DAHLGREN, Va. –
Monique B. Kimani has simple advice for young women considering a career in the sciences. “Do not be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone.” That credo has served Kimani well in her career at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD), and made her into a role model among colleagues and friends. In early October, those accomplishments were on display when Kimani received the Technology All Star award during the 2021 Women of Color STEM Conference. The award “recognizes accomplished women of color from mid-level to advanced stages of their careers that have demonstrated excellence in the workplace and in their communities,” according to a handout provided by conference organizers from the Career Communications Group and Women of Color Magazine.
Kimani developed an early interest in science and recalled during a recent conversation that, “as a kid I always thought I was going to be a medical doctor.” Those plans pivoted away from medicine and toward laboratory research while Kimani was pursuing her degree in biological sciences at Drexel University. Under the school’s co-op program (similar to a paid internship, but more substantive), she embedded at NSWCDD in 2004 with the Microbial Risk Assessment Project and the Joint Program Executive Office Quality Assurance Laboratory, with responsibility for “running bioassays for protein analysis, establishing and maintaining various cell cultures, preparing samples for quality assurance testing,” among others. After graduation, Kimani returned to Dahlgren to work in the Concepts and Experimentation branch for 14 years.
Career pivot number two came in 2018 when Kimani, now an accomplished scientist, requested a transfer to the Human Systems Integration (HSI) branch at Dahlgren. “It was nerve-wracking to think about changing departments after specializing in biology for all that time,” she remembered, and the experience “has taught me so much in these three short years.” From the new vantage point within HSI, Kimani’s projects are “all warfighters and ships,” with daily reminders of how her work helps others complete their missions. “You can make a critical difference here,” she observed. “I’m confident now that it was among one of the best decisions in my career.”
With a career built on continual growth and reinvention, Kimani is not one to become complacent. “You can’t just wait for someone to hand you an opportunity,” she reflected recently, adding that “many of the people that I work with have the same attitude - ‘go for it.’” Across her tenure from the Concepts and Experimentation branch to HSI, Kimani has inspired, and been inspired by, a diverse group of scientific talent. “The women that I've met at Dahlgren are accomplishing major things,” she said. “My group lead is a minority woman. My branch head is a woman. I’ve collaborated across different departments and seen this same thing. There are awesome women at Dahlgren in very significant positions and I am honored to be recognized for my contributions as a woman of color in STEM.”