Making a Difference Through Engineering: One Student’s Dream Come True
For Kayla Richardson, a senior at Arizona State University (ASU) who is poised to graduate with a degree in Electrical Engineering with a focus on Power and Energy, helping others is something that is deeply ingrained in her.
Kayla’s mother, Krystelle Richardson, the president and CEO of Full Color Movement International, a non-profit organization that partners with local, national, and international organizations to provide training and resources to people in need, encouraged her to always look for opportunities to make a difference
“It’s a natural thing in my family to help people and something I never thought twice about continuing to do,” Kayla said. “Which is why it was so important to find a career that would enable me to do that.”
For a time, Kayla was set on becoming a physical therapist but found that she wasn’t enjoying the classes. When she took precalculus as a general elective, however, everything changed.
“My teacher pulled me aside at the end of the semester and told me I was at the top of the class and that he didn’t think I was even trying that hard, which I wasn’t,” she said. “For me, it was an easy class that I really enjoyed.”
Kayla’s instructor encouraged her to look into taking some engineering classes. She did, and immediately found her niche.
“Once I started, I never stopped,” she said. “I enjoyed how challenging the classes were – it was like putting together a puzzle and just clicked for me.”
At the time, Kayla was attending Chandler-Gilbert Community College where she met her mentor, Elizabeth Adams, a professor in the Engineering Department, who encouraged her to go into civil engineering because of her interest in helping the environment, and to consider going to ASU after receiving her associate’s degree.
“So, that was the plan,” Kayla said. “But life had other ideas.”
That same year, Kayla’s husband, who is in the military, received word that he was being stationed in Okinawa, Japan, and she had to make a decision: stay in the US and take in-person classes, or pursue her studies online.
“ASU offered electrical engineering online, but not civil. I made the switch because I realized I could still focus on my interests in solar and wind energy,” she said. “It may seem like I’ve been following whatever path has been put in front of me, and in a way I have, but it’s all worked out and I’m so grateful because that hasn’t been the case for a lot of other students. I’ve been very fortunate.”
Kayla credits her mentors for helping her find the right path and hopes to do the same for others throughout her career.
“I wouldn’t have gotten into engineering if it weren’t for their encouragement and letting me know that I was actually good at something,” she said. “I think it’s good for kids to know where their talents lie, and that learning can be fun.”
Kayla was able to do this personally when she volunteered through the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) to teach at an online engineering summer camp for third to fifth graders.
“The purpose behind it was let the students know how engineering related to these cool toys they would be building and playing with that included some drones, an M-bot and something called a micro:bit for programming,” she explained. “One of my student’s grandmothers actually stayed on after the last class to tell me she had never seen her granddaughter open up so much. It actually made me cry and was a reminder of how impactful this kind of work can be.”
Her community service initiatives and engineering prowess helped Kayla become a 2021-22 Power & Energy Society (PES) Scholarship Plus Initiative recipient, which is something else Kayla is grateful for.
“Through the scholarship and my subsequent PES membership, I have access to a lot of resources that I didn’t before. I’m looking forward to being able to tap into these resources even more as I enter my career and settle into my new position,” she said.
With graduation in her sights, Kayla was offered, and accepted, a position at Liberty Utilities where she will be working on water purification and various wastewater projects, which she is very excited about.
“I do want to go back and get my graduate degree, and perhaps my PhD, but I’ve been taking college courses since 2014 and it’s time for me to try something different,” she said. “I need to get out of my comfort zone and into industry.”