SMDC civilian's path to becoming an engineer

By Ayumi Davis, USASMDCFebruary 22, 2024

Kenya Lynch
Kenya Lynch, general engineer, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, supports the Technical Center’s Directed Energy Directorate and the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense Joint Directed Energy Transition Office, primarily serving as a technical liaison for new contracting efforts. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Ayumi Davis) VIEW ORIGINAL

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. — Becoming an engineer was never in young Kenya Lynch’s plan in high school. In fact, it was not even her plan when she started college.

Lynch graduated high school determined to become an architect. She went to Tuskegee University as an architect major but quickly found she did not have the passion for it.

“The professor said ‘Look at all of these really old historic buildings and if you can’t see the beauty in these, then you need to find another major,’” Lynch said. “And I looked at the falling bricks and I said, ‘Where is the beauty?’ So I changed my major.”

Her sophomore year of college she became an elementary education major, and while she enjoyed her classes, she was worried about her future financial stability, so she changed her major again to math and math education. Her senior year, she changed her major one last time to just math.

“I decided to just pursue math in hopes of that maybe it would catapult me into something,” Lynch said. “And it did, even though I did not know what it was going to put me in. It did exactly what I set out for it to be. So, I’m grateful.”

In the April of her final semester of college, two men from the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command came to Lynch’s university to tell the students about USASMDC and its missions. Lynch spoke with them and they invited her to tour the command’s Concept Analysis Laboratory.

“I took them seriously,” Lynch said. “A couple of weeks later, I found myself in Huntsville and I met with them for lunch. They gave me a tour of the lab and it’s been pretty much history ever since.”

She was impressed, she said. She graduated in May 2009, and by Dec. 7, she was working in the CAL as an operations research analyst.

“I remember feeling a little intimidated by all of the electrical engineers and the technical work that was going on,” Lynch said. “But I remember that the group I came into, the CAL group, they never made me feel inadequate. They were always willing to lend a helping hand and really just show me the ropes, show me what was going on, what we were working on and how to execute.”

Working alongside all these engineers is when Lynch began to want to become an engineer.

“I think that influence and noticing that I’m amongst other high achievers, but they’re doing something that seems a little more advanced, made me realize I wanted a piece of it,” Lynch said.

She got her opportunity with the Naval Postgraduate School. While working, she took classes toward a Master of Engineering in systems engineering. It was extremely challenging, Lynch said.

“I felt disadvantaged a bit because I did not have the science background to lean on,” she said. “My math degree is primarily applied math, so there were some gaps when it came to physics and civics and thermodynamics and all the heavy lifting that comes with engineering. I really had to focus and apply myself to really digest the information in order to be successful in the engineering field.”

Lynch was able to overcome the challenge, graduating in 2016 and transitioning from her position as operations research analyst to general engineer shortly after.

“I felt a sense of accomplishment,” Lynch said. “I put my mind to something that was challenging and difficult, and after a few years of work, lots of tears and a few bad grades, I walked away with a degree in a field that I set my mind to.

“Being in the field of systems engineering, I now completely recognize how applicable it is to everything that we do. Engineering makes the world go round and so systems and processes help us run more efficiently. I really have an appreciation for that.”

Lynch supports the USASMDC’s Technical Center’s Directed Energy Directorate and the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense Joint Directed Energy Transition Office as a general engineer, primarily serving as a technical liaison for new contracting efforts.

“I love it,” Lynch said. “Just trying to discover ways through problem-solving how to make these processes flow more efficiently, it feels natural to me, like that’s what I’m supposed to do.”

Lynch has had several mentors in her career, but there’s one who especially comes to mind for her.

“Larry Phillips was the deputy director for the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator project when I first moved out of the CAL and possibly the most impactful influence on my entire government career,” Lynch said. “Larry pushed me to be the best I could possibly be, and I am forever grateful for him. Honorable mentions are Dee Formby, Michelle Kincer and Stephanie Cunningham. Those three amazing individuals mean more to me than they’ll ever know.”

As she looked at her career, Lynch said she is grateful for how far she has come.

“I do believe that 14 years in the federal government is no small feat and, so I am just very honored to be an Army civilian,” Lynch said. “My ultimate life goal is to continue walking in my God-given purpose — to forever be a light in a world of darkness.”

To those contemplating pursuing STEM, Lynch has a message for them.

“If you have a passion for any of the sciences, technologies, engineering, and, in my case, math, go with that,” she said. “It’s not an accident. It’s not by chance that you have that passion for that because I definitely think you would be a good fit for STEM if that’s your natural inclination.”