Alumna Spotlight- Kennie Giles

Kennie Giles is an EKU alumna from the class of 2008 who earned her degree in Analytical Chemistry. She was active in campus leadership through the Student Alumni Ambassadors and the EKU Black Student Union. Kennie is currently using her Chemistry degree as as Quality Improvement Associate. She answered our questions about her experiences at EKU, her motivations for pursuing a career in science, and the state of the field for women.


kennie gilesWhat types of career options are available with a degree in Analytical Chemistry? What are you doing currently?

If you keep an open mind, the options for what you do with a degree in chemistry really are endless.  I’m inclined to research because I actually enjoy problem solving.  A big part of my job is to come into a situation or look at a product and try to answer questions like “How can I solve this problem?  How can I improve on this?  How can I make this process simpler or more efficient?”  I recently obtained certification as a Quality Improvement Associate which has completely changed the approach I take to problem solving.  As a CQIA, I’m thinking about things from different perspectives, deciding which quality tools or technologies best fit the situation, and of course improvement on ideas or processes.


What are the opportunities, challenges, and influences that motivated you to become a scientist?

When I was in elementary school, I decided I wanted to be a paleontologist.  Coincidentally this was around the same time that Jurassic Park came out…

Ultimately I didn’t become a paleontologist, but I never lost that sense of curiosity or appreciation for scientific endeavors.  I was blessed to grow up with teachers that really fostered and encouraged that.  At Eastern, one professor in particular really influenced me and helped me along the way, and that was Dr. Vernon Stubblefield.  I remember being in my second year, after having done not so well on a test, he talked to me after class and told me, very candidly, I should have done better.  Not that I could have done better, but that I should have.  Dr. Stubblefield told me that as a woman, and as a minority, I might find it a little more difficult to get to the head of my field, but that he believed in me.  He said, “You can do it.  I know you can,” and those are words I have never forgotten.  He retired shortly after that, but I made it a point find a way to get in touch with him after I graduated to tell him he was right.


How do you think your experiences as a student at Eastern have influenced you? Have your experiences as a student leader had a continued impact on you?

My academic experience at Eastern was absolutely world-class, but the education I received outside the classroom has been just as memorable and impactful.  I was in a place I had never been with people I didn’t know, and getting involved on campus turned that around 180 degrees.  Being a student leader helped me get to know my fellow students, the faculty, and the Campus Beautiful in ways I would have never ventured to try had I not been involved with campus activities, but the experiences were so much more far reaching.  I connected with people of all different ages, socioeconomic status, cultural backgrounds, and we honored and appreciated our differences.  I’m ever thankful for those experiences because they helped develop skills that can’t be taught in a classroom, but are so necessary.


Why do you think more women don’t choose to pursue careers in science?

I think historically, women have been discouraged from many professions, namely those of a technical or scientific nature.  Last year I had the opportunity to work with a woman who, in her late 30’s, decided to return to school and is now working toward a degree in Environmental Science.  She expressed to me that growing up, women in her family and in her community didn’t pursue such fields of study, and it certainly wasn’t promoted, so she wasn’t given the support she needed to go after her dream.

Unfortunately, I believe this attitude is still prevalent in many communities.  Like I’ve mentioned, I had many supportive people in my formative years that encouraged me to stay curious.  I grew up really thinking that I could be anything I wanted to be.  I think that if all kids, not just girls, are given the same type of support we could begin to break down some of the gender barriers.


What is the overall environment like for women in Chemistry?

It certainly isn’t always fun working in a male-dominated field, but I heartily welcome the challenge.  Everyday I’m given the chance to prove myself and every day I succeed.  The overall attitude seems to be changing; I don’t sense the resistance that was more tangibly there in the past.  Years ago, when a woman made an advancement in a technical or scientific field it was seen almost as an anomaly.  Now when it happens, I think it’s celebrated as an advancement for all, not just women.  I’ve also observed that more young girls are expressing interest in science and technology which I am so happy about and I hope it continues.


Do you have any advice for current students with an interest in science? How about for students who aren’t very interested in science?

One of my goals, when I tutor high school students, is to try to get them as excited about science as I am.  Seeing that light bulb come on, and witnessing that “aha moment” is so sweet. I have a 12 year old niece that’s a bit of a “science nerd” as she calls it, so to know that I have the opportunity to help her develop that interest is really exciting.  But even for the kids that just aren’t into it, I think that’s okay too.  I want to encourage them to find something they are passionate about and to pursue it wholeheartedly.  Stay interested, be engaged, and never stop learning!

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Categories: Alumni Spotlight


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