DVIDS – News – From HBCU to STEM: Spotlight on NSWC Corona Black History Month Employees

Karon Myles is the Director of the STEM and Naval Engineering Education Consortium (NEEC) at Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Corona. She began her career here in February 1986, when she was hired as a mechanical engineer in the Firing Testing Effectiveness Branch. Less than a year later, she was transferred to the Product Assurance division (later renamed Quality Assessment – QA), where she worked for the next 10 years.

“I decided to take advantage of a voluntary separation incentive pay option in 1997, temporarily left the Navy and opened a gourmet cafe with live jazz performances,” Myles said. “My husband and I ran this business until 2000, when we realized I had to get back to work because I had kids starting college.”

With a professional background that also included design and construction engineering for an oil refinery and work as a piping design engineer at the Long Beach Shipyard, NSWC Corona welcomed her in 2000, into the same branch which she had left a few years earlier. In 2004, Myles was Branch Head of the Quality Assessment Department and later Branch Head of the Acquisition and Readiness Assessment Department.

His professional history was preceded by a long and diverse upbringing, being an army kid and moving through his father’s career. When her father retired from the military, the family relocated to her parents’ hometown of Oklahoma City, where neighborhoods were still segregated. Myles said she was oblivious to a lot of struggles outside of her “bubble.”

“Although I lived in a predominantly black neighborhood, my parents still drove us across town to Catholic schools,” Myles said. “As a result, I had close friends from various backgrounds and ethnicities. Because I wasn’t exposed to many cultural issues when they were rampant, I didn’t understand how serious they were.

In high school, Myles decided she wanted to go to a historically black college/university (HBCU) and applied for admission to several. She was accepted to Grambling University in Grambling, Louisiana, with a full four-year scholarship in physics. She was also accepted to the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), in Tuskegee, Alabama, to attend the pre-engineering summer program.

“Both seemed fine, so my awesome plan was to go to Tuskegee’s summer program, advance by earning six credit hours over the summer, then move on to Grambling to start my physics studies” , she said.

In the end, she loved Tuskegee’s engineering program and the Alabama campus so much that she gave up the physics scholarship and stayed in Tuskegee, majoring in mechanical engineering. Attending the Tuskegee Institute introduced her to more segregation and racial discrimination than she had ever experienced before, she said.

“After being exposed to this, I realized I had lived a sheltered life and was glad I didn’t grow up in Alabama or the other southern states,” Myles said. “In Tuskegee and across the South, a close camaraderie has formed by being around the large concentration of Black students in the classroom and around the local communities. It was different for me, but very appreciated and appreciated.

The knowledge she was exposed to at HBCU helped her better understand what life was like in the black community before the civil rights movement, Myles said.

“I’m grateful that I didn’t have those moments and I don’t want those situations to come back now,” she said.

Myles’ social and physical outlet while in college was his participation in the Marching Crimson Pipers, the Tuskegee Institute Marching Band as an alto saxophonist, which allowed him to travel to other HBCUs, see their campuses and have fun. However, she always took her homework with her on the bus when she traveled with the group.

“I was shaped by the Tuskegee Institute, maybe because of the sense of belonging,” Myles said.

Membership was not without difficulties. Until then, HBCU groups were predominantly male, so female group members had to work very hard to compete. This was not his only obstacle, as the engineering school was also predominantly male at that time. In both situations, she rose to the challenge. She said the group was an early start to demonstrate that she could do as well as the male members of the group.

“My college years at Tuskegee were a very important part of my life experience,” Myles said. “I always come back for reunions and to participate with the group of oldies.”

Being a member of Tuskegee’s Engineering Alumni Association provides Myles with the opportunity to motivate students. As such, she promotes both NSWC Corona and her profession in STEM, aiming to inspire students to achieve whatever they set their minds to through focus and hard work, regardless of the obstacles.

“I think a number of opportunities seem to be more accessible and available to people, but there are still unspoken, ignored or unconscious barriers. Society still has a lot to overcome in relation to our cultural differences,” said Myles: “While I see greater diversity in public jobs and responsibilities such as news anchors, TV shows, managers and business owners, some old beliefs and practices still need to be changed.”

Myles said Black History Month provides an opportunity to reflect openly on historical events and milestones that have been significant in shaping the lives of Black Americans and provides a chance to enlighten others.

“Black history shaped me to be who I am, because my curiosity about black culture taught me how many important contributions were made by African Americans that many people are unaware of today,” she said. “It boosted my confidence that I could achieve whatever I set out to do.”

Myles is a member of the Greater Riverside STEM Chapter of Blacks in Government (BIG). The local was formed in 2010 by NSWC Corona employees. Along with other members, Myles has held public speaking and STEM workshops for offsite students over the years and trained four local students to win first place in the BIG National Student Oratorical and STEM competitions.

Having forged a successful career path through STEM, Myles is able to reach out to inspire and motivate today’s black youth while encouraging them to keep moving forward. It allows them to dispel any negative thoughts of not being able to pursue positive careers and lifestyles that they are passionate about or have skills for.

“I want them to stop settling for opportunities that allow them to get by and put in the effort to bring them closer to their dreams,” Myles said. “I want them to come out of their ‘generation’ boxes, be open and embrace the differences, and try to figure out how to make the future better for everyone.”

Her advice to young black women as they navigate life, family, and careers is to not let temporary obstacles get in the way, to be proactive, to embrace positivity, and to be vigilant in doing the right choices for themselves and their families.

“You may need to take an alternate route to get to your destination,” Myles said. “Don’t be a wallflower. Your voice, your thoughts and your actions can be what it takes to make a big difference.

Date taken: 02.02.2022
Date posted: 02.02.2022 20:16
Story ID: 413898

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