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Williamson woman excels in aerospace engineering

January 2, 2019
Kristyn Johnson-May, a Williamson, W.Va., native, recently received her degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from WVU. She plans to work on her doctorate and one day design jet engines.

WILLIAMSON, W.Va. — For Williamson, West Virginia, native Kristyn Johnson-May, the sky is literally the limit.

Johnson-May recently received her bachelor’s degree in the mechanical and aerospace engineering program at the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at West Virginia University.

She says she wants to change the world for the women who follow her in the engineering field.

Johnson-May graduated in 2014 as valedictorian at Mingo Central High School after the consolidation of schools in the county.

Even though she came from a small town, Johnson-May said her education helped prepare her for college. During her middle school and high school years, she loved math and was always on the Math Field Day teams that would win local and regional competitions.

“Math has always been my favorite, and it still is,” Johnson-May said with a smile. “Engineering is just a fun way that I like to apply the math.”

She was not only at the top of her high school class academically, but she was also an athlete who played both volleyball and softball. She said that probably helped fuel her competitive drive.

“The competition at WVU is definitely an international program,” she said of the exceptional students in the engineering program. “Coming from Mingo County, I always felt prepared in my math and science classes. Our curriculum is as good — if not better — than others I’ve been around. I definitely thought I was prepared for that environment.”

Johnson-May credited the Project Lead the Way program at Mingo Central. PLTW Engineering empowers students to step into the role of an engineer.

“I took three years of engineering-modeled courses there that had engineering design process and 3D modeling,” she said.

She said some students moved faster in the engineering classes in college, and it was usually those who had participated in the PLTW program.

After her freshman year in college, Johnson-May was offered a prestigious summer internship program with GE Aviation in Cincinnati. She went back for the three following summers. In that position, she worked in product development, in ceramic metric products and also did some manufacturing work.

In her sophomore yea r of college, she worked on a NASA-sponsored program. The West Virginia Science Public Outreach Team is a partnership with NASA and the Green Bank Observatory to use college students to present space, science and technology information to elementary and middle school students across the state. Johnson-May was certified to present information about the International Space Station, and she made several presentations in Monongalia and Marion counties, as well as one in Mingo County.

Since her undergraduate courses are finished, she has decided to stay in the academia world and work more on the research side of engineering. She has been accepted into the doctoral program at WVU.

“I’m now in a direct-track, 3-to 3 1/2-year Ph.D. mechanical engineering program.”

Her interests have helped her to decide there is probably no work in the space industry or trips to Mars in her future.

“No space trips for me,” she said with a laugh. “I considered it — but maybe sonic or super-sonic travel.

“I am definitely more into aviation. At GE all of my work was with jet engines, and my research will be with jet engines as well,” she said. “The design of the jet engine is the perfect mix between mechanical and aerospace engineering.”

This summer, Johnson-May married her high school sweetheart, Jason May. He works in the banking industry in the Morgantown area, where the newlyweds are residing while Johnson-May continues her education at WVU.

“He played a big role in me getting my degree,” she said of Jason, “from picking me up at the library late at night after studying and forcing me to study when I ran out of willpower.

“The last 4 1/2 years were the pedal to the metal. Our classes are very competitive,” Johnson-May said. “Every project is a competition,” which helped her strive to be the best in her classes.

The Women in Engineering Academy at WVU helped drive her, too. She encourages other young women to pursue STEM degrees through Alpha Omega Epsilon’s Junior Academy.

As president of the sorority her senior year, she helped start the mentoring program for younger female students interested in engineering.

“My main effort in becoming president was that I wanted to increase our outreach efforts,” she said. “The entire premise was that we use the academy to do some things to expose students to some concrete testing labs and teaching them how to build gliders — teaching them basic aerospace engineering and showing them how to 3D print. I was able to do that in my Project Lead the Way program, but a lot of high schools don’t have that. We are trying to provide that technical side for these girls each week.”

The academy also features a keynote speaker each week.

She knows the stereotype in this field can be daunting for women.

“This could help juniors and seniors in high school that may need that extra bit of confidence,” Johnson-May said. “We matched them up with someone who could be a point of reference to them — or to be a role model to them.”

She knew it was difficult for her to talk to anyone in the field during her high school years.

“We try to provide that visual for them — to show them where they could be in just two or three years,” she said. “It’s been pretty successful.”

In the Junior Academy mentoring program, each student earned a certificate on completion of the course and received help for scholarships in some summer programs. She hopes the mentoring program will continue in future years.

“The academy strives to fulfill the need for a present role model by pairing each attendee with a current female college student with similar interests,” Johnson-May said. “We hope to continually replenish the pool of mentors with academy graduates as they establish their own collegiate success.”

Kyle Lovern is editor for the Williamson Daily News. He can be contacted at 304-236-3526 or via email at klovern@HDMediaLLC.com.

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