BRIGHT FUTURES — Port Arthur engineer gives back with STEM nonprofit for Black girls
Published 12:38 am Tuesday, June 13, 2023
Award-winning chemical engineer Kara Branch of Port Arthur had a unique journey into the engineering space.
Branch attended Tyrrell Elementary from 1994-99 and attended Tekoa Academy Of Accelerated Studies from 1999-2000.
She was the Princess of her class at Tekoa Academy.
As a first-generation college student wanting to study dance, she was introduced to the possibility of pursuing an engineering career by a college advisor. Fast forward to today where she has reached special heights in her engineering career. Now she spends a significant amount of time giving back to the industry through her non-profit Black Girls Do Engineer.
Branch started the organization in order to provide girls and young women the engineering resources that weren’t available to her when she was growing up.
Branch worked rigorously to climb her way to the top of a competitive field, where she managed 15-plus improvement projects in Houston’s oil and gas industry, served as a project manager in the space industry supporting National Aeronautics and Space Administration and served as an engineering manager for Intel.
For Branch, her drive and determination weren’t just based on achievement and building her impressive resume but on representing other Black women who would be following a career in STEM in the years to come.
“There was a huge lack of representation and my culture missing in my roles, so immediately I had to find a way to fit in,” Branch said. “My motivation came from my love for science and my ability to do well at mathematics. No one had ever asked me if I wanted to be an engineer from grades K-12.”
When Branch arrived on the Prairie View A&M University campus, she had every intention of pursuing dance. It wasn’t until she met with her college advisor that she even knew engineering was an option. Due to her love of chemistry and ability in math she went on to obtain a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering. She later returned to Prairie View A&M for a Master of Business Administration.
“My first role wasn’t your typical first role out of college because it was a small company where the owners’ goals were to raise us up to their level so they could go into retirement,” Branch said.
“The pressure was extreme, but I learned to find my voice, and people started to realize that I was the real deal and respect the voice I found. One thing I knew for sure when I walked into those board rooms was that I was a great engineer, because the projects I was working on were the first of their kind or a new innovation and I was figuring them all out.”
Despite being the only Black woman in the roles she held, Branch pushed the limits and landed managerial roles with major clients.
She realized there were other ways she could contribute when her oldest daughter, Ricki, expressed interest in becoming a software engineer at the age of 9.
Branch was caught off guard by her daughter’s interest since she didn’t speak much about her profession to her children due to the trials and tribulation she faced.
“I knew I had to do two things — help her achieve her dreams of becoming an engineer and create a space for girls who look like her, who shared the same passion, to come together,” Branch said.
“That’s the day Black Girls Do Engineer was born. Our organization was created with the concern that Black-American girls and young women are not choosing STEM related careers, and our passion is to change the narrative and fix this issue.”
In 2019, Branch officially founded Black Girls Do Engineer, headquartered in Houston.
Branch and her team impact members in achieving their STEM career goals through mentoring, personal growth regimens, STEM projects and activities, STEM challenges, and guidance on career paths based on insight from professionals that are leaders in the STEM industry.
Black Girls Do Engineer expanded with chapters in Los Angeles, New Orleans and a virtual chapter, in addition to its Houston chapter. The organization has impacted 2,000 girls and college students to date. In collaboration with its partners, it has awarded $44,000 in college scholarships and maintains a 100 percent college acceptance rate.
“Representation matters because you must see someone who looks like you in a particular interest of yours do the work to know you can do it too,” said Branch, who has served as a Science and Engineering Lead and Diversity & Inclusion Region Chapter Leader for Employee Resource Groups.
“During my very first members meeting, the girls in the room had never seen a Black woman who was an engineer before, and it sparked their interest even more. These same girls have grown with my program and now their confidence has skyrocketed to where they know what field that want to study in STEM, they know what colleges they want to go to, and they know exactly what they want to focus on in their study.”
The Mayor of Houston awarded the organization their own “Black Girls Do Engineer Day.”
In addition, Branch received several awards for her work in STEM, mentorship, diversity, child advocacy and more.
There are several ways to get involved as a sponsor, mentor or volunteer, or to donate that can start by visiting blackgirlsdoengineer.org.
— Written by Tara Dreyer