Meet Krystal, a graduate student of structural-civil engineering at the University of Kansas and rockstar mother of three. Hailing from Riverside, California, Krystal is building on a bachelor’s in civil engineering and following her passion for helping others by designing ecologically sustainable structures.
“Professional Organizations like SMSS help build networks for military affiliated people to connect and help raise awareness of the talents of military spouses throughout the country. SMSS is helping show how the current and future workforce benefits from pro-actively including military spouses.”
Tell us an interesting story about growing up that is related to your field of work.
Growing up I was always interested in logic, creating, and math. I remember seeing my mom working on logic puzzles for fun and I started to get into them too. In high school, every math teacher I had ended up being my favorite one. I think they made it fun to be there and learn. I had to take Algebra II during a five-week summer class. It ended up being with one of the funniest teachers at my school and he made math class something to look forward to, even in the summer. My pre-calculus teacher was the first person who told me about being an engineer, but it wasn’t until my second year of college though, when I learned what Civil Engineers can do for a community that I chose to major in that.
What are some of your interests outside of the office?
I love spending time with my husband and three kids. We like to explore new places in the area that is outdoors. We are finally getting our older two into scooters and bikes, so it’s fun to teach them and see them get better at it. I also enjoy learning about new trends within creating communities and how urban planning works. As an engineer, I think it is fascinating to learn how places are interconnected and work together.
What is your current duty station?
My husband is tied to the ROTC Unit and sent to get his MBA at the University of Kansas.
What do you enjoy about your current duty station?
We live in a smaller town but next to a Division I University, so the area has a lot to offer families and young singles alike. There are a couple of museums, a very nice library, fun food scenes, and several events in the downtown area. There is a large man-made lake here and the Kansas River running through the town.
What inspires you?
I have a strong connection with my faith and it continually refreshes my ideas about serving the community and the purpose of work. I also love reading about Urban Development and Revitalization efforts for communities and cities. It is inspiring to me to be a part of that process as a Structural Engineer someday. Once I complete my Masters and start working, I hope to eventually be a project manager with other engineers, designers, construction managers, and developers to create projects that create sustainable and resilient buildings for people in a community.
How does your day start or what gets you out of bed in the morning?
Normally it starts with early rising children and coffee.
What’s the coolest thing you’re working on right now?
Currently, taking a few classes and one of them I really enjoy is about how to use matrix analysis and the stiffness method for framed structures, and one is about urban planning ideas like Smart Growth and Sustainability. I’ve begun working with a research group studying Community Resilience in Natural Hazards and I’m specifically learning how the effects of these events (lifeline shortages in power, water, transportation) affect varying people groups within a city.
What do you appreciate about your work environment?
Flexibility within schedule and work hours, and getting to meet other students and faculty within the field of Structural Engineering.
What is your biggest achievement to date – professionally?
I started my Master’s program and last year I studied part-time for 7 weeks and passed the Professional Engineer’s exam in Civil Engineering after a three-year gap of relevant experience due to being full-time at home with my kids.
What do you like most about your job?
As a student, I love learning relevant subjects and expanding my understanding. I enjoy studying at a top-notch research university and being exposed to varying projects. I also have appreciated having faculty that is committed to educating and supporting graduate students. As a military spouse who has several gaps in employment, being in a place of learning, and informing myself of the possibilities has felt like the best thing I could be doing for my future career.
What challenges have you personally faced that your civilian counterparts may not have?
Having your spouse deployed and out of communication for months, or having your next state of residence change mid-move, or being repeatedly moved and uprooted every 18 months to 3 years by the choice of another entity is something civilian counterparts may not have to experience.
Do you find you’re more adaptable to change than your civilian counterparts?
I have definitely had many new experiences within my short time in the military that surprises most civilian counterparts I meet. I think one thing civilians may find is my experience has also taught me to establish a support network as the first thing. So, they may see I am not afraid to work at learning about a new place and getting involved. I have learned that it is so much better to live alongside others. I have learned the humility to ask for help when it feels overwhelming and learned to pursue relationships even though I may not know how long I’ll be in a place. Some civilians may see that as an exhausting way to spend energy and time, but I have learned how worth the effort it can be.
How do you see being a military spouse or being in the military space has helped you with your job?
My experience as a military spouse has taught me how to accept hard circumstances and not hide from it but feel the emotions of disappointment when I need to. Life can be hard and everyone will experience trials, but to go through them and know it is okay to feel sad has been a great lesson in my own journey. It helps me continue to move forward and grow and to believe that my experience is not a waste but it will prepare me for future opportunities.
What do you wish people knew about life in the military?
It is filled with people and families, not just active duty members. The support of families is overwhelming and it can be overlooked. The weight of military life is not easy on anyone, but even for families who have experienced several moves, it can be challenging to start over, again. If you know a family within the military, there is a likelihood they are dealing with tough choices, possibly family separation for long periods of time. Being there for a military family may mean to offer help, take them a meal, or initiate a friendship with them even though you know they may move next year.
What advice would you give to new spouses about being in the STEM career field?
Create a solid support network for you and your family. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for help if you need it and continue to be proactive. Any work you put forth in growing and learning is all useful for your future opportunities. Find a community within your community that you know you can do life with. You don’t need to balance everything perfectly, but as someone once told me, you will have priorities and there are seasons to let go and seasons to invest!
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