At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Karen S. White leads engineers and technicians for building control systems, protection systems, and information management tools for highly specialized scientific facilities. She earned her bachelors in computer engineering and masters in computer science at Old Dominion University'; achieved her M.E. in engineering management at George Washington University.
1) What inspired you to work in STEM?
Growing up, my father always encouraged me to study engineering. He claims to have put a calculus book in my crib rather than a baby toy. I started college a chemistry major, and after a couple of years, changed to engineering.
2) What excites you about your work at the Department of Energy?
There are many best parts to my job! I get to work with exceptionally interesting and very talented people. I have opportunities to travel around the world and work with my peers at other laboratories. I also enjoy mentoring students and early career engineers and seeing their careers develop.
3) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
In order to engage more women, girls, and minorities in STEM careers, we need to build a strong pathway for children who are prepared for and interested in STEM majors in college. Starting in elementary school, it is important for children to have opportunities to meet STEM professionals and learn about a variety of STEM careers. This is particularly important for children in rural and/or poor communities who frequently have limited interaction with college-educated professionals. Sometimes, their only interaction is with teachers and medical and legal professionals. It is also important for K-12 curriculum to be taught by highly qualified science and math teachers so students are well-prepared for the college level courses required of STEM majors.
4) Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
I would definitely encourage an interested student to pursue a career in engineering or any STEM field, even though these majors are more difficult. Many STEM career paths require advanced degrees. But, there are so many STEM opportunities that people can really build a sustainable career they enjoy.
5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
I spend most of my free time with my family, and I enjoy traveling and crafting. I volunteer for several programs in my community, and I particularly enjoy my work with the "tnAchieves" program where I mentor high school girls as they prepare for and transition to college.