with my team. I've been stretched in this position and will not take this experience for granted. By the way Japan is DOPE!
Why do you feel It is important to get more women/girls into STEM fields?
KM: I feel it is important to get more women/girls into STEM because we bring a different perspective to problem solving. Men and women are wired differently and what better way to "think outside the box" then to have a woman/girl on your team. For example, in designing a new car one has to consider the interface of male and female drivers. How much better is it for a woman to be on the team providing her experiences of driving a car which in terms helps designers. A team of men could never provide that insight. More women/girls need to know that their mind is just as sharp as men/boys when it comes to STEM.
What valuable lessons have you learned while working for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Far East so far?
KM: The most valuable lesson would be the understanding that people come first. I work in very high paced environment with two chains of commands with the mission at the forefront to support the Fleet. Yet, I was recently reminded that if employees aren't made to feel valued, then the work environment suffers in turn impacting the mission. We get so laser focused on responding to taskers, meeting deadlines, briefing leadership, and what the metrics say that we forget to take time to check in on our fellow coworker. A kind gesture and a simple "how are you doing?" goes a long way. Another valuable lesson I've learned is that your character takes you farther than education ever will. One can have all the credentials in the world, but if you aren't well respected by your peers then your efforts are null and void. One should always be mindful that their reputation precedes them and being of integrity will open doors you never knew existed. And the final valuable lesson is that communication goes a long way. As a matter of fact that can be applied to all relationships. Pick up the phone and talk through those points of difference so that all parties have a good understanding of expectations and how to move forward towards progress.
If you could sit down and have a conversation with one woman in STEM who would it be and why?
KM: This may sound a bit different but it would be the incoming freshman black female chemical engineering major at the University of Maryland at College Park. Why? Because I was her and I know what she may encounter mentally and emotionally while matriculating through the program. I just want to plant seeds of encouragement and let her know that the years ahead will not be easy but it is all worth it in the end. That no matter what her classroom demographic may be, she belongs in that seat with everyone else. That even when she's unsure of herself, she's still ahead of the game. And I'd tell her to have fun in college; join organizations and build connections with others outside of her normal circle of friends.
Best Advice You Have Ever Received?
KM: While discussing my career path with Mr. Timothy Bridges, Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, Engineering, and Force Protection, Headquarters Air Force, the topic of obtaining my professional engineering (P.E.) license came up in conversation. I told him that I was not convinced on taking two 8 hour exams to get the P.E. credential. He told me, it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. In other words it is better to get the license and have it sit on the shelf than to one day need the credential to apply for a promotion position and not have the license in your possession. Needless to say I took the journey to become a registered Professional Engineer which in turn has made a difference in my career path.
Fun Fact about you.
KM: I love football. One thing I miss about being in the States, is that every Sunday after church I would look forward to returning home to watch my 'Skins play.